Closing routes to motor traffic is uncontroversial if it has already happened

I’m currently in the middle of writing a piece about how attitudes to residential streets being access-only for motor traffic are essentially conditioned by history. That is to say, whether people are in favour of a particular residential street being ‘access-only’ largely depends on the current nature of that street. If it’s currently a through-route, attempts to convert it into an access road will probably be controversial. But, conversely, if it’s already an access road, that status will be deeply uncontroversial.

We can take this further, and point out that attempts to reintroduce through traffic onto access roads that are currently peaceful, safe and quiet would be just as unpopular as ‘filtering’, if not more so. It’s most likely that, in the cold light of day, people are not really ‘for’ or ‘against’ filtering – they are just against change.

We’ll come to this subject in more detail next week, but in the meantime, and as a teaser to that blogpost, I thought I’d look at a specific example of  ‘historical’ filtering, one that happened some time ago, and that would be controversial if it were reversed – just as controversial as if attempts were made to implement it today.

Cull Lane is a small lane in southern Hampshire, on the outskirts of New Milton. I’m familiar with it because I use it to cycle to and from my grandmother’s house, from New Milton station.

Back in the 1950s, it was just a straightforward road, running across fields.

Cull Lane, indicated by the red arrow

Cull Lane in the late 1950s, indicated by the red arrow

Over time, New Milton has expanded, filling out to the orange road running east-west near the top of the map, with housing development built on other side of Cull Lane. But the way this housing has been built – and the changes that have been made to Cull Lane – are very interesting.

The present-day layout. Cull Lane has been 'severed' in three places, indicated by the red circles

The present-day layout. Cull Lane has been ‘severed’ in three places, indicated by the red circles

Cull Lane has essentially been converted into two separate sections of cul-de-sac, through a series of three closures. The first, and most obvious one, is in the middle. The other two are at the (former) junctions with the boundary roads.

The only ‘through route’ across this area is now a very twisty road, looping up and and down as it runs east-west – Holland’s Wood Drive. While it is technically possible to drive along the length of this road, its twisty nature doesn’t make that an obvious thing to do, and indeed Google Streetview tells us that is much quicker (and shorter) to use the pre-existing boundary roads.

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-00-16-31

What has happened to Cull Lane itself? Well, it is, still, a rather lovely quiet country lane, even though it is now technically part of the town of New Milton. It is rare to encounter drivers on it, and those that I do are simply going to and from their properties.

At the northern end, there is a turning area for residents. The previous connection to the main road running east-west has been ‘lost’, although pedestrian access has been retained (in the foreground).

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-00-19-30

Below, some of the new housing that was built along Cull Lane at the same time as these changes to the road network were made (note the ‘dead end’ sign on what was formerly a through route) –

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The ‘severed’ middle section, where what was once Cull Lane has become a pedestrian path, with bollards to stop drivers –

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The crossing of the new, bendy road in the middle of the development (again, note that the southern section of Cull Lane, visible across the road, has a ‘Dead End’ sign) –screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-00-19-49

… And the southern end of Cull Lane. This would at one time have been a straightforward junction, but now it is a turning area, with only cycling and walking access to the main road where the silver car is being driven.screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-00-19-59

These pictures were actually taken at rush hour, around 5:30pm, yet I was able to stand in the middle of the road and take them, quite happily. But without the filtering that took place here, this small little lane would actually be a busy road. It would form an obvious route from the main road to the north of New Milton (connecting with the trunk road A35) into the east of the town.

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-00-28-02

As it is, that route is not available, and this residential area is something of an oasis of calm, ‘converted’ into two cul-de-sacs.

The outline of the two Cull Lane cul-de-sacs in red, with the sole motor vehicle entry point indicated by the red arrows.

The outline of the two Cull Lane cul-de-sacs in red, with the sole motor vehicle entry point indicated by the red arrows. Walking access is also available, indicated by the green arrows.

Because all this happened at the time the development was taking place, I suspect the changes to the road were a minor detail. New residents moving into the housing would not have concerned themselves with it, because it was already like that when they arrived. But had these changes been proposed after all the development took place, it is a reasonable guess those changes would have been opposed by locals who had got used to the existing driving routes. ‘Keep Cull Lane open’! ‘No to increasing pollution and congestion on surrounding roads! And so on, with the kinds of arguments that are undoubtedly familiar to present-day campaigners.

As it is, Cull Lane is an attractive place to live, with properties for sale making a virtue of the fact that it is ‘a quiet no through road’, which may have not been the case had enlightened planners not severed it at the time of the development. The slightly longer distance locals might have to travel to exit onto main roads by car is a very small price to pay for living in a desirable, quiet and attractive area.

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A typical estate agent advert for Cull Lane properties

The only small complaint I have with these changes is that they seem to have happened at a time in British planning history when cycling was invisible. The connection in the middle, and the two cut throughs at either end, are quite explicitly signed as pedestrian routes, and I suspect I may be breaking the law by cycling along a footpath every time I visit my grandmother, travelling along the length of Cull Lane.

