This week's post comes after a very unusual thing to see in the UK; a direct action protest on a big road. The road in question is the A127 Southend Arterial Road and the protest follows the death of 13 year Joseph Sheridan earlier in the week.
Joseph died after being hit by a driver who has been arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving. If you witnessed anything, please contact Essex Police. None of the news reports I have read actually say what might have happened, but the protesters are calling for a footbridge. In London, we have had direct action in the aftermath of people killed while cycling, but this has tended to have been with some notice and organisation (notably by Stop Killing Cyclists). This protest seems a little more impromptu and saw a group block the road with vehicles for several hours.
It might be wrong to assume that Joseph was hit trying to cross the road and so I don't think it appropriate to comment on the case further, the police need to be left to do their work for now; what I think is worth commenting on is that this area has history and the A127 is a masterclass in how to create community severance.
The A127 is an east-west route which starts at Gallows Corner in the London Borough of Havering and ends in Southend-on-Sea after passing through South-Essex, including skirting north of Basildon and thus creating a barrier between the sprawling town and various settlements such as Noak Bridge and Crays Hill and the town of Wickford further north. The collision took place in a location where there is a retail park on the south side of the A127 and no crossing facilities whatsoever. From what I have read, there have been pedestrians hit (some killed) over the years. Current "road safety" efforts amount to some sporadic high fencing on the central reservation and signs suggesting people don't cross in the location which is subject to the National speed limit.
|This is not providing for pedestrian desire lines. The alternative is miles|
of walking detour and it is nonsense to expect people to obey the signs.
(Image from Google)
I have had a quick look at Crashmap and from a pedestrian point of view, there are some recorded casualties, but not many; of course, casualties are not a measure of risk or severance, but they are unfortunately used to sift interventions in a world governed by budget cuts and prioritisation. Compared with the countless crashes just involving motor vehicles, it is no wonder that work for pedestrians takes the back seat under our current system.
The A127 traces its origin to the 1920s when it (along with the A12 Eastern Avenue) was built as a strategic route between Wanstead and Southend. By the 1930s it had been dualled along its length. It was a trunk road for decades (and so under Secretary of State control) before being "de-trunked" in the late 1990s. For the section passing Basildon, Essex County Council is the highway authority responsible for the road. Basildon is a "new town" and so arrived well after the trunk road which gave good road connections to East-London.
Today, the road is heavily congested at peak times (and it is always very busy off peak). In fact the whole area is congested at peak times and this is down to the fact that the car is the mode of choice for many in "Mondeo Man" country, further pressured by a great deal of house-building and commercial development in the town. Anyway, I digress. I used to to drive this stretch of road twice a day on my commute 20 years ago and the road layout hasn't changed in all of this time, so the community severance here is nothing new. So, what are the answers? Well other than telling people it is not safe to cross here, the answer will lie in changing the infrastructure.
The protesters are calling for a footbridge. This is fine if the ramps are gentle and can be provided on the desire line. I doubt this will work because footbridges over roads such as this end up with zig-zag ramps because of highway space constraints, leaving a structure than many will ignore as it doesn't serve their desire line. The answer here is either raise the road up on a bridge to give clear space for walking (and cycling of course) underneath or to drop the road into a trench and build "bridges" over it. The A127 has form for this further east at "Rayleigh Weir" where many years ago the A127 was "grade separated" by dropping it down with slip roads up to a roundabout at surface level it being carried over two bridges over the trench.
|The A127 at Rayleigh Weir where it drops into a trench with the old|
surface level being a roundabout carried on bridges.
(Image from Google)
The same could be done in many locations near Basildon with the bridges carrying dedicated walking and cycling routes. Nothing is needed for cars because there are big junctions which allow one to drive from north to south if required. I realise that this type of treatment would represent a significant investment, but we always seem to manage to do it for big roads carrying long-distance traffic, why can't we invest in the communities who have been blighted by severance for decades? The way in which we keep investing so much in building new strategic road capacity is making me increasingly angry when we have situations like this going on now on former (and current) trunk roads which have split people apart for so long; especially where the solutions are not technically difficult. Perhaps direct action is the answer to get people to stop and take notice?