Tag Archives: ratrunning

Filtered permeability: a campaigning instructable

In a recent post, David Hembrow introduced the fifty bollard game: a practical exercise for campaigners to look at how a few strategically placed bollards could solve problems on their streets. A few bollards to create filtered permeability — closing off streets and country lanes to ratrunning, forcing motorists to keep through journeys to the main roads — can be a cheap and quick to implement solution to reclaiming those places from traffic.

Last week I talked to my neighbour @Jon_events, who has some practical experience with turning this game into reality, and we thought we’d try making a quick guide for other campaigners who want to fix their streets:

So, if you want to turn the fifty bollard game into reality, you should (a) set out your demands to the council exactly, so that they can’t mess it up or fob you off with excuses about how it would be much more complicated and expensive and bogged down in red tape than you think; and (b) get your neighbours to join you in a petition making those exact demands. (Exactly how many of your neighbours you need to support you will vary according to the pre-existing political will in your local council.)

The key part of Jon’s approach, though — necessary both to cut through the red tape, and to get sceptical neighbours on side — is not to ask for bollards at all. At least, not to begin with. Jon asks for flower planters, and — here’s the important bit — an Experimental Traffic Order. While almost everybody recognises the problem of ratrunning, some people have concerns about the proposed solution. But it’s difficult for them to say no to a reversible trial.

The time consuming bit is treading the streets, knocking on doors, explaining the proposal and getting signatures. So we made another guide, this one for our neighbours:

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Clink Street

The afternoons are getting short and the evenings are getting long. Here’s a dark winter picture of one of those little old London streets that are “too narrow”. The solution? It’s blocked with bollards to keep the ratrunners out.

The Friday photo column is just an excuse to plug my photography stuff. Don’t you think they’d make good Christmas presents?

Strange streets and rural ratruns in the Netherlands

On the path from Nijmegen to Eindhoven, following signs for an intermediate town, I stumbled upon the equivalent of a trunk road, the N324 Graafseweg on the edge of Wijchen, being dug up:

The cycle route here followed a series of short access streets parallel to the main road — non-through routes for motor vehicles but which are joined up with cycle tracks.

But at one point even the cycle route/access streets had been taken over by the construction crew, and bicycles were sent around a short and excellently signed diversion, along a suburban lane with cycle tracks:

And onto a little lane, Urnenveldweg I think it must have been, with no need for bicycle infrastructure, but with traffic calming — not very good traffic calming:

I imagine that this lane is normally little used. It runs parallel to the main road and doesn’t connect much other than the few properties here. So it’s interesting that the verges are so bare — what has killed the grassy edges? In addition to being the official bicycle diversion, quite a few motorists had discovered that it also makes a through route for cars, and they were determined to push their way through. Perhaps it was a self-selected sample of bad drivers — they were, after all, choosing to ignore their own diversions and instead ratrun down the country lanes. It was one of the few places in a 1,000km where being on a bicycle was anything less than completely comfortable and relaxed, and it destroyed the illusion that Dutch motorists are more considerate and better behaved than the British.

This is what they were doing with the main road:

According to a Google Translate of the council’s project page, they’ve reduced it from two lanes to a single lane in each direction, cut the speed limit to 50kmph, and put on a quieter surface — all measures to cut the noise pollution in this suburb. But the other thing they’ve done is built those walls: stone walls facing the main road, with gentle grassy banks facing the parallel bicycle/access streets and houses behind, another noise abatement feature. It’s a bit odd. I’m sure it’s preferable to having a 100kmph dual carriageway outside the front door, but it still looks like a funny sort of place to live.

Ratrunners rout railway

London Reconnections reports that Heathrow Airtrack — the old proposal to link ready-built platforms under Heathrow T5 to Waterloo via the Windsor lines through Staines and Putney — has been quietly shelved.  It was never a very interesting railway and, since I don’t anticipate using any airport in the foreseeable future, I have difficulty caring about its demise.  But it’s a vaguely interesting story, I think, for the reason that it was dropped.  Interesting to hardcore transport nerds, at least.

Because these railway lines out of Waterloo are already heavily used commuter lines, introducing a new Airtrack service to the system would require some difficult timetable shuffling and fiddling with routes to make everything fit in.  Train times on the Chiswick/Brentford branch and on the Egham branch — lines that Airtrack itself needn’t even use — would have to change in order to open slots on the shared tracks around Waterloo and Staines.  Those routes each have three level-crossings, which introduces a road/rail conflict.

The three level crossings on the Chiswick/Brentford branch are not important.  They are all on unclassified residential streets with nearby main roads that have bridges.  Probably they should just be closed and replaced with footbridges — I’m sure the budgetary and safety cases must be strong.  Increased train frequency could lead to long block closures of these crossings during rush hour, and it wouldn’t matter.  No bus routes use these roads.  A few west London Chelsea Tractor drivers might get upset at the loss of a ratrun.  Boo hoo.

What matters are the Egham crossings, all on relatively important roads into the town and its residential areas, without realistic alternative routes.  The residents of Egham are adamant that, while Chiswick and Brentford residents shouldn’t need to run a car, out there in the wild rural isolation of Egham it’s simply not possible to survive without a Range Rover to take the kids to school (have you seen the state of the school bus and the sort of children who use it?).  Lets not argue that one right now.  There is much demand on the roads in Egham, and the changes to train times and frequencies caused by Airtrack could increase the length and frequency of crossing closures to the point where supply is insufficient to meet demand, and the queues become too long for the road phases of the crossing.

It’s a nice demonstration of why our transport system is in the condition it’s in: those clever solutions that you like to make up when you’re bored on a delayed train won’t work, because in such a complex and close-to-capacity system as the British railway network, any tinkering has massive knock-on effects elsewhere.  Run another train here?  Add a few carriages to that service?  Build a new branch to Heathrow?  It’s a bit more complicated than that.  Sometimes building a whole new railway, like Crossrail or HS2, is cheaper and easier than trying to untangle the age old lines we already have.

Oh, but, why don’t they just build bridges over the railway in place of the level crossings, you say?  Another of your excellent ideas, and that’s where we get to the really nerdily interesting bit.  Currently, the presence of level crossings in the town make the ‘B’ roads that run south through it marginally less inviting to the motorist than the busy A30 and A320 bypasses.  Replace the crossings with bridges and Egham becomes a ratrun.  The minor inconvenience of waiting at the gates is the price the townsfolk pay for relatively quiet and livable streets.  The extra road capacity would change the congestion profile of the main roads, and over time, change the business profile of the high street and the social profile of the town.  In the chaotic complexity of the road network, a tiny tweak can set in motion slow but significant changes.  So we can’t run trains from Waterloo to Heathrow because it would necessitate the creation of a ratrun for motorists through a town that the Heathrow railway wouldn’t even run through.

Resolving these road/rail and resident/ratrunner conflicts is, of course, just a political decision.  Any decision will inconvenience a lot of people and have long term, surprisingly far-reaching, and not entirely predictable consequences. The politician’s job is to decide who to inconvenience more; which option is expected have less problematic consequences.  There is no one objectively right answer.

It just happens, though, that Egham is in Runnymede & Weybridge, the constituency that elected our dear transport secretary.  I didn’t say there weren’t any objectively wrong answers.