Congested Greenwich: Too many cars, or Trafalgar Road’s fault?

Lord Adonis's Twitter feed, 19 February 2014Labour peer and former transport secretary Lord Adonis is travelling around London by bus this week.

It’s widely thought he fancies a crack at the mayoralty in 2016, so hopping on the bus is smart politics when the current mayor has hiked up fares while declining to invest in new services.

He’s been tweeting his travels at @Andrew_Adonis all week, and it’s been quite a ride.

On Wednesday, he showed off pictures of him travelling around with Greenwich & Woolwich MP Nick Raynsford. They had a look at the Old Royal Naval College, looked at some bus timetables in Greenwich, took a 386 through Kidbrooke (they clearly weren’t in hurry), and pointed at Tesco in Woolwich.

To get to Greenwich, they took a 188 along Trafalgar Road. And Adonis made this very odd comment…

Lord Adonis's Twitter feed, 19 February 2014

“Nick Raynsford tells me typical narrow Victorian High St leads to congestion” – really? Nothing to do with too many vehicles trying to use it, then? Or even the Maze Hill traffic lights, for that matter? It’s not even that narrow, for heaven’s sake.

If this was Upper Street in Islington, I very much doubt the local MP would observe that a normal-sized main road “leads to congestion”. But as it’s Trafalgar Road in Greenwich, the shops are clearly getting in the way of increased traffic flows. What would they rather have, a dual carriageway?

Among the baffled responses was one from the Evening Standard’s property writer Mira Bar-Hillel:

Mira Bar-Hillel on Twitter

Adonis also backs the Silvertown Tunnel, so perhaps this sort of thing’s not such a surprise after all. But it’s depressing that both Conservative and Labour politicians seem to see Greenwich as a place to slap down tarmac and build the new roads they could never get away with anywhere else in inner London.

In just over 15 months, of course, Nick Raynsford will be an ex-MP. Here’s hoping his successor takes a more enlightened view and defends us against demands to accommodate more traffic – and from mayors who who want to further clog up our streets.

10.40am update: Lord Adonis responded on Twitter this morning.

Sadly, that’s exactly what the Silvertown Tunnel will do, particularly for Greenwich.

For comparison, here are some pictures of Trafalgar Road in May 1968.

10pm update: “Time for a bus bottleneck buster”Lord Adonis on his trip through Greenwich.

24 comments

  1. HTFB

    And this from a former planning minister! I’ve liked what I’ve seen of Raynsford, though, there are a lot worse out there.

  2. Chris Taylor

    His comment about the congested Blackwall Tunnel was also quite selective. A photo of the back of the car in front, taken at the mouth of the tunnel where cars (quite rightly) slow is not proof of congestion on tunnel routes. Hope he’ll continue his series with a couple of weeks on foot and on bike, see what it’s like at ground level.

  3. maryorelse

    One of the factors leading to jams in Trafalgar Road is that there is no alternative route because of the narrow space between the park and the river. It is also at the foot of steep hills ending with the river on the north side. We all have aspirations for a vibrant high street, and this includes, for instance, the need for deliveries to shops and access for people who, for instance, may not have wonderful mobility. There have been many fancy suggestions to deal with this, all of which have caused outrage of one kind or another (most recently, in response to suggestions of a congestion charge, by an aggressive pro-car lobby as I remember). It would be good to think someone had a really constructive solution which encompassed the many and often complex needs of movement for local people.

  4. David Riddle

    Worth pointing out that the A2 over the Heath is probably even narrower than Trafalgar Road, and that also suffers severe congestion.

  5. Larry Poulton

    1. Don’t allow any vehicles to park in the road. It is 2 lanes each way, not even for loading, nor handicapped. Harsh I know.

    2. Remove the bus lanes to allow cars to use 2 lanes.

    3. Reduce the number of bus stops. 97% of the population can walk more that 50yards. The close spacing of bus stops means that busses are spending as much time stationary as on the move.

    3 Stop traffic entering Trafalgar Road from side roads where possible. This would allow traffic lights to be removed which slow down traffic.

    4. Accept the inevitability of the car and increase car parking around the area.

  6. maryorelse

    Bikemapper – fine, but how do you do it in practice – how physically do you let the buses and emergency services through and no-one else? What defines ‘private motor traffic’? Does it include the tradesman with a van full of tools going on a call out? I guess ‘yes’ because they are commercial – but what if the tradesman is also taking his children to school in the same vehicle? He’s private, on the school run and has to be stopped..
    The carer taking an elderly relative to Vanburgh Health Centre and the shopper with a back condition which meant she couldn’t carry a bag up Vanburgh Hill (someone I used to know) – both of them would be private so they will just have to suffer/find another doctor. And – I hardly dare raise – the tourists and the visitors to Greenwich Market and the traders who want customers to come from all directions.
    – what system do you put in to filter it all and who decides who can go through and who not??
    and what I am really saying is, ‘look this isn’t easy’.

