New Street is possibly one of the narrowest streets in Horsham. At the location shown in the picture below, the carriageway is 5 metres wide, with pavements of 2 metres and 1.5 metres wide, giving a total width of 8.5 metres.
At the northern end, it is about a metre wider – 9.5 metres – each pavement being 50cm wider. Unfortunately it is now, despite its width, something of a rat run. You can see in the map below that it forms an attractive shortcut for people travelling north to south in the town – or vice versa (New Street is the long straight road in the centre of the map).
The particular route I have marked is one I often encounter drivers using after picking up their children at St Mary’s school (point A), heading back to their homes in the north of Horsham. Instead of using the trunk roads of Park Way and North Street (the orange and yellow roads), which involve traffic lights, they have looked at a map and seen that the most direct route is along New Street, and several other residential streets, further east.
This kind of rat-running is totally inappropriate, given that the drivers are avoiding what I would call the ‘car-specific’ roads, designed to accommodate these kinds of journeys by car, and instead are forcing themselves through a narrow residential street. It’s all the more absurd given that this shortcut is, in reality, not at all quicker, because despite the absence of traffic lights, it involves several junctions, and the narrowness of New Street, allied to all the cars parked on it, means that it becomes clogged very easily by more than two drivers travelling in opposite directions. In practice this means that the frustrated drivers attempt to ‘make up time’ on the sections of their journey where they are not being held up by other cars, driving at inappropriate speeds on the more open sections of New Street, and the other residential roads.
Streets like New Street should be enjoyable to cycle on – it should be a quiet, residential street, with little motor traffic. In reality it is rather unpleasant to use on a bike, because of the inappropriate speed used by motorists in sections of it, as mentioned above, and also because some drivers think it is acceptable to drive towards you on a narrowed section like in the photograph that starts this post. I have often had to take to the pavement on this street, purely to avoid being squashed. I am also held up quite frequently as cars travelling in opposite directions negotiate their way through the parked cars on both sides of the street. New Street was actually the location for my Bikeability Level 2 lesson, and involved much ‘taking the lane’ and assertive cycling for my beginner companions; it really brought home to me how needlessly difficult it is to cycle on this kind of street.
So what is needed?
A Dutch solution. Here is Oosterhoutstraat in Assen.
It is a residential street, of approximately similar width to New Street. It is slightly wider, at around 10 metres in total width, while the pavements are slightly narrower than those on New Street, about 1.5 metres. It is also very close to a station – Assen central station. It could form a useful shortcut across the city for drivers, travelling from the west, to the southeastern suburbs. But as you can see in the map below, it is not possible (or, more precisely, practical) to use Oosterhoutstraat as a route. In this first attempt, we are sent far to the south of Oosterhoutstraat (and the surrounding suburbs) –
It simply isn’t practical to rat-run through Oosterhoutstraat.
Why is this? It’s partly through a combination of one-way streets in the surrounding residential area, that make it rather difficult to make direct journeys through this suburb. But mainly, it is through the closure of the eastern end of the road that would have emerged near point B on the map, Burgemeester Jollesstraat.
Presumably at some point in the past, this was a ‘normal’ road junction, but it is now accessible only by bike or by foot. The result is that the entire neighbourhood of Oosterhoutstraat is pleasant and quiet.
As it happens, it is still possible to use the street immediately to the south of Oosterhoutstraat – Bosstraat – as a rat-running route –
Interestingly, we can see on Streetview that the layout on Bosstraat – designed to discourage it from being used as a through-route – is quite recent –
As the Streetview car came past, the street was being redesigned to make it more difficult to drive through. It looks like the speed hump you can see in the picture of the finished Bosstraat is being added in the photograph above. Presumably drivers needed a little extra discouragement, to push them onto Port Natalweg.
The net effect of all these measures is to make this residential neighbourhood particularly quiet. We were on Oosterhoutstraat, and the surrounding streets, for around half an hour, and in that time I think we encountered no more than a handful of cars. This is because it is deeply impermeable to motor vehicle journeys – but, crucially, highly permeable by bike or by foot. Not only is there the direct access through the end of Burgemeester Jollestraat, but all the one-way streets in the neighbourhood are two-way for bicycles.
No entry, except (uitgezonderd) cycles. And the vehicles that are driving through here will travel slowly, because of the rough surface, speed humps, and tight radius corners, protected by bollards.
It would be very easy to apply precisely these solutions to New Street, to turn it from an unpleasant rat run, into a quiet street which is safe for pedestrians and bicycles. Most simply (and most cheaply), the northern end of the street, at the junction with Oakhill Road, could simply be closed to motor traffic, in precisely the same way that Burgemeester Jollestraat has been closed at its eastern end. This sounds extreme, but if we look again at the map of Horsham, this is not really going to present much difficulty to drivers, because there is an alternative route adjacent to New Street, only a hundred metres or so to the east –
As you can see, this road is much wider than New Street, and is far more appropriate as a through-road. Yet, absurdly, it is far quieter – principally because it is less direct than New Street for those who are choosing to rat-run. Drivers need to be forced to use this street instead. Certainly doing so would discourage the kind of journey I highlighted in the first map in the post, because drivers would have to travel further east, and then back west, to cut through this residential area.
Needless to say, even if New Street is closed at one end, we could still apply the traffic calming solutions – such as rougher surfaces, speed humps, tight corners, and so on – to both these streets. The parking could also be moved on to just one side of New Street, as it is on Oosterhoutstraat, providing clearer sight lines. We could also introduce the street planting seen on the Dutch streets, giving a far more pleasant street environment.
In an ideal world, both these streets would be made difficult to use as through-routes – perhaps by introducing one-way restrictions on Clarence Road, that would send drivers on a circuitous route around New Street – up and down Oxford and Cambridge Road, for instance. But Clarence Road, for the present, has to be maintained as through-route because of a low bridge limit in the centre of town (the railway bridge on the A281 you can see towards the bottom of the map above) – some taller HGVs currently have to use Clarence Road to travel from the east of Horsham to the north. It would be impractical to force these lorries on diversions around tight residential streets.
How easy would it be to sell this kind of street conversion to the residents of New Street? Maybe I’m of an optimistic bent, but I think it would be entirely possible. Granted, the residents would not be able to drive directly northwards out of their road any more (or directly into it from the north) and would have to divert around Clarence Road. But the trade-off for this minor inconvenience would be a far more quiet street, where their children could play in the road, and where they could cycle without encountering numerous cars. Doubtless their property values would also increase substantially, so we would have the Daily Mail readers on board too.
Chris Juden wrote on a recent At War With The Motorist post
I don’t expect many rat-runs to be closed so long as such decisions are made by the rats.
Well, that’s obviously quite true, but the people who live on these streets, although they might rat-run elsewhere, are hardly going to be keen on rat-running on their own streets. If we can get the local residents on board, that’s a first step towards a consistent application of these principles across our towns and cities.