This is a follow-up to my original post on the Stretford public realm proposals, before they had been officially published. If you want to understand the background to the proposals, I suggest reading that. The proposals have now been published as part of a public consultation running from 25 September to 16 October 2015.
So to start with, look at that visualisation above that’s included in the proposals. Looks great doesn’t it? A Stretford town centre with no cars, barely any roads, where people are free to roam. It’s not real though, and it has nothing to do with these proposals. By including this, Trafford are creating a impression, that the rest of the proposals don’t deliver on.
Introduction: Stretford today
The introduction covers the issues facing Stretford town centre, highlighted as 16 key points. I think most people with any experience of Stretford town centre would recognise these.
Stretford town centre is isolated from the rest of the town by three busy roads, the A56 Chester Road, Kingsway and Barton Road. These act as a significant barrier to use as is evident in the footfall of Stretford Mall.
The proposals focus on three projects, New King Street / Barton Road, A56 / Edge Lane Gateway and Southern gateway, detailed below.
Project one: New King Street / Barton Road
This project focuses around what is currently Kingsway and the junction with Barton Road. In particular, it is proposing to reduce the lanes and traffic calm parts of Kingsway to make it more of a place, while maintaining the current numbers of lanes at either end.
- Speed limit reduction 20mph has now been scrapped from these proposals, this is a significant loss.
- I doubt whether these measures are appropriate for the level of traffic along Kingsway and I suspect we’d see similar issues to those identified in Poynton.
- Cycle provision on Kingsway is on-road and it’s not clear whether or not it’ll be mandatory, given amount of work being carried out, why is it not fully segregated?
- There’s no cycle provision on Barton Road, even though it’s a key route into Trafford Park for those travelling from the south of Stretford.
- No attempt has been made to reduce the number of lanes or speed of traffic on Barton Road. Speeding is a significant problem here, which along with limited crossing points, makes it dangerous and unpleasant place to be.
Project two: A56 / Edge Lane Gateway
This project focuses on the A56 and the junction with Kingsway and Edge Lane. In particular, it proposes to introduce surface level, at grade pedestrian crossings, the removal of three of the subways and a reduction of speed limit to 30mph.
- The surface level, at grade crossings are a welcome addition and give people an alternative, particularly a night. But the removal of three of the subways will be a significant loss. For a lot of users, the subways provide a convenient way of getting across this junction and there’s a lot that could be done to improve the subways to make them fit for today’s use. As Easy As Riding A Bike’s post Rehabilitating the underpass shows that subways are often the better choice to at grade crossings, when done well.
- Removal of the subways appears to be more about freeing up space to increase the number of lanes to Edge Lane and increase traffic flow.
- The speed limit reduction 30mph is a welcome change that is long overdue. Unfortunately, as the A56 will continue to be six lanes, the change will be ignored by most of the drivers along this stretch.
- The proposal talks about potentially narrowing the A56 to “two lanes in one or both directions”. I don’t understand why this is mentioned in the proposals, it doesn’t seem to be in any way likely.
- The cycle infrastructure included on the A56 is 1.5m of unsegregated, on road cycle lanes in each direction, that doesn’t even appear cover the whole of this stretch of road. I’m guessing this the case as one of the visualisations includes a white silhouette of someone on a bike riding on the road. In addition, what’s included in the illustrative section appears to show the cycle lane in the door zone for the parking bays.
- The cycle infrastructure at the A56 / Kingsway / Edge Lane junction is of very poor quality, consisting of nothing more than useless ASLs that are often ignored and dangerous on road cycle lanes.
Project three: Southern gateway
The southern gateway project proposes to address the issues with the A56 gyratory at Stretford House, simplifying the junction and freeing up land for development.
- The removal of the gyratory will massively improve access to the A56 from Barton Road. This is something that can be quite a danger for motorists and is much worse for those on bikes.
- Apart from some useless ASLs, there is a complete lack of any cycle infrastructure at this junction. As I mentioned previously, this a key route into Trafford Park.
- The proposals do nothing to address the congestion on Barton Road. A road that was never built to carry the amount of traffic it does now, and often resembles a rather noisy and polluted car park.
Much of the points I’ve raised here, I raised in my original post and sent to the team working on the proposals. Between then and now, nothing’s been done to address any of these points and if anything, these updated proposals are even less ambitious than the originals.
So what could be done instead?
The Trafford Green Party has proposed the building of a tunnel under the A56 to move the through traffic away from Stretford town centre. Although this sounds like an attractive idea, and certainly, there’s successful examples of this, such as Boston’s Big Dig. What’s the reality of it happening?
Tunnelling under Stretford would cost a lot to do, certainly a lot more than what’s being spent on these proposals. Given the cuts to services being made by Trafford Council, I can’t see there being any political will to spend this kind of money. I also have questions around the practicality of tunnelling under Stretford. Where would the tunnel entrances be located? How would the tunnel deal with the significant amount of traffic to and from Chorlton?
The Trafford Green Party had said these issues would be addressed in the proposals and plans they were putting together. Though I’ve yet to see these materialise.
So is there any other alternatives we can look at that are appropriate for the issued faced in Stretford?
Part of the Mayor of London’s Vision for Cycling, the Mini-Hollands programme has given three outer London boroughs the funding to improve local cycling facilities. Although the focus is on cycling, much of the improvements made will make the boroughs more liveable for everyone.
The following video shows some of the excellent work Waltham Forest has been undertaking in Walthamstow. Is there something Trafford could learn from this in its approach to Stretford?
I was quite critical of TfGM’s original Oxford Road proposals. Though TfGM has listened to the feedback the proposals received and have worked with local cycle groups to improve the scheme. I still think there’s room for improvement. But overall, the scheme is on par with some of the best work happening in the UK right now and is far ahead of anything else happening in Greater Manchester right now.
The following video is a walkthrough of the changes being made along Oxford Road. This shows what we could achieve in Stretford in there was the will to do it.
The Netherlands have an approach to street design called Sustainable Safety (see the following two informative posts from the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain and As Easy As Riding A Bike). One of the core principals of Sustainable Safety is that roads have a single function, either as a trunk, distributor or access road.
Unfortunately in the UK, we don’t have the same classification when it comes to street design. So our roads quite often end up being a jumbled mess of different functions that give a poor experience to everyone. This can been in the streets in much of Stretford and particularly those around the town centre.
Over recent years, there’s been a trend in the UK to try to turn these kind of streets into places. Not by changing the function or reducing the traffic flow, but by making cosmetic changes to the street design and furniture. This has been dubbed Placefaking. The problem with Placefaking is that although you may make the street appear more attractive, you don’t address the function of the street as the traffic flow remains the same. This is the case with Exhibition Road in Kensington and Chelsea and closer by in Poynton.
So, looking at these proposals, it’s hard to see that they amount little more than increasing traffic flow for routes to Chorlton and Placefaking through cosmetic changes. The core issue of the town centre being cut off from the rest of Stretford by three busy roads isn’t addressed, so the problem will continue.
So, going back to that visualisation at the beginning. That vision of a Stretford town centre functioning as a cohesive whole, and a pleasant place where people choose to spend their time. Will this be achieved by these proposals? No, and I don’t believe these proposals should progress any further without a significant rethink.
Details of the consultation can be found on the Stretford Public Realm Improvements page on the Trafford Council website. You can email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or complete an online questionnaire.
The consultation closes on 16 October 2015.