4 December 2006

Traffic mismanagement?

Something that has bothered me for years about Somerton is the complete absence of any traffic management strategy for West Street. By any judgement, West Street is narrow, especially the stretch between the junction with Pester's Lane and the Pedestrian Crossing near the Market Square. Depending on their skill levels, car drivers can find that part a bit of a jousting match and if you meet a bus or truck then its time to take to the pavement. This situation isn't good for anyone - road users, pedestrians or the small number of businesses that still manage to survive on West Street.

But wait, the Draft Plan of 1977 has something to say about this situation. That Plan recognised the problems and stated quite clearly that once the highway improvements to Behind Berry were completed, a traffic management strategy could be implemented. Well, as far as I know, the Behind Berry works (road widening, roundabouts etc) were completed years ago so why isn't there a traffic management strategy and why isn't it in place? Maybe because the Town Council don't see it as a priority or maybe they don't drive? Whatever the reason, its quite obvious that something needs to be done and action is long overdue.

So what sort of traffic strategy could be implemented? Well, the obvious problem is the width of West Street and that is something that can't change - the building lines are too close to the highway and the pavements are already extremely narrow in places. So removing the conflict between two directions of traffic seems to be the obvious resolution which means making at least part of West Street 'one way'. And therein lies the rub - inevitably someone will be slightly inconvenienced by such a change and 'change', as I am coming to realise, is something to which Somerton is allergic.

But, that challenge notwithstanding, lets imagine what a management plan might look like. Lets look at the obvious option and that is to make the traffic flow clockwise from Broad Street to West Street and back along Behind Berry. Its an obvious option but it means that heavier traffic seeking a through route is forced along West Street which isn't ideal. So, how about Behind Berry staying two way as the best 'through route' avoiding the narrow centre and making Broad St and West St one way? Such a change would make life far better for pedestrians which would, in turn, probably make life better for business on West St. There would be a degree of inconvenience for some drivers but I doubt it would add much more than seconds to any journey time, certainly less than the time that is lost whilst drivers have to mount the pavement to let the local bus service through.

So what's stopping action in this quite important aspect of Somerton's life? I don't know. All the work that was intended to make a traffic management plan possible was completed years ago and yet West Street remains the challenge that it has always been. By comparison, when its time to put up the Christmas decorations, the centre of Somerton becomes a sea of yellow cones, high-visibility jackets and local councillors overseeing the work. Yet the decorations last for a month and the traffic problems are permanent.

Another example of priority mismanagement?

Till next time.