News broke today about Warwickshire County Council’s plans for alterations to Nuneaton’s short ring road as part of the Transforming Nuneaton project. Changes include the removal of a roundabout, road widening, junction alteration, and the removal of the one-way system around the station. Major changes to this road are needed – but as they stand, they fall short of the forward thinking vision that is required in order to reduce motor vehicle dominance.
The ring-road is a short but significant thoroughfare encircling Nuneaton’s town centre. Part of the A444, it carries heavy traffic on its mostly multi-lane bi-directional circuit but suffers from significant traffic issues particularly at its northern-most section where space constraints reduce it to one lane per direction. With there being a pedestrian crossing at this point to enable access from the town centre to a retail park on the outer side of the carriageway, queues in the area are frequent particularly at busy times. So, there is a definite need for improvements and investment in the road should certainly be welcomed.
However, it is also true to say that there is an issue of car dominance in Nuneaton. There are few good, safe cycle routes to and from the town, and those that do exist are shared spaces with pedestrians, involve lots of crossings with multi-stage toucans, and are generally slow, unconnected and unsuitable for large cycle traffic. With the planned redevelopment of the road then comes a rare opportunity to change the status quo, to be forward thinking, to acknowledge that we need to stop enabling ever further growth in motor vehicle traffic and that balance needs to be restored to the town’s transport network.
The current plan (available from WCC, here) conservatively suggests a very poor modal shift of 2.5% over a sixty year period (paragraph 1.8, page 4). This really is a low ambition. It also notes that being a major route, the A444 is expected to experience significant growth (paragraph 1.10, page 4), ignoring that traffic levels are already unsustainable before any future growth is taken into account – there cannot be an expectation that road networks will forever expand to accommodate more and more motor traffic.
The first objective listed in the CIF document (paragraph 4.3, page 8) is to build a sustainable transport system supporting the Carbon Neutral Action Plan, reducing the environmental impact of traffic in the town centre, improving air quality, and creating a network of high quality walking and cycling routes to the town centre. Supporting ever-growing motor traffic is not compatible with this objective. As I think will become clear, whilst there are some improvements for cycling, overall this plan fails in that regard too.
Let’s look at the four main areas of redevelopment. For each segment, I’ll look at what is proposed and how I would alter the plans. Afterwards, I’ll also detail my preferred choice for developing this road which differs significantly from what is on offer here.
A. Corporation Street / Dandelion Roundabout.
The existing Dandelion Roundabout junction can be seen to the right of this diagram, with Corporation Street heading up the map (north west). The plan is to remove that roundabout and replace it with a four-way signaled crossroads. The CIF bid document notes that redevelopment here will improve facilities for cycles and buses, but the only notable change is the creation of a bus-only (and presumably cycle too) route shown at the centre of the map.
Whilst that will be of benefit to cyclists accessing town via Abbey Street (presumably useful for those accessing from areas south of Corporation Street) where currently there is no through junction at that point, the main redevelopment of the existing roundabout junction has no facility for cyclists where the main road is the logical route into town from the Chapel End/Camp Hill area.
With the redevelopment of this junction, it would be an ideal opportunity to incorporate a “Cyclops” (Cycle Optimised Protected Signals) design common in the Netherlands and recently used in Manchester. This would provide a safe, separated cycle and pedestrian facility allowing cyclists of all ages and abilities to navigate the junction in any direction with ease and in safety. Instead, this is a regular, old-fashioned junction design intended for motor vehicles and confident cyclists who are happy to mix with traffic.
B. Queens Road
The junction with the ring road and Queens Road to the west is already a signalised crossroad. For pedestrians and cyclists it’s currently the usual affair of multi-stage toucan crossings to get across from inside the ring road to outside, where there is a cut through to access the National Cycle Network on Pool Bank Street, slightly north of Queens Road – the main road that runs east-west.
The intention here for Queens Road is to simply widen the road and provide a bus lane, which presumably will also accommodate cycles. The map also indicates an intention to improve crossings and access to the existing NCN route by potentially reducing crossing stages to straight-over crossing (“where appropriate”).
The existing cycle route is insufficient in that it takes cycles away from the main and obvious route to and from the town (Queens Road). This road is a destination in its own right with shops and facilities and cycle access should be prioritised along it. Currently the road is already a 20mph limit, although it does get busy.
Ideally cyclists would be provided with light segregation here given the volume of traffic despite the low speed. However, in terms of junction improvements, whilst reducing the number of stages to cross the ring-road will be welcomed if it is done properly, the ideal again would be a Cylops-type junction to route cycles to and from Queens Road in an accessible and safe way.
C. Wheat Street
The Wheat Street area is another part of the ring-road which is currently signalised, however at present it is a three-way junction with no access to the road inside the ring-road. The intention is to open up the junction making it four way.
It’s not entirely clear to me from the map, but it looks like the design includes advisory cycle lanes on the new access to Wheat Street to the west (left) of the junction. This would presumably connect to the existing shared-use path on the ring-road (known here as Vicarage Street). It also looks like there may be an Advanced Stop Line (ASL) for cycles. If this is the case, it is a significant design failure where painted infrastructure is next to useless when it comes to providing cycle routes that not only ARE safe but that FEEL safe too.