  7. Trevor Allman

    One of the problems is all those traffic lights at The Arches.
    Trafalgar Road is usually snarled up until there, and then the road is clear up to the town centre.

    Another issue is the lorry deliveries. Couldn’t they make deliveries outside of “rush” hour ?

  8. Trevor Allman

    Of course I should add that there is obviously way too much traffic using Greenwich as a “rat-run”, which would be exacerbated with the proposed Silvertown Tunnel development.

  9. David Riddle

    Whatever one might like to think, I fail to understand how anyone can consider Greenwich as being located on a ‘rat-run’. It is one of three major routes in to London in the immediate vicinity (A2 and A20/21) being the others, and services all of Charlton, Woolwich, Plumstead and Thamesmead. It may be inadequate and, as such, inconveniently busy for local residents, and improvements would be problematic, but it fails the definition of a ‘rat-run’ in my book.

    It is also a sad fact that the absence of buses actually *does* improve traffic flows considerably. You only have to be observant on the rare occasions that there are bus strikes to see that is the case.

  10. Rob

    Trafalgar road was reasonably OK till the additional traffic lights were added a few years ago.
    Ah someone else doesnt like the lorries unloading. Outside co-op/Iceland there are bus stops, double yellow lines, single stripes on the pavement, signs saying no loading during rush hour, signs saying no stopping – London clearway + the lorries are so big they overlap the side roads some times. They push cyclists into the traffic + buses have a hard time negotiating around them to stop at the bus stop (if there are no lorries blocking them). Lorries should unload in the hours allocated, and use smaller lorries.
    – I will ask the council to enforce the restrictions, but I have zero expectation that they will do anything about it, despite the flagrant rule breaking.

  11. Mr H

    I have to agree with the comments regulars ing the traffic lights along Trafalgar road!!!
    There are just too many of them so close together, which causes a ripple effect especially in the town centre.

    Regarding the lorries parked on the main road – I can’t really blame the drivers as it’s really difficult to park anywhere else that’s convenient to drop off deliveries. But the council should have foreseen this when giving the go ahead to the Tesco express! Now there are 3+ supermarkets on the same stretch of road which means more delivery lorries.
    Getting the deliveries dropped off out of hours is also not really practical for the business and more importantly the staff!

    I just dread to think how the infrastructure will cope if Ikea comes to Charlton, a new Sainsbury and m&s etc (on top of the numerous housing developments)!

  12. bikemapper

    @ maryorelse: I didn’t say it would be easy! However, to respond to some of your points …

    How physically do you let the buses and emergency services through and no-one else? Put up a No Entry sign at either end (with exemptions)? Paint the road a different colour? I don’t know.

    What defines ‘private motor traffic’? It might be simpler to say what it is not, rather than what it is. What it is not is public motor traffic. Should exemptions be made for disabled users? Probably, yeah.

    Regarding visitors to Greenwich, they would surely benefit from a more people-friendly environment. I don’t know, but my instinct is that most of the east-west traffic is through-traffic, and most of the visitors would come from the west.

    I was just thinking out loud. There’s a whole load of other stuff I would do first, but one day, perhaps, residents and shop-keepers and so on might be up for an idea like this.

  13. maryorelse

    Yes – I am just trying to point that there isn’t a quick fix and that people have been looking at solutions for years and years and years and not come up with anything that works. I also should have pointed out practically that a lot of decisions about the road are made by Transport for London (I am not sure of the detail but I am pretty sure they control most of the decisions on the traffic lights) and that – of course – London Buses have a very very big say on the road. Add to this residents in side streets who object to delivery vehicles and to large vehicles in their road generally (and who can blame them) and the planning rules which mean that shop use can change in many cases without going back to the Council for consent and that in other cases parking and traffic considerations aren’t necessarily allowed to be taken into account by planners.
    The lorry ban sort of works – but it is down to the police to enforce it and they have other things to do. As do the parking wardens who should deal with vehicles in the cycle lanes but often have to be elsewhere (frequently dealing with keeping school entrances clear in the early morning).
    Sorry – going on about this too long, and I should shut up and go out.

  14. Adam Bienkov (@AdamBienkov)

    Removing traffic lights will not solve the basic problem, which is that too much traffic is trying to use the route. The only solution is to find ways to reduce that volume of traffic.

    There are various ways this could be done either in isolation or combination:

    1. A local congestion zone: This is a possibility but would be expensive to install and run and could lead to problems in the roads on the borders of the zone, especially as it would not be connected to any existing congestion charging zone. So what you really need to make this work would be:

    2. A London-wide zone or zones: Personally I would support this. There are still lots of unnecessary car journeys taking place through London, many of which go through Greenwich. If we can strip out most of these through a congestion charge and use the revenue to go towards improving public transport alternatives then the problem would be solved. However, sadly it seems unlikely that any of the current likely candidates for Mayor would be brave enough to propose such a thing so we may have to think of something else.

