Tuesday, 1 November 2011

East End Transport Scheme - Plymouth

The past 18 months were a mixture of utter traffic chaos, severe disruption and, seemingly at times, sheer madness.
This was due to the East End Transport Scheme being built in Plymouth's East End.

Broadly speaking, the scheme would improve traffic flow (for motorised traffic, of course) throughout the area, and crucially prepare creaking transport links to be able to cope with the traffic generated by whole new town being planned just to the east of Plymouth.

Some aspects of the scheme are seriously good, such as the removal of the "cattle pen" railings along Embankment Road, and having around 50% of traffic that previously used Embankment Road now flowing via Gdynia Way means the area becomes more liveable.

A brand-new cycle route was implemented, along far quieter roads that have been traffic-calmed to provide a better cycling environment. This route links up with an older traffic-free route of good quality, that has been further enhanced through the addition of street lights.

Gdynia Way saw the speed limit dropped from 40mph to 30mph, with permanent average-speed cameras added to help keep honest drivers honest. (See Hoverboard Hammond? No need to raise speed limits to keep drivers "on the right side of the law.")

So there we have it: lots and lots of improvements, and even a new cycle route! What's not to like?

Ermmm...quite a bit, actually! For starters, cyclists coming from almost anywhere in Cattedown, going towards Embankment road or Cattedown Roundabout now are forced to take a detour and join Embankment Road at the Elliot Road junction. This is because there is no cyclist contra-flow either at Cattedown Roundabout (which is actually understandable) nor at the junction of Tintern Ave with Embankment Road. The absolute annoying thing is that this junction has been re-worked as part of the East End Transport Scheme, so the opportunity was there, but unsurprisingly, the vision wasn't.

From Elliot Road, Embankment Road has been narrowed on the west-bound carriageway, making it less than pleasant to cycle along, particularly with traffic building up behind you and nowhere safe for other vehicles to over-take. And despite this all, some drivers will be determined to over-take, safe or not!

The pavements on the south-side of Embankment Road were widened, and built out into the road near junctions and where new pedestrian crossings were installed. This is a good thing. What isn't so good is that there are NO sheffield stands anywhere along that stretch of road. It is as if cyclists aren't expected to want to cycle to the shops! How utterly short-sighted!

Then we get to all these new, and sorely needed toucan crossings. The two crossings installed on Tothill Road are somewhat less than useful. Seriously, they just don't work properly! Press the button on one side, wait an eternity and eventually it will turn green, allowing you to walk or cycle to the middle. Here is where it gets interesting - the second crossing will be red to cars, and red to you. Traffic on Tothill Road is halted, as a result, but cyclists and pedestrians aren't allowed to cross???!! Which brain surgeon thought this one up?

Much further along Tothill Road there is an older "traditional" zebra crossing. It is far quicker to walk there, safely cross once cars have stopped for you, then walk back along the other side! This is a very good example of very poor infrastructure!

The pedestrian crossing by the Elliot Road junction suffers in the same way: once you've crossed the east-bound lanes of Embankment Road, you get to press another button, then you wait. And wait. And wait! Finally, the lights will change to red for west-bound traffic on Embankment Road, and green for traffic from Elliot Road. This means it should be perfectly safe for pedestrians to cross the west-bound lane of Embankment Road, but you won't be allowed to, as the light will remain red to you! Where is the logic in that?

There is a new shared pavement along Embankment Lane, on the eastern side. If you cycled in from Marsh Mills Roundabout, along the busy shared-use path, you could end up using this rather good facility. Rather good that is, until just before it joins Laira Bridge Road, where you'll find a large END painted at the point where your right to cycle on the pavement suddenly stops. Please bear in mind that this is perhaps 50 metres away from another cycle route that shares a pavement. Why did they not simply continue the cycle route to join up with the existing route?

The junction of Laira Bridge Road and Finnegan Road remains unchanged, and a danger to pedestrians and cyclists alike, despite being heavily used by both groups. Of course, to Plymouth City Council, pedestrians and cyclists are afterthoughts that shouldn't be allowed to interfere with traffic flow!

Along Heles Terrace, there is a golden opportunity to have installed a cycle route that crosses Embankment Road onto Radford Road. This option would allow cyclists a far quieter route, while ensuring they don't hold up traffic through the narrow, single-lane part of Embankment Road. Sadly, while some tar ramps were put in place, this route isn't signed, and besides, the way cars park at the blocked end of Radford Lane means they'd simply block the cycle route, too. Finally, this route would either let cyclists join Embankment Road by the Elliot Road junction, thus forcing cyclists down the single-lane part of Embankment Road, past the shops, or lead them down Cotehele Ave, only to discover that there is no cycling contra-flow at the junction of Tintern Ave with Embankment Road.

At this stage, I'll point out that there used to be a good quality (if unpleasant) cycle lane on Gdynia Way. This has been removed as part of the road widening.

This simply means that overall, throughout the East End, cyclists are worse off than before, despite promises from Plymouth City Council that things would be improved for cyclists.