Once again, I’d like to see something similar to a Cyclops design, separating pedestrians, cyclists, and motor traffic to provide a junction that can safely be navigated by anyone, child or adult, inexperienced or experienced. Admittedly this may be difficult for Wheat Street to the east where space is a lot more limited.
It is worth noting too that Wheat Street is currently accessible from the ring-road by the junction to the south with Church Street (Google Maps). Whilst I don’t have a particular objection to opening up Wheat Street, if it is done then it would be reasonable to down-grade the Church Street junction and Justice Walk to access only for motor traffic, rather than continuing to permit through-traffic. This should however be done through a modal filter to allow cycles to continue to use the route with any remaining motor traffic being treated as guests behind the more vulnerable road users, making this a safer low-traffic space.
D. One-Way Gyratory (Passing the Station)
Whilst all of the above have their issues, this is the big change proposed to the area which will be a major redevelopment. Currently, this area is dominated by a one-way system which passes the station. It is not a particularly pleasant road – passing the station, it is overshadowed by large retail units, and two lanes of heavy traffic pass the station junction itself which can be difficult to exit at peak times.
The intention is to remove the business units at the centre of the existing one-way system (specifically, Empire Gym, Dunelm), and to install a new roundabout at the junction with Leicester Road to the east over the railway bridge. Leicester Road to the west will be closed to motor traffic, but access maintained for pedestrians and cycles connecting to the existing shared path on the ring-road south of the roundabout. A new bus interchange will be located near to the station. It looks like Bond Street and Regent Street will primarily be for buses and cycles, with a modal filter for turning left onto the Leicester Road bridge from Regent Street.
There are some good points here, but still it misses the mark for cycling. Yes, there is a new cycle/pedestrian only route between the ring-road to/from the town centre, access to the station via Bond Street looks to be for cycles and buses only, and leaving Regent Street to turn over the Leicester Road bridge with a modal filter should be better, but there is so much more than needs to be done here. There is still a reliance on the use of shared paths and toucan crossings where dedicated separated cycleways should be provided for high throughput cycle traffic. I’d also question the safety (both real and perceived) of cycling in bus lanes – will parents want to cycle with young children mixing with buses?
I would suggest that Bond Street to the south of the ring-road should also be closed to all traffic except pedestrians and cycles, where this road is probably too narrow to accommodate bi-directional bus lanes, separate cycleways, and footpaths. As part of the redevelopment of the space marked for public realm/bus interchange, the road here should be widened to accommodate separated bi-directional cycleways for safe access to the station.
Cycles need to be accommodated on the new roundabout as well, either crossing into the centre of the roundabout or through separated provision around the outer edge – cyclists travelling north on the ring-road (current shared path) intending to turn onto the Leicester Road bridge should not have the deviate around the roads marked as bus lanes, passing the station. Similarly for cycles approaching town from the bridge. The bridge itself should have separated cycle provision.
An Alternative Plan
As I think I’ve demonstrated, the plan as it exists is not fit for purpose. It makes some token small improvements for cycling but ultimately, this is a motor-centric scheme with walking and cycling very much an afterthought. Despite “Objective 1”, it notes a conservative modal shift of just 2.4% over sixty years.
The ring-road is a short road – just 1.2 miles. It currently has shared use paths that are insufficient for bi-directional cycling and put riders in conflict with pedestrians, even at today’s low cycling levels never mind if rates increase. The shared route is unclear and features many crossing points, some which can take a long time to navigate.
With that in mind, my proposal would be as follows:
- Turn the ring-road into a one-way system around its entirety.
- Close the road by the station except for taxis, buses, cycles and access.
- Replace roundabout junctions with signaled crossroads designed to Cyclops standards, or provide separated cycleways around the perimeter of key roundabouts where these facilitate better traffic flow.
- Redevelop the area around the station, to open up the space and relocate the bus interchange as planned but also ensure space is provided for secure all-weather cycle storage, and cycle and scooter hire.
This plan should allow for space around the road’s entirety to keep a minimum of two general traffic lanes plus separated bi-directional cycleways with good footpaths (though facilities may be squeezed slightly at the north of the road where space is most restricted). Whilst drivers may need to make a short diversion compared to now in order to reach their destinations, this would not be excessive, while those cycling can still take a more direct route.
The chance to make significant changes to a major road doesn’t come up often. There is an opportunity now for Warwickshire County Council to make a real difference, to show boldness and vision in acknowledgement of the requirement to not only curb the growth in motor traffic, but to even reduce it.
As things stand and if the existing plans are adopted without changes, Warwickshire is missing this chance and once again showing how out-dated its mindset is with regard to transport policy – something that has been shown all too clearly this year with the debacle over the Emegency Active Travel Fund.
Elsewhere in the country, other local authorities are making progress. Admittedly, a lot of that progress is in the cities but enabling a mode shift to cycling for local transport must not be limited to the larger conurbations – improvements must apply to the smaller towns and even villages too if there is to be a real shift nationally in how people get around their local areas.
Transforming Nuneaton must include transformation in transport, not just changing road layouts to enable and accomodate more and more motor traffic – this is not a transformation; it is a stagnation which chokes the town of its potential.