    3. Encourage walking and cycling: Greenwich is pretty cycling unfriendly but it doesn’t need to be. There are lots of quiet streets and parks that could be used for cycling. Why not block off more side streets to cars? This would make them more attractive to cyclists and pedestrians as well as having the effect of reducing the number of cars using Greenwich and Trafalgar Road as a rat run and alternative to the A2. Also, why not set up a bike hire scheme? The central London scheme isn’t set to come to Greenwich any time soon, so why shouldn’t the council set up its own scheme, possibly in conjunction with neighbouring boroughs? The hills are a barrier, but TfL are set to trial an electric bike hire scheme soon in parts of North London. Why not try something similar here?

    4. Make central Greenwich a no through-road for cars: Plans to pedestrianise central Greenwich were scrapped because they would have damaged the local bus network. So why not just restrict College Approach and King William Walk to buses, taxis, bikes and delivery vehicles only? You would also have to make the junction of Nelson Road with Greenwich Church Street left-turn only for cars, which would still enable access for deliveries and local traffic, but would discourage the use of it as an alternative to the A2. This would be a radical solution and might cause some problems with cars trying to use side streets as rat runs. This could be ameliorated by blocking off streets to motorised traffic and/or making certain roads one-way. This may prove difficult, but it is at least worth considering.

  15. Richard

    @AdamBienkov – I am not sure how you can suggest that there are a lot of unnessecary car journeys in London, how can you possibly know? If there is excess road usage then surely it just implies that the cost is too low? As you say there is little popular support for road tolling so is unlikely to happen. Its a classic free rider problem as some other group pick up the cost of the congestion. It would also be a highly regressive solution which is made worse by the increased cost of housing closer to central London. Maybe having a lot of traffic on Trafalgar Road is just the least worst outcome?

  16. Adam Bienkov (@AdamBienkov)

    @Richard – This TfL study shows just how many people still regularly drive into London town centres rather than use public transport.

    http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/customer-research/town-centre-study-2011-report.pdf

    Interestingly it finds that people visiting Greenwich are the least likely to use the bus. Also when asked what their main priority for improving Greenwich town centre was, the most popular choice was “less traffic”. I would suggest the two findings are related.

    If we could reduce car journeys through Greenwich, then people would be more likely to take the bus, which would in turn further free up the roads for those who genuinely need to drive into the town centre.

  17. maryorelse

    Adam – there was of course talk of a congestion charging scheme here seven or eight years ago. My memory of all this is a bit hazy – and perhaps someone will correct me. At a public meeting in Greenwich Chris Roberts had asked residents what they would like done to mitigate the through traffic. I can’t remember exactly what he proposed now, and the proposals weren’t concrete anyway but rather inviting public discussion. Later a study was done and residents consulted by – I think – the University of Bristol, (again not sure who commissioned them – it wasn’t the council – maybe it was just independent) which led to an aggressive pro-car campaign with a series of anti- council public meetings which claimed there was a definite plan and secret cameras being erected.

  18. bikemapper

    I am just trying to point that there isn’t a quick fix and that people have been looking at solutions for years and years and years and not come up with anything that works.

    Janette Sadik-Khan said in her TED talk that they had to work hard to refocus their agenda:

    “People had tried for years to make changes: they’d changed signals, they’d changed lanes, everything they could do to make Times Square work better. It was dangerous, hard to cross the street, it was chaotic. And so, none of those approaches worked, so we took a different approach—a bigger approach—looked at our street differently.

    “And so we did a six-month pilot. We closed Broadway, from 42nd Street to 47th Street, and created two-and-a-half acres of new pedestrian space. And the temporary materials are an important part of the programme, because we were able to show how it worked. And I work for a data-driven mayor, as you probably know, so it was all about the data. So if it worked better for traffic, if it was better for mobility, if it was safer, better for business, we would keep it; and if it didn’t work, no harm, no foul, we could put it back the way it was, because these were temporary materials, and that was a very big part of the buy-in: much less anxiety when you think that something can be put back.”

    My basic assumption is that most of the private motor traffic passes through Greenwich, and wholly diminishes the quality of the public space: it contributes nothing that could be called positive, as this photo shows.

  19. maryorelse

    (I should take a vow of silence) Paul McPherson has a very interesting video about changing streets in a similar way to the above – and has been trying to get people interested in it

  20. Alex Grant

    This row says more about the weaknesses Twitter than it does about Andrew Adonis’s transport policy. Andrew has written about his bus journey in London at http://andrewadonis.com/2014/02/25/london-by-bus-a-reflection-2/, which is a much better way of seeing what he thinks than misinterpreting a tweet. It is simply ridiculous to draw detailed conclusions about anyone’s transport policy from a 140-character statement.

    Andrew Adonis and Nick Raynsford were NOT saying that Trafalgar Road should be widened or buildings knocked down: saying that the road is narrow and congested is simply a statement of fact. As Andrew Adonis’s article makes clear, what is needed is more public transport capacity generally – trams, more buses and bus lanes, safer cycle lanes, tube-style train frequencies on the Greenwich line, and more affordable fares to get people out of their cars and make streets like Trafalgar Road less congested.

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