Wednesday 23 September 2015

A Walk In Winchester

Well, this is one of those "what I did last week" posts, but for me, there is always a learning experience to be had. So, last Friday, the car had a rare outing (to be sat) on the motorways and I headed to Winchester.

I was there to give a short presentation for the Chartered Institution of Highways & Transportation's "Walking Group" at the "creating a more walkable Winchester" workshop which was attended by various city councillors, local walking groups and staff from the City and Hampshire County Council. There were also presentations from Living Streets and the County's public health team. The most interesting part of the session (for me) was when we went out in small groups to have a walk around and to discuss the issues we saw.

Winchester is a very compact city with most of the outer residential areas being within a 40 minute walk of the centre (see left from the City's Walking Strategy). From my discussions with the great and the good, it would appear that the area has a high level of car ownership (with many multi-car households) and there are plenty of people who drive in from the surrounds to work and to get to the station. An interesting point is made in the strategy that walking is often quicker than driving!

Despite having three park-and-ride hubs on the outskirts, the place is congested at peak times and still busy during the day. There is lots of public car parking in the city which ranges in price by location. I parked at the Chesil car park which was apparently weird because it involved walking into the city (no more than 5 minutes!) The park-and-ride might have been more sensible, but I didn't have any coins with me to pay for it and I probably should have taken my folder and cycled in (although the motorways were bad and I was pushed for time).

Friarsgate - a one-way traffic sewer.
Noisy and fast (despite the 20mph speed limit)
There is no ring road around Winchester, but it is saddled with an awful one-way system which partially acts as one and it has several main roads arranged radially which really shouldn't be taking the traffic they do. These roads create severance between the outer-residential areas and the city core, as well as being hostile and not at all permeable for cycling.

As we walked around, we discussed the usual "quick wins" of delcuttering, providing decent dropped kerbs and tidying up planting, but it was recognised that substantial change to the infrastructure was needed which is difficult against the backdrop of cuts to local services and with a highway authority in Hampshire County Council which doesn't have quite the same focus on active travel as city councillors and activists would like.

A driver turns right off the right hand lane of the one-way road, on the
wrong side of the road. They weren't the only one. I watched for 5
minutes and all three right turners did the same. It's the layout.

There is an old, but reasonably protected cycle route through this
running left-right. To the right (behind the photo) one could
reach the South Downs National Park which encroaches into the city.
Except the crossings of the M3 are awful.

It has been correctly realised that the city is also an attraction for tourists and so lots of coaches have to be catered for. Sadly, they are catered for in a really wide road outside the Guildhall which is an awful space in front of such a wonderful building. But, it's not all bad. The city core is pedestrianised with some cycle access (it should be the whole core of course), but it attractive, well-maintained and has life, which is what the shopping streets with heavy traffic lacks as people walk through as quickly as they can.

A nice "sticky street" where people want to come and where people
want to stay.

Even the quality of the buskers reflected the quality of the space!

Sadly, I didn't get enough time to walk around further as is often the case with these flying visits and one cannot get a grasp of the issues in a couple of hours. However, I think Winchester is a good example of a typical town (I know it's a city) with the typical tensions of wanting a great place for people to be in, but also so reliant on the car and with the consequences of its domination of the areas around the central core. 

What did impress me is how a cross-party group of politicians have come together with non-political groups to agree that something has to be done and indeed get a strategy in place which is politically-led, rather than leaving it to officers (who supported of course). The more I travel around and meet people, the more I can sense that there is an underlying dissatisfaction with our urban places and a desire for change. Many people don't know how to get change and they don't know how it could be. An interesting point was made by a councillor that people go on holiday to wonderful places where they can walk everywhere, but can't make the link to the places they drive to back home. We have a lot of work to do in the UK.


  1. I visited Winchester this year in June, as a tourist from the Netherlands (61 year old Dutch woman). I walked from the railway station through the centre of town to my B&B and explored the city on foot. A nice walk through a nice city, compact indeed. Bit hard to cross the road at some points, because of the car traffic. It is a shame that the pedestrianized area has not been extended a bit further. I did a one-day guided cycle tour (approx. 25 miles) in and around Winchester, organized by Heritage Cycle Tours. I found it scary to cycle on the roads used by cars, as I am no longer used to cycling that way. But it was also quite exhilarating and funny to see our guide (older cyclist, very experienced) wave at a few cars that were honking (and one driver shouting) at our small group of cyclists in single file. We did 'ride with the cars' when I was a child in the Netherlands, when we cycled to secondary school (15 miles round trip) and there were no cycle paths yet (late sixties, early seventies). Around Winchester it was wonderful to cyle along the quiet country lanes and along the river Itchen. All in all a good experience. It is great to see that cycling is becoming more popular in the UK, slowly but surely.

    1. I did see some glimpses of fair cycling infrastructure, but the partial one-way ring road was awful for walking and riding alike. The centre is really nice and I agree it should be much bigger. Winchester is small enough to be transformed relatively simply and I hope the the city councillors keep pushing.

  2. Ranty, having grown up down the road in Southampton and visited relatives in Winchester a lot, this summary is spot on. One thing you did miss though is there is a 'fairly' good NCN / Sustrans route to Southampton along the Itchen valley:

    I've not commuted on it so I don't know how well used it is at peak times, but I think it's a fairly popular family-weekend-outing sort of route, although a bit irrelevant to the core network. The LA are pretty proud of it though..