Roads and traffic: History lessons

SIR – The present debate should be informed by what s gone before. In 1993 WS Atkins Planning Consultants, responding to a brief from the county and district councils, produced a wide ranging strategy for transportation for St Albans. The introductory pa

SIR - The present debate should be informed by what's gone before.

In 1993 WS Atkins Planning Consultants, responding to a brief from the county and district councils, produced a wide ranging strategy for transportation for St Albans.

The introductory paragraph to their conclusions said to do nothing is not an option.

The public want a policy which addresses traffic congestion, improves the pedestrian environment, tackles rat-running in residential areas, improves public transport and enhances the commercial viability of the city.

It is not sufficient to allow traffic congestion to create its own equilibrium in the transport system. Seventeen years on and the words are still apt.

Until very recently routes, road layouts and other controls were linked pretty well exclusively to the needs of vehicles.

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Provisions to benefit pedestrians, except crossings, were not generally considered.

But in the city centre the council is now commendably giving serious thought to the importance of the quality of life for people out on and living on heavily trafficked streets.

Your January 14 report on the council's concerns conflated a number of issues and evidenced their growing realisation that old towns and motor cars were just not made for each other: towns were made by people for people.

Most of the problems of traffic in St Albans today have arisen from successive councils' ambivalent attitude mainly to cars whose numbers far exceed other vehicles.

In the mid-1930s traffic in the city centre was already quite heavy and the council installed the first traffic lights in the country at the Peahen crossroads.

In 1965 a modest proposal to close the road between the Fighting Cocks and the river to create a pleasant sitting-out area for customers was vigorously opposed by some councillors who foresaw chaos resulting.

The proposal was approved by a majority of one: life still went on and the customers were delighted.

In the same year the council actually agreed to a proposal to stop car drivers on market days from crazily threading and weaving their way from St Peter's Street all the way down Market Place to High Street through crowds of astonished and alarmed shoppers.

Until the 1970s vehicles could still drive along French Row, turn across the front of the Clock Tower and rejoin Market Place. The council commissioned the Civic Society to design a scheme to pedestrianise it, which an architect member did.

It has been a great success, the shops and Fleur de Lys have all flourished.

Some time in the 1980s Herts County Council designed and installed a one-way traffic system covering the city centre to improve traffic flow.

On day one, and thereafter, traffic in the city ground to a standstill. The scheme cost around a million to put in and a million to take out.

The idea was simply to speed traffic but in the event pedestrians benefited because the traffic wasn't moving.

Some time later in the 1980s the majority party on the council decided that Market Place, an attractive urban space where pubs and restaurants put tables outside, would be more civilised if traffic was banned during shopping hours.

It was quite delightful, no vehicles, a pleasure to stroll in safety and sit enjoying a coffee.

Enter two local traders who were sure their business was being ruined by the loss of 18 parking places. One trader was in High Street the other, a dry cleaner in Market Place who seemed unaware that Sketchley was then closing down 134 dry-cleaning shops nationally because most modern clothing materials did not need dry cleaning.

They campaigned for traffic to return, the council published a consultation of 17 local organisations including police, town centre development committee, Help the Aged, Shopmobility, town centre manager, etc. - they all said keep the traffic out except, rather bizarrely, the then-market traders chairman.

I asked him why and it seemed he had a personal prejudice against pedestrianisation anywhere!

However, the two opposition parties on the council combined to defeat the majority party and the traffic was let back in at a cost of �20,000.

The spokesman for one party argued trenchantly as a reason to let the traffic back in that "the council cannot disinvent the wheel".

Not long after vehicles returned both objecting businesses ceased trading leaving us with the traffic as a memento. Some you win, some you lose.


Fishpool Street, St Albans

SIR - I refer to your article 'Appeal for fund to fix St Albans' broken roads' (Herts Advertiser, February 18). How stupid we must all be to believe that the repair of our roads is as a result of the conditions in December and January.

This has absolutely nothing to do with the recent climatic conditions but simply through many years of neglect to our roads by the authorities.

We all know that our roads are made up of patches as well as patches to patches.

Whenever I travel around the country, I find it very easy to know when I have entered Hertfordshire, simply because of the sudden change in the conditions of the roads. Hertforshire roads are atrocious and as for our St Albans roads, well that is beyond words.

Once again I see a few of the many erroded parts of our roads have recently been patched.

Once again, patches on patches... and the patching is so poorly done that within days they are breaking up already. I think Cllr Pile needs to come clean and state the real truth and get to the bottom of who is ultimately responsible for this mess.