Attempting to stop rural lane ‘rat running’

The village of Warnham in West Sussex has long been plagued by ‘rat running’ – drivers taking inappropriate routes through the village as a shortcut, to avoid a lengthier (but probably, in reality, quicker) journey on more appropriate A-roads.

I’m not actually a fan of denigrating drivers in this way, as ‘rat runners’ – they are making rational decisions about the best routes for them. And even if we are willing to label them, it doesn’t do anything to solve the problem. In reality ‘rat running’ is a strategic problem that can only be solved by planning and engineering decisions, ones that simply remove the ‘rat runs’ as potential routes, or that make the appropriate roads much more attractive, and the inappropriate roads much less attractive, in combination.

The village of Warnham is an interesting case study in this regard. Looking at a map of the area, we can see why there is a problem.

The village of Warnham, top centre

We can immediately see that the village (at the top centre of the map) lies in the middle of a path running east-west across the map – a path formed on the left by the A281, heading towards Guildford, and to the east, the A264, heading towards Crawley and Gatwick Airport.

Zooming in closer, I’ve drawn on the route that drivers are expected to take, following the main roads, if they were heading from Crawley towards Guildford.

I suspect the majority of drivers do follow this route – and in the opposite direction too. But it’s clearly a long way round, and there are a couple of tempting ‘direct’ routes, which cut off the long southward diversion, both of which run through or near Warnham, marked in red, below.

This problem has got, or will get, even worse, with the expansion of the village of Broadbridge Heath (now essentially a connected suburb of Horsham), to the south.

The old bypass of Broadbridge Heath is the yellow road; the new bypass has been built even further south, making the east-west route even longer.

That means fairly urgent action is required to alleviate, or remove entirely, the problem of drivers using some fairly narrow rural lanes as a shortcut alternative to main roads.

One of these interventions has taken place at the junction to the west, where Strood Lane (a narrow rural lane to Warnham) meets the A281. At this junction, people taking a short cut will want to turn right if they are heading west; conversely, they will want to turn left into this side road, if they are trying to drive east.

The junction in question, with the movements that need to be prevented

These movements have now in fact been banned, in conjunction with some minor engineering works that should support them. I went over to take a look at them a few days ago. I’m not entirely sure they will be effective.

Here we are looking west – the A281 is the main road running across the picture, while I am standing on the minor lane, Strood Lane. As you can see right turns have been banned, but there isn’t an awful lot to stop people from ignoring the sign and just turning right, as this driver is doing, literally within 30 seconds of me arriving. The following two drivers did turn left, but I suspect people habituated to using this ‘rural lane’ route as their best option will not be deterred.

To the right of the photo, we can see an encouraging bit of engineering. The island simply wasn’t there before – it’s a big build out which I think will (almost) completely stop people turning left of the major road – the corner is far too tight to be taken at speed, and it will involve coming to a complete stop, and swinging out into the opposing lane on a fast, busy road. The best feature from my perspective is the cycle bypass – a good touch. There’s no need to ban cycle turns, and we have a nice bit of engineering to support that movement. Here’s the view of the junction looking south, from the A281 main road.

The minor oversight here is some ‘except cycles’ need to be added to both the banned turn signs.

The real question is how to properly discourage those right turns out of the side road. I suspect the engineering could have been far more severe, to truly force people into turning left out of Strood Lane.

In any case, if the turning ban is wholly effective, the ‘desired route’ will involve adding about 600m to people’s journeys, as they turn left onto the A281, circle around a roundabout, then resume their journey in their intended direction (and vice versa in the opposite direction).

Will that be enough to make this route unattractive? Again, I suspect not.

Another intervention appears to be taking place at the same time, on Byfleets Lane, one of the ‘red’ routes through this area (and in my view the more tempting of the two). On the section highlighted with a black border, this already narrow lane is being deliberately narrowed, and having a ‘hard’ margin added.

Apologies for the poor quality phone photo!

It’s not particularly clear from my poor photo, but this is about a four-inch high continuous metal ‘basket’, full of gravel, which will be difficult or impossible to drive over, hence restricting this lane to basically one vehicle’s width. Passing places are being installed at intervals. This will be quite effective, I think – it will reduce the temptation to charge through here, knowing that you will be forced to confront oncoming traffic, and may have to reverse to a passing place.

The slight irony is that these works are taking… three months, during which the lane is completely closed to motor traffic (see the orange barriers in the photo above). This suggests to me that a permanent closure halfway along – one which would still permit resident access – might be an option worth exploring.

Any thoughts welcome in the comments below!

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16 Responses to Attempting to stop rural lane ‘rat running’

  1. Clive Durdle says:

    Two main things needed?


    Detailed woonerfen, Waltham Forest , Dutch traffic hierarchy everywhere?

  2. hanneke28 says:

    I expect satnavs are causing many people who aren’t well acquainted with the area to take ” the shortest route” instead of the main roads intended route, just because the satnav has figured out that route is either shorter in length or (maybe less than a minute) shorter in time.
    You can choose to prioritise distance or time, but not main roads and town-center avoiding circular roads when finding a route.

    I’ve been sent snaking through an unknown historic town center myself, while finding at the other end that I had to cross a much easier ring road to get to that unknown address.
    If a lot of those streets were made one-way, the town center route would probably not compute as shorter than the ring road…

  3. Bmblbzzz says:

    IME although such a narrowing decreases traffic volume, it isn’t always effective in reducing vehicle speeds and leads to collisions on blind bends. However, the hard kerbs should be good in protecting the verges, which otherwise get eroded by the wheels of vehicles passing each other – or just by wider vehicles. Do many agricultural vehicles use that lane?

