Friday, 2 October 2020

Low Traffic Suburbs

One of the issues about working from home and keeping off public transport has been that cycling around to look at stuff has been that my range has been somewhat restricted and generally, positive street changes in my wider neck of the woods have been few and far between.

I did cycle into Central London at the beginning of August, but being a Saturday, having to worry about taking space up on a train coming back out wasn't an issue and perhaps I'll pootle in to look at something else soon. 

Anyway, as you would have seen from this post, from a few weeks back, I have been making use of the variable quality and comfort afforded along the A12 as it winds through the northeastern suburbs and it was to this route I again took myself to get to Barkingside South in pursuit of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs), a subject which is very current and not without controversy.

The London Borough of Redbridge has introduced its "Quiet Streets" programme in which it says it is rolling out low traffic neighbourhoods, school streets, play streets and cycle routes. The programme has commenced with two LTNs; Barkingside South and Cranbrook West, with three more in the pipeline.

Being an Outer London borough, Redbridge has variable access to public transport (which is of course still excellent in comparison to many parts of the UK), although much of it is arterial serving access into Central London, rather than being geared to serve local trips. 

The borough's Healthy Streets Score Card is quite depressing reading with it being the second worst borough (just ahead of its neighbour, Havering), the same as its 2019 position. Car ownership in 2020 was 97 vehicles per 100 dwellings (the London average is 75); the borough has the third worst Outer London casualty rate for walking and cycling (KSIs per 100,000 journey stages). 

More positively, 49% of trips by residents are by walking, cycling and public transport which is still low by London standards, but not as bad as Hillingdon on 41% (and it's up 2% on 2019). Walking accounts for 21% and public transport for 27% of trips. 1.5% of the borough's adults cycle at least 5 times a week and 33% walk at least 5 times a week. In general, not quite mid-table for Outer London, but not the worst.

Maybe though, the difference that Redbridge has over other Outer London boroughs is that it has started to think about giving people choices and when you look at the areas around the first two LTNs, you can quickly see the challenges. I should also mention that the borough is being ably assisted by Sustrans' London team which has significant experience in developing LTNs (and other engineering schemes).

Barkingside South
Barkingside itself is an inter-war suburb which grew up around some historic Essex hamlets. At the southern end, we have the A12 Eastern Avenue, a legacy of 1920s road building (a bypass of Ilford and Romford, originally the A106) and at the northern end, we have Fulwell Cross, an historic crossroads which is now a large roundabout featuring the wonderful Grade II listed Fullwell Cross Library (below)

It's worth me referring to a recent blog post on Quietway 6, a route which I struggled to find much utility in and where I made two comments in particular;

At the network level, there is no modal filtering whatsoever and I would put money on Ashurst Drive being awful at rush hour because it directly connects to the A12 Eastern Avenue to the south. 

The route zig-zags along a couple of other streets to meet the A12 at the junction with Otley Approach. It's another risky transition where people are turning onto and off from the A12.

Well, the Barkingside South LTN deals with both of those issues. I'll take the second point first and illustrate what has happened with a photograph;

This is Otley Approach where Q6 awkwardly joins a short cycle track on the A12 Eastern Avenue feeding a toucan crossing over the trunk road. With turning traffic completely eliminated using timber planters, the layout is less awkward because the space on the A12 side is now usable to make a gentle turn to reach the toucan crossing.

This approach has been applied to a number of the A12 side streets, such as here at Parham Drive which similarly feeds a toucan crossing (directly behind me in the photograph below - the central cycle lane was the original layout).

The toucan crossing feeds a shared-use path given quick access to Gants Hill (station and shopping area) just 200m to the west. At the eastern end of the A12 boundary, we've the same arrangement at Cantley Gardens which feeds another toucan crossing given access to routes to Ilford and Wanstead;

These three filters don't only make it safer and easier for people walking and cycling to access the crossings of the A12, they reduce risks to drivers from rear-end shunts with people slowing to turn from the A12 and offside impacts from people pulling onto the A12 (which is a 40mph dual carriageway). This is an example of sustainable safety in action. The A12 is a through road (serving long distance traffic) and the side streets are, well, just access streets. Under sustainable safety, these streets should not connect for motor traffic, this should be via a distributor road which in the UK would probably be signalised where it joined a road like the A12. 