Nevertheless, I think this is a very interesting example of how ‘closures’ of roads can be invisible and uncontroversial if they happen under particular circumstances, and if they have been in place long enough for anyone to even remember the road being configured in any other way.

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9 Responses to Closing routes to motor traffic is uncontroversial if it has already happened

  1. People like change, except when it happens to them for the short term worse.

    • Oh – do you think? I’ve always thought of human beings as quite remarkably conservative. Which is one of the points of this article – people are fine with something if it’s always been like that, so far as they can remember; they’d kick off massively if it were to change.

      • Andy R says:

        I believe at the time the Ribblehead Viaduct was decried as a scar on the landscape (as were other bridge and viaduct examples during the great age of steam). Nowadays, of course, it’s a tourist attraction – very picturesque – and no-one can imagine the valley without it because we don’t know how things were before.

        Possibly more controversially I’d suggest the same will go for wind farms. Those not born yet, or very young when they are built will simply grow up used to large windmills set in the landscape – it’s those who remember it as it was previously who complain. If something’s ‘always been there’ then it seems to disappear into the background.

  2. Clive Durdle says:

    I have come across a fascinating illustrative example. There is in very central London a gas works. There is a public road through it, that because it has liftable Barriers looks as if you are entering the gas works. The site is due for redevelopment and this would make a good shopping commercial location. There he council wants to put a “relief road here e that is shared space. But it could so easily be filtered and pedestrianised. The council is actually arguing it will relieve congestion on other roads.

  3. OldGreyBeard says:

    I think anyone living on a road used as a rat run as I do would be more than happy for it to be close to through traffic. It’s the rat runners who don’t like it.

    My road used to be peaceful, now the traffic starts at 5am on most days and much of it seems to break the 20mph speed limit & often the previous 30mph speed limit

    • Tim says:

      Sorry but I think you’re wrong. I live on a road that is used as an occasional rat-run, despite having a one-way section at one end, a 20mph speed limit, and a long wait at the signalised junction at the other end.

      Now I would love to see some bollards put across the middle, slowing traffic and restricting it to people arriving and/or departing locally. Predictably (as a reader of this blog) I make all my local journeys by bike, so it would hardly affect me at all, except for making our road safer for the kids, etc.

      But I can quite imagine that many of our neighbours, who drive to do the short school run or to pop to the shop half a mile away, would be very hostile to having to drive a bit further – “the long way” to get to the same locations. They would likely fail to see the advantages of having a more peaceful road to live on, and I think it would be a stretch for them to picture a change where the school run or the shopping could be done by bike without the current fear of being hit by a boy-racer.

      I completely agree with this blog post. It’s great to see real-world examples, including the estate agent advert. Eliminating through traffic can actually make your house worth more, and what good capitalist could argue against that?🙂

  4. ORiordan says:

    I’m just about to go through a road closure battle for my London street as councillors have just approved a consultation on closure options… It will be interesting to see how it goes. There are a lot of residents annoyed by rat-running so if it is residents vs. people outside the area looking for a quick route to the motorway, then the road will be closed but divided opinion amongst residents will lead to a lot of heated arguments.

  5. Charles says:

    You can possibly get the cycling restriction lifted – all it may take is asking the council – worked for me in similar situation in Hampshire. Agree completely on main point: restricting motor traffic is a touch sell, but not impossible!

  6. HivemindX says:

    I think you have a very good point. It’s a shame that in this case recognising the problem doesn’t really help to resolve existing issues. However it is very worthwhile bearing this in mind next time someone tries to sell you a line like “let’s try it like this for the time being and if it doesn’t work out we can always change it”. Conversely you can try to use that line on other people if you think you can get away with it.

    There is a good example near me, the Phoenix Park in Dublin is supposed to be one of the largest walled city parks in Europe. The Irish government is apparently lobbying to have it made a UNESCO world heritage site.
    https://goo.gl/maps/jw7A19B5N2F2

    However there is a main road that goes right through the middle of it. Any closure of this road to facilitate events in the park cause complaints. People complain about lack of parking along the through road (because they don’t want to have to walk too far to see the deer). People complain that other people cycling through the park are slowing them down. Any suggestion that perhaps the park isn’t the best place for commuting, that the road should no longer be a through road and that people should use one of the alternate (longer, and slower) routes is met with utter outrage.

    Simply blocking the main road through the park in the middle would give a situation much like the one in this article. The most direct, fastest, route would be gone but it would still be possible to get around the park using more indirect routes within it. Commuters would probably use one of the alternate routes outside the park instead.

    The resistance to this is incredible though. The residents of Castleknock consider it proper that their commute is through a park instead of city traffic. Motorists from further afield like being able to speed through a picturesque landscape for a couple of kilometers. Their only complaints are that traffic is bad at the gates and they suggest widening them (again!) to enable better traffic flow.

    I doubt anyone has the political clout to actually close this road. Purely because people are used to it and feel entitled. If anyone was to suggest putting a main road through the centre of St. Anne’s Park or Bushy Park I have no doubt the local residents would be utterly opposed.

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