  4. marmotte27 says:

    Just shows it takes quite a bit of dedication and thinking to come up with really good solutions. Not the case here, really. Planners aren’t really committed to restricitng motorized traffic yet. They’re still trying to straddle the fence on this.

  5. Would a Dutch solution be to convert a section of the road into a rough, unsealed track, with a parallel smooth cycle path? Rather than closing the lane with bollards etc, this means that it can still be used by tractors. Is this ever done in the UK?

    I guess that a central divider on the main road would make it slightly harder to turn right from minor to major road, although it couldn’t be too long as right turns from major to minor are still allowed. There is a central divider to prevent right turns near where I live, but people turn right all the time anyway!

    • Bmblbzzz says:

      Or a central island in the side road.

    • Papilio says:

      “Would a Dutch solution be to convert a section of the road into a rough, unsealed track, with a parallel smooth cycle path?”
      Meh – that would be appropriate on very rural roads that only cycles and tractors need to use – here we’re talking about a road to a village, where people live who still need to get in and out by car (preferably without huge detours…).
      I’m thinking it might help if the (car!) route through the village itself is as bendy, narrow and slow as possible (20mph speed limit, alternating obstacles so drivers have to wait for each other before they can pass it, raised crossings, the works).

      • According to google maps, driving from the junction of Strood Lane and the A281 to Warnham takes 5 minutes via Strood Lane. Going via the A821 and Broadbridge Heath road (the main roads) apparently takes 7 minutes. Distances are 1.8 miles and 3.5 miles respectively.

      • MJ Ray says:

        A gate that leaves half a lane open would allow resident access while being unattractive for through traffic, wouldn’t it?

    • Mark Williams says:

      Individual humans don’t make rational decisions about ‘rat runs’. My guess, based on zero motoring experience in NL, is that the Dutch would systematically install permeability for walking and cycling across the lot and direct all through motor traffic to the nearby fast (≥80 km/h speed limit) roads—which, themselves, would have parallel smooth cycle paths—including the M23 & M25 for cross-region traffic. In the interest of completeness, they’d probably also blast another autoweg ~25 km outside the M25, too, connecting Sheppey to Southend—straight through the middle of Warnham and Devil’s Punchbowl, etc…

  6. Pingback: Attempting to stop rural lane ‘rat running’) As Easy As Riding A Bike

  7. Collette says:

    Firstly, thank you so much for your observations. Sadly, the recent measures taken to calm traffic are having no effect at the lower end of Warnham. Having just recently moved to Church Street, we see all manner of vehicles racing through our street with no regard for the 20mph zone at all. I am particularly distressed to see large vehicles speeding through, which is not only noisy, but we feel the vibrations in our kitchen which faces the road. Vehicles are currently being diverted through Broadbridge Heath, past Byfleets Lane whilst works are in progress, and straight through Warnham Village. I’m inclined to think the drivers who are now used to this diverted route, will still deem it quicker than using the A roads, and will, therefore continue without any regard for the village.

    I think it is extremely short-sighted of WSCC Highways Division to think that this would calm the traffic flow through the village.

    Cyclists are under extreme pressure from speeding motorists too! What should be a leisurely cycle through a sleepy village has turned into a nightmare!

  8. iansss says:

    Are comments closed here?

  9. iansss says:

    About sight lines on rural lanes: In our experience (on a variable width country lane) lots of drivers set off at speed on the straights and just about manage to slow/stop when they come across any oncoming vehicle or other obstruction. Some local regulars are especially cavalier in their driving “style”. Pinch points at bends really help, but they need to enclose the driver at what you might term “eye-line height”. i.e. you need banks or evergreen hedges at least as high as their wing mirrors, not just kerbs. Ditches are also a deterrent, except the summer grass hides them too easily (verges are cut less and less frequently). Without these deterrents (which operate mostly at a sub-conscious level), the “style” drivers carry on ahead until they literally can’t squeeze past each other – hence the kerb/verge damage so prevalent in country areas. Incidentally, cyclist safety is also enhanced by positioning your self at “eye-line height”. When I cycle the lanes on my Brompton, much of my body is visually on a level with (or even above) the eye-line of saloon drivers and even many van drivers, and I am treated with noticeably more caution than when I’m lower down on a conventional bike (is this also because my head isn’t visible?). As is only human nature, when drivers are caught out by an obstruction they weren’t expecting, it’s the obstruction that’s at fault. Walking home along the lane at night (no pavements), I am lectured about making myself more visible. I ask “Would you have been able to stop if there was a fallen tree in the road?”

    • Bmblbzzz says:

      Ditches… Riding across the Somerset Levels at the weekend, a road that’s perfectly straight and level with no obstructions to visibility (no roadside trees, buildings, etc) for a couple of miles, at one point there were skid marks on my side of the road veering off into the ditch, which was about 3m deep and the same wide with water at the bottom. I don’t know what happened but my guess is that the long, straight, wide road encourages some people to drive very fast and overtake everything, sometimes underestimating the speed of oncoming traffic and as here forcing it to take evasive action. I’ve noticed similar events (sometimes with one or other vehicle taking to a field, sometimes ending in a head-on collision) on very straight roads in various other places.

  10. Andrew says:

    I passed this junction twice at the weekend. On both occasions a driver was making a (now illegal) turn

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