At a network level, Redbridge (and Sustrans) are unbundling the road network from walking and cycling networks and at least along the A12, we should note that this unbundling doesn't require any cycle tracks to be built. The wider LTN uses the same planters (sometimes with lockable bollards for emergency access) to divide the residential area into traffic cells. That is, areas into which people can drive, park, have deliveries and visitors, but not use as a cut through to reach other cells by motor vehicle, but which are fully permeable for walking and cycling;

The photograph above is of a filter on Ashurst Drive which is part of Q6. It is placed just north of Hatley Avenue and the photograph below is Bute Road, just at the junction with Ashurst Drive;

You get the general approach. By using standard planters, lockable bollards and a few parking controls, an entire area has been transformed by using a dozen or so filters. The photograph below shows a sheet which has been placed around the area to explain the scheme and how people can comment because this has been rolled out using experimental traffic orders.

The boundary roads for the scheme is the A12 as I've mentioned, the A123 Cranbrook Road, Tanners Lane and Horns Road. Cranbrook Road is a wide mixed-use street which joins the A12 at the Gants Hill junction and as well as being unpleasant to walk along, it's horrific to cycle on. It really needs the full Lea Bridge Road treatment. Cranbrook Road connects the A118 at Ilford to Fullwell Cross at the northern end of Barkingside, feeding other longer distance routes out into Essex.

Tanners Lane and Horns Road perform a distributor function with the former connecting with Cranbrook Road at Fullwell Cross and the latter connecting with the A12. Again, it's not a pleasant walking and cycling route but the highway width in places does make radical change more challenging.

The position of the filters has been cleverly thought through with the largest traffic cell being to the east having multiple access points onto Cranbrook Road (which has the highest capacity, enough to deal with the largest area) with five much smaller traffic cells taking access from Tanners Lane and Horns Road (with one cell given access by removing an existing width restriction). This is a really important feature as you can see in the image below taken from the council's website;

I purposely visited the area between about 5pm and 6pm on a Friday evening and as expected the A12 was busy and occasionally at a standstill, but this isn't unusual and it has been like this for as long as I remember. What has happened though, is the LTN area was genuinely quiet. I did see a few people who were obviously lost, but in general it seems that people have learned quickly that things have changed. Before the LTN, the streets between Cranbrook Road and the A12 looked very tempting for people to avoid Gants Hill (which has, again, been a busy junction for as long as I remember).

The other useful thing to take away is that some of the filters and parking controls are being adjusted as shown in an amendment to the experimental order which shows that if things aren't quite right, then changes can be made to the live scheme.

Cranbrook West
1.3km west of Newbury Park, the A12 Eastern Avenue meets the Redbridge Roundabout at which it intersects with the A406 North Circular Road. Cranbrook West is an area bounded by the A12 and A406. The southern end of the area is bounded by the A118 Ilford Hill which is the next junction along on the A406.

The Cranbrook West LTN is far simpler than Barkingside South as it uses just three new filters. The first is on Evanston gardens at the junction with the A12, to the north of the area (again, the central cycle marking was originally there);

As with Barkingside South, this feeds a toucan crossing which provides access to Redbridge Underground Station and Gants Hill/ Ilford, although people cycling between here and Gants Hill are expected to cycle on the carriageway of this 40mph dual carriageway which can be seen below on the approach to the Redbridge Roundabout below (just before Evanston Gardens). The filter at this location stops the general drift of people using the residential streets to try and beat the inevitable queues towards the roundabout.

At the southern end of the scheme there is a filter at Mill Road. I didn't have time to visit this location, but I'll have a look at some time in the future. In addition, a banned right turn from York Road has been removed (although the street remains exit only for motor traffic) and so hints at earlier attempts to deal with drivers using side streets at the southern end of the area.

In the centre, there is another filter on Wanstead Park Road just south of Exeter Gardens (which itself is part of Q6) and this is earmarked to become a "pocket park";

As you can see in the photograph above, the filter is bit larger and incorporates an existing pedestrian crossing point which is now nice and easy to use to walk from Exteter Gardens right into Wanstead Park in parallel to Q6, which also now has a safer access to the park. The filters have created two traffic cells which can be seen on this image from the council's website;

Each cell has multiple access points via The Drive for the most part (which performs a distributor function) and the southern end of Cranbrook Road (into which The Drive feeds at a signalised junction). The northern end of The Drive meets with the A12 at another signalised junction (with a further associated toucan crossing over the A12). In other words, the right roads and streets are largely performing the right function in terms of motor traffic distribution.

The Drive and Cranbrook Drive are still hostile for walking and especially cycling, but LTN has now at least created a safer quiet route through the area to connect to Ilford Town Centre. At Ilford Hill and the adjacent area there is an old network of cycle tracks which are not quite connected around the local gyratory, but you can sort of muddle round to get to the town centre. There is tantalising potential in Ilford Town Centre to copy Stratford and unbundle the gyratory.

