Is one-way the answer to Bradford-on-Avon’s traffic?

A recent article in the Wiltshire Times has reignited the debate about Bradford on Avon’s traffic. We thought we’d set the record straight with what Ideal Bradford has been doing as part of the Town Council and to answer the many questions about the proposed one-way traffic system. The Town Council has also formally responded to this article here.

Why has nothing happened?

It might seem on the outside that not much has happened. But that’s not the truth. Dom Newton took over as head of the Highways Committee in May 2018.

Councillor Mike Roberts, who is an independent councillor, had held the position for over 5 years. So it’s a bit ironic that Mike is pushing for a trial after all his time in the role previously.

Mike was informed that Ideal Bradford councillors would not support him as Chair as he seemed primarily interested in improving conditions for car-users, rather than addressing the Council’s agreed strategic aim to improve air quality and pedestrian safety, and demonstrated an overall lack of direction and consultation with fellow councillors – this meant a real lack of progress in 2017-18, which had to be addressed. It now is being.

So what’s been going on?

A group called the Key Evidence Review Board (KERB), formed by Ideal Bradford councillor Simon McNeill Ritchie, has compiled all the data that’s been collected; this is in the process of being analysed before being presented back to the Committee and to Wiltshire Council.

This has been underway for about 8 months. While this might seem like a long time, it’s important to make sure the analysis is correct before solutions are considered.

This work is nearing completion, and a first draft of the report has been issued for review by Dom, as Chair of Highways Committee, and Wiltshire Councillor Sarah Gibson (BoA South) – a final draft should be available within weeks.

Given that this problem has developed over decades, a few more weeks to make sure it’s fully understood seems acceptable.

How much data do we have?

There’s data and there’s data.

Michelle Donelan MP did her own survey which highlighted that people were concerned about traffic in the town, and that a one-way system was deemed popular. Michelle, as a marketing person, knows that surveys are the best possible way of guaranteeing you get the answer you want. Also, while people were asked for their opinions, there was no real information provided on what the options would entail, so people were, in effect, expressing an opinion without enough information to decide.

Councillor Mike Roberts also mentions data from the Atkins Survey – this survey was conducted several years ago using cameras to track traffic flows through and across the town. The results of this data were argued to show that only 17% of traffic was generated externally to BoA – numbers which are clearly incorrect.  The survey has been reanalysed to take account of various flaws which have been identified in how it was carried out. Therefore, while Atkins is a portion of the data looked at, it is in no way conclusive.

In early 2017, Ideal Bradford conducted a survey of more than 1000 residents asking them what their concerns were – the number one answer was actually pedestrian safety, not their ability to drive across town, which is why we’re focussing on that and air quality as our strategic outcome.

The forthcoming report from KERB goes through a greater range of evidence, in more detail, which is why we are waiting for that report.

What about computer modelling?

Computer modelling is expensive – and reliant on good data.  We would expect further modelling to cost the Town tens of thousands of pounds, as additional data would be required. Having said that, a physical trial would be likely to cost more, and entail real, physical disruption to residents and businesses.

So, when we know the direction that the evidence is pointing us, more modelling may be required – but we’ll need to discuss that with the experts.

Why can’t we just trial a one-way system?

It might seem like the best way is just to do a three-month trial. But this isn’t the case.

  • People’s habits are ingrained and the communication required to trial a one-way system is onerous. Especially if there’s a chance that plans might change at the end of the trial.
  • There would be a considerable administrative cost in respect of temporary traffic restriction orders, and publicity;
  • There would be impact on road-users using navigation technology, which could lead to safety risks;
  • There would need to be additional mitigatory controls to protect side roads and pinch points – which are already under stress;
  • We must prioritise safety – for pedestrians and other road users.

A trial is not a straightforward or simple proposition – that’s why we have to be sure of what the data shows us.

Is one-way going to be adopted?

A one-way system is one possible option, but that depends on the data.  As of now, the Town Council has clearly stated that there are no plans to conduct a trial of the one way system. Wiltshire Council has asked that outcomes of all the data analysis be presented, NOT that we propose solutions.

And it’s not just traffic data – the committee has to ensure pedestrian safety, air quality control (which is another big issue), keep businesses up and running for the economic viability of the town centre (which is highly important for the future of the town).

How much data do we have?

There’s a considerable amount of data already about our current traffic issues – that’s the basis of the report that’s coming out shortly.  That will help us identify options, which will need to be validated through more data and expert advice.

How much more data do we really need?

Any proposed solution has to be tested to see how it would impact on the various issues we’re trying to address.  This might mean more data collection – but it would be focussed on a specific scheme.

How hard can this really be? 

Very. If fixing BoA’s traffic were easy, we wouldn’t be discussing it; it would have been fixed decades ago. Hundreds of thousands of pounds have been spent over the decades looking at solutions – so this isn’t simple, and simplistic solutions won’t help anyone.

Where’s the harm in just giving it a go?

It all depends on what we’re trying to achieve… if people just want the traffic to go through the town faster, a one-way system would achieve that. But there are very obvious concerns are the impacts on:

  • streets like Woolley Street, Whitehill, Mill Lane, Berryfield Road, Sladesbrook, etc, Depending on the exact model chosen, these could be used to short-circuit the system and become (even worse) rat runs: most of these are roads that already suffer from poor driver behaviour and traffic problems;
  • entry points to the system including the Castle roundabout, New Road roundabout, Sladesbrook and the central roundabout, which could become pinch points as traffic attempts to enter a faster-moving flow. These are already pinch points that would cause traffic to back up even farther if it were not able to gain entry;
  • pedestrian crossings in the centre, which are already skipped by traffic alarmingly frequently, particularly when it is busy but flowing more freely. Drivers frequently ignore these while there is no queue as it is;
  • total volume of traffic, which is likely to increase if traffic is flowing more freely, as more cars treat it as a viable shortcut;
  • local businesses, as pedestrians are put off spending time in a town centre dominated by fast-moving traffic.

In essence, we would be shifting our queues out into other already congested areas, and over time the traffic volume would continue to increase – and we’d be back to square one….

It may be tempting to try something – anything – to sort out our issues; but not at the potentially high cost, both in terms of the infrastructure that would need to support even a trial, and the impacts – foreseen and unforeseen – that would accompany a simplistic implementation of a one-way system.

How much have we spent on research so far? Why can’t we use that?

Between the Core Zone and the Atkins survey, hundreds of thousands of pounds – however, the current work is not costing any more money; it’s being done on a voluntary basis. Of course, any modelling will cost more, and physical trialling would be very expensive.

Why don’t the Town Council back Mike Roberts – he’s trying to get something done!

Tempting as it is to leap to simplistic solutions, Mike has himself said that we should be evidence-led – that’s not borne out by his latest proposal, which relies on apparent offers of funding from Wiltshire Council and Michelle Donelan, MP, contrary to what we have been told – without confirmation from these parties.

Given Mike’s previously expressed views, he is focusing on improving conditions for cars driving across and through our town – but improving journey times is only one aspect, and very simplistic, when we know that this is a complex problem.