It’s been a dramatic year in traffic terms! After a deathly calm early on in the lockdown, there’s no doubt that the traffic on Lavender Hill and some of the residential streets has been pretty busy! We’ve also seen a flurry of experiments as we adapt the ways we move to the new reality of a highly contagious global pandemic – and many of our readers are finding it (at best) confusing, or (at worst) a nightmare.
The good news is that a fair bit of what we’re seeing is nothing to do with the coronavirus, or the various traffic changes that have happened as a result – but rather, it’s because Vauxhall bridge is completely closed for works until November, other than to pedestrians & one rather winding and narrow lane for buses. It’s the biggest road through London, and all the diverted traffic is heading across the other bridges – with a strong preference for the Queenstown Road and Chelsea Bridge (as Lambeth bridge is inside the congestion charging zone!), and causing the sort of chaos on our streets that we’re more used to seeing when there are traffic accidents on the Vauxhall gyratory. This will (assuming all goes well with the repair works) end in November, but it’s no fun for residents or traders.
But it’s not just Vauxhall bridge that’s having an impact. Our quick recap of the situation locally –
The speed limit is becoming 20mph across the board. Most of Wandsworth’s roads went to 20 mph some time back, including almost all the side streets to Lavender Hill (hence the profusion of signs on the junctions). Lavender Hill stayed at 30 – despite Wandsworth Road moving down to 20mph. There have subsequently been concerns that the limit would be better if it was consistent, and some felt that 30 was still rather fast for busy shopping and residential street. This week, signs have gone up cutting the speed to 20.
We all know that this won’t suddenly mean that motorcycles drive below the speed limit… but it is expected to slow things down generally. We understand that the effect of this will be monitored, and that once people have had time to get used to the new limits, roads with mean speeds of above 25mph after the signed only limits are introduced are likely to see further traffic calming measures.
Streets in front of our schools are closing at peak times. There’s been an explosion in parents driving their children to schools (notably the older ones, who often go to much more distant schools) – which has not helped the general traffic situation, but which has also caused particular problems outside schools where the combination of socially distanced queuing (designed to let children in to schools in year groups), all mixed up with enormous people carriers struggling to weave down the narrow and child-filled streets, has been causing increasingly dangerous situations.
So these streets are being closed, during school opening and closing times, on an experimental basis. Wandsworth reckon this will cut school-gate congestion and help air quality, as well as gently discouraging parents from driving children short distances. It may also create a calmer environment for schoolchildren and parents. But the major benefit is likely to be to safety – whether by allowing more space for everyone, or reducing the risk of traffic accidents. Here is the scene this morning outside the newly created ‘School street’ zone at the Wix school (with our photo of it in action on the first day above); similar schemes are in place at most schools.
These are officially an experiment, and there are ongoing consultation (links for Wix / Shaftesbury Park) to receive feedback. Chances are this might get pretty fiery (any road closure usually does, even if it’s only for 45-minute periods) – but given the closures still allow drop offs (there’s a loop at either end of this one) we suspect that once people get used to them, these will settle in and be here to stay.
Bus lanes are changing, and cycle lanes are growing. Most bus lanes are now operating full time – with several of the parking spaces that used to be in those bus lanes having been simply eliminated, to speed up buses outside peak hours, and especially to make the bus lanes safer for cyclists. This was really quite controversial at first – although we appreciate that we do now have a pressing need to make it easier and safer to cycle around the Borough and beyond. With social distancing here to stay maybe for a year or two, we need a lot more people to be able to be on bikes, scooters and the like – if London is to survive as a centre of employment.
The Elspeth Road junction has had a particularly complex time – with the lanes being reorganised, and a segregated cycle lane being built heading westbound. It’s worth bearing in mind that this is the spot where we saw the tragic death of a young cyclist who was seemingly caught by merging traffic, so we can see the merits in ensuring that there is only one clearly defined lane of traffic leaving the junction rather than one and a half. Various other changes include adding new cycle lanes along several stretches, and removing some of the remaining bits of pavement railing that cause crowding at pedestrian crossings at the eastern end of Lavender Hill.
All in all – there’s really quite a lot going on, and that’s before we even discuss the Low Traffic Neighbourhood experiments that have attracted so much attention elsewhere in the Borough, and which seem to have become a pitched battle between pro-and anti-traffic campaigners, with added political tension and accusations on all sides!
Things over this side of the Borough are, fortunately, a bit calmer. Ultimately a lot of this change is inevitable given we’ve seen a marked drop in the capacity of the Northern Line, Clapham Junction’s trains and our bus routes to allow social distancing. Even with a lot of people working from home, or not working at all, many buses are running close to their (new, far lower) maximum capacities – so one way or another we have to find alternative ways for people to get around – whether it be cycling, walking or scooters.
And the first priority has to be safety. We know a lot of us are venturing on to bicycles, scooters and the like, as well as walking and running, for the first time as an alternative to what used to be packed public transport when getting to work, to town centres, or to school. We have to make space for pedestrians, we have to get rid of dangerous pinch points, and we have to prepare for people of all ages and levels of confidence to be trying out new ways to get around.
That’s not to say everything has worked, or indeed will work. We appreciate this is a new situation where things are being done quickly, and the sort of bitter blame games that seem to be erupting in some other parts of London where things haven’t immediately worked perfectly don’t help anyone. It’s maybe not surprising that some of the detail on our streets will need to be improved and refined with time – some of the traffic calming measures have had unintended consequences, and the changes weren’t particularly well publicised before they were introduced, leading to a lot of confusion at first. Things are starting to settle down through and we’ve noticed a lot of traffic counters (picture, right) and we know our local Councillors as well as the Borough’s traffic engineers are keeping a pretty close eye on how this all works. The real test will be when Vauxhall bridge reopens – and we get a chance to compare where we are now, with what it used to be like. But in the meantime keep us posted on your many helpful thoughts & observations, and if you have time, do respond to the consultations on some of these changes – as thoughtful comments and suggestions are always worth sharing.