Final Thoughts
I still have issues with Q6 in terms of its utility, but the two LTNs have given its use for utility far more potential for local trips and this isn't a bad approach - have LTNs with direct signed routes through them. With the connections to the A12 for cycling for Gants Hill, Newbury Park and Ilford (despite the variable nature of provision), there is actually an interesting local cycling grid developing.

The filters (above) have been carefully and cleverly positioned and adjusted as needed with the use of simple and practical materials (and they are bolted down). 

I'm really enthusiastic about the Redbridge schemes because they have so much potential for local trips and they could be a beacon to neighbouring councils to do the same. Throw in some work by Transport for London on the A12 and there's potential for some real excitement. Redbridge council (helped by Sustrans) are to be commended.

Update 19/10/20
Sadly, it was too good to be true. Despite declaring the scheme a success with it meeting its aims, Cllr Jas Athwal, the leader of Redbridge Council has said that the scheme is being removed. This appears to be because too many residents have complained about it "no working" and being "frustrated". We don't actually find out what people actually said, how many said it or any other detail. Hopefully there will be a written decision published which can be open to scrutiny.

We are living through unprecedented times and our response should similarly be unprecedented. Unfortunately, this was all to much for these two schemes. My questions to the people of Redbridge and its leadership are: if not this then what? If not now, then when?


  1. Most resident were not against the aims of the scheme. It was the poor planning and awful implementation that caused this to fail. The lack of consultation with residents. The lack of consultation with any of the emergency services. The lack of an Equality Impact Assessment. The blatant Health & Safety breaches during the installation. The residents gathered lots of evidence (photos, videos and emails) of the issues this scheme caused. It made walking and cycling in the area more dangerous due to the appalling way it was implemented. The traffic and pollution increased outside the schools and parks on Cranbrook Road. The gridlock on both Cranbrook Road and Horns Road made pollution far worse for residents. Additional traffic was pushed onto a road with a school and care facility that was not suitable to take additional traffic. The scheme also failed to address any of the local issues that had been raised by residents prior to the scheme. As a resident that walks and cycles a lot with my family, I can categorically say this scheme failed to achieve any of its stated aims and would not have done so in any timeframe. My wife was nearly hit twice whilst walking by vehicles mounting the pavement. The way this scheme was imposed unfortunately doomed it to failure. It was simply the wrong solution for the area. The aims were admirable and the residents even had an alternate plan.

  2. Did you actually read my blog post? There was a great deal of very careful thought on where to place the filters and how the traffic cells were sized. The area was incredibly quiet during the evening peaks and Saturdays I visited and passed through; I didn't see traffic that was any worse than usual.

    My questions stand. If not this, then what? If not now then when? Redbridge is a traffic sewer and something radical is needed.

  3. Were you involved in the planning? Your statement "There was a great deal of very careful thought on where to place the filters and how the traffic cells were sized." implies you have knowledge of the planning? Unfortunately the plan was seriously flawed for all the reasons I articulated above and the lack of consultation with residents clearly showed.
    I can assure you that the installation of the filters made the traffic situation far worse in Barkingside South and I and other residents collated lots of evidence to support this assertion which I am happy to share.
    In answer to your questions “If not this, then what?” As I stated above some residents even had an alternate plan that was discussed directly with Councillor John Howard and the Planning Team.
    “If not now then when?” Hopefully Redbridge will consult properly and listen to residents, as residents have been asking for some specific measures for some time. Any scheme needs to address the real issues that residents have been reporting and need to make the streets safer and design out crime. Anyone with a genuine understanding of the area would understand why the Quiet Strees plan was so bad for the residents of the area.
    I also disagree with this final statement “Redbridge is a traffic sewer and something radical is needed.” Certain parts of Redbridge have issues, but Barkingside South did not have the kind of issues you describe until the Quiet Streets Scheme was installed. In fact Quietway 6 has run right through Barkingside South for years because it was “Quiet”.
    Next time you are cycling through the area I would be more than happy to meet and discuss in more detail. I can show you the evidence and explain in more detail.

    1. I have nothing to do with the scheme, but I understand how this stuff works. You say there was another plan and residents have been asking to make the streets safer, but you haven't elaborated on it here. Both LTN areas are comprehensively traffic calmed, but apparently that hasn't worked. The LTNs could have properly dealt with the side streets allowing energy and focus to be placed on the main roads.

      The consultation should have been the first 6 months, but people couldn't even let that run.

      Redbridge is an awful place to be if you're not in a car (like the boroughs and areas around it). Whether it's trying to get to or through Ilford town centre, or having to share the road with drivers on Cranbrook Road or Forest Road.

      If you are happy for the status quo to remain, then that is entirely up to you and it's not for me to project my views onto you; but I fear there has been a huge opportunity missed and it is the local children I feel sorry for.