Avoiding ‘Carmageddon’

The day after Boris Johnson’s speech to the nation introducing the beginning of easing the lockdown, roads into London  were jammed as communters headed in to work. This picture of Stile Hall Gardens (below) was not taken on 11 May 2020, but shows the kind of rush hour congestion which is typical in many of Chiswick’s residential streets even before the Covid-19 emergency.

It was announced last week that it would soon be closed to through traffic as part of a package of traffic management measures being carried out by Hounslow Council. Michael Robinson, a resident of Stile Hall Gardens, has written a guest blog for The Chiswick Calendar urging other residents living in streets clogged by heavy traffic to take heart from their experience.

Image above: Stile Hall Gardens

What will be the new normal for traffic in Chiswick?

As a resident of Stile Hall Gardens for almost 20 years, the amount of traffic in the street used to be considered an inevitability. Along with the drone of planes heading for Heathrow and the clatter of South Western trains was the sound of car engines, either idling as they queued up along the street in the evening or accelerating past the flashing ’20mph Slow Down’ sign during the day.

That was until 2015, when the route of Cycleway 9 was changed. Six years earlier, when it was launched by Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London, the original cycle superhighway route had followed Chiswick High Road to Chiswick roundabout. In 2015 it was re-routed along Wellesley Rd to save money, at the behest of Andrew Gilligan, then Mayor Johnson’s cycling commissioner, now special advisor on transport.

Wellesley Road is also jammed with queuing cars in the evening so it couldn’t be a cycle route unless it was closed, and they couldn’t close Wellesley Road without also closing Stile Hall Gardens. After years of resigned acceptance by residents, we now saw a way by which things might change.

Five years, a petition, a survey and three consultations later, Stile Hall Gardens residents are on the cusp of this change and the road will be closed soon. Such change isn’t easy or unanimous but ultimately there were more people who valued a quieter and safer and less polluted street for everyone over saving a few minutes on some car journeys.

We’ve had a taste of life without through traffic during the Covid emergency.  Gone is the nightly rat-run of queuing cars, to be replaced by greater numbers of people walking, jogging, scooting and biking. Birdsong has replaced idling engines and irate drivers sounding their horns. Still no difference to the drivers accelerating past the 20mph sign, though.

Other streets in Chiswick afflicted by through traffic have also had a quieter time since lockdown, but their future may be less tranquil. Passenger numbers on public transport are likely to be restricted, and many will be reluctant to use public transport until the virus has dissipated.

There are predictions of large increases in car journeys; ‘carmageddon’ for urban areas close to major arterial roads, like Chiswick.

The government has announced a package of measures, additional statutory guidelines (and some new road signs) to address these issues. Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps said: “the government therefore expects local authorities to make significant changes to their road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians”.

What could this mean for Chiswick?

Cycleway 9
TfL has already announced the acceleration of Cycleway 9 as part of their “Streetspace” programme. My guess is that construction work at Kew Bridge will be completed but other sections will be implemented through installation of barriers in the roadway rather than the slow and expensive process of digging up the streets.

Closure of Wellesley Road and Stile Hall Gardens to through traffic
Closure was planned for the summer and will be brought forward.

South Chiswick Liveable Neighbourhood
The council has announced they will be looking to bring forward some measures to manage traffic and they will communicate these later in May. They have already announced the trial closure of the road under the railway bridge in Dukes Meadows.

Turnham Green Terrace and Devonshire Road
Following residents’ complaints about lack of space for pedestrians, Hounslow has removed car parking on some of Turnham Green Terrace to allow greater physical distance for people on foot. There have been calls for this to be extended. Other cities such as Vilnius have removed parking and through traffic to enable restaurants, cafes and other businesses to expand onto the street after they are allowed to reopen. This means they can maintain physical distance while being able to serve more customers than if they were restricted to their premises. The majority of street space in Turnham Green Terrace and Devonshire Road is given over to motor vehicles driving through, not space that benefits the businesses on the street and people visiting the street. While access to motor vehicles is needed for loading and deliveries, the current emergency has highlighted just how out of balance the current allocation of space is.

Image above: Chiswick High Rd air pollution. Source: Air Quality England

End the Dukes Avenue rat run?

Other streets afflicted by traffic:  the following data from Dukes Avenue will be typical of many streets in Chiswick.

A few months ago I asked Hounslow officers for local traffic data and they provided me with a traffic survey for the Dukes Avenue area of Chiswick carried out in early April 2019.  This was before the closure of Hammersmith Bridge to motor traffic so traffic volumes are likely to have increased after the survey.

Visualisations of the traffic data can be seen at public.tableau.com and below.

Key points are:

  • The major through routes in the area are from Chiswick High Road to the A4 along Dukes Avenue with a secondary route between Chiswick High Road to Sutton Court Road via Dukes Avenue and Barrowgate Road.
  • Peak traffic is from 6pm to 7pm with on average, one vehicle every 10 seconds along Dukes Avenue
  • Traffic on Dukes Avenue is 87% through traffic cutting through the area. Only 13% is local traffic where the trip has started or finished within the area.
  • 83% of traffic is made up from cars

Do Dukes Avenue residents want their street to return as a short-cut to the A4 with perhaps even more traffic? If not, now is the time to ask for change.

Image: Visualisation showing flow of through traffic in the Dukes Avenue area, from “inbound” streets on the left to “outbound” streets on the right.  Source: Michael Robinson

So what can people do?

Hounslow has launched the following website hounslowstreetspace to collect feedback on problem areas. People concerned with the impact of traffic in Chiswick should comment here and raise the issue with your ward councillors and Cllr Sam Hearn who will be the lead local councillor on this.

Government guidance for councils describes two methods by which changes to roads can be fast-tracked using Experimental and Temporary Traffic orders rather than the usual long, drawn-out consultation process. Councils can move quickly if they want to.

What do we want the ‘new normal’ to be?

The London Borough of Lambeth has been one of the leading boroughs tackling transport issues with Covid-19 and has published a transport strategy describing their planned measures. Air pollution from motor traffic was already high in the area and links are being researched between air pollution, Covid 19 fatalities and respiratory conditions. Lambeth’s Deputy Leader has said she “doesn’t want to lurch from one public health crisis into another” hence the plans to address traffic before it is too late.

The Covid emergency has given many people a glimpse of what life with less traffic can be. Now is the time to say where you want less traffic to be the new normal in Chiswick.

Image above: Reallocation of road space last week in Brixton, LB Lambeth. Source: Heidi Alexander twitter.

Michael Robinson is a resident of Stile Hall Gardens and also a committee member of Hounslow Cycling Campaign

Technical footnote: traffic survey data from Hounslow was analysed using software I wrote in Python using the Pandas data analysis library. Visualisations were created using the Tableau application, the QGIS geospatial data application and a specialist Python graphics library. The traffic flow visualisation is known as a Sankey chart after 19th century Irish engineer Captain Matthew Sankey who used this style of chart to illustrate flow of energy in steam engines. I plan to produce similar information for the South Chiswick area when Hounslow makes this data available.

Read More Stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: What will it take to make Chiswick a Liveable Neighbourhood?

See also: Street walkers in Waltham Forest