Letter to Swindon Borough Council re problems and lack of replies over new Regent Circus pedestrian scheme

Dear Richard

Following recent email conversations with Andy Brown and a meeting with Cllr Stan Pajak and myself (Chair of the Back Garden group) on 15th July, there are a number of issues and concerns around the Regents Circus traffic layout that Swindon’s Back Garden residents association would like to raise and have answered formally please (some of these questions have been raised in emails but have not been responded to. In addition, please could this be logged via SBC’s complaints/comments procedure.)

1. We are given to understand that the development and design of the traffic layout has been left to the developer. Is this the case?

2. SBC officers have referred to the Poynton scheme as a great example of shared space. We have watched the Youtube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vzDDMzq7d0) and are concerned that this may be biased, given that it was written, filmed and produced by one of the design architects for the scheme. During our research regarding this new layout, we have also identified the following as reasons why we believe it is inappropriate to cite Poynton’s claimed success as relevant to Regents Circus:

The population of the entire parish of Poynton is 14,000. The area in question is essentially a village centre. The levels of pedestrian traffic there as opposed to Regents are incomparable: Swindon has a population of over 250,000. The revamped Regents junction is adjacent to a new 500+ seater cinema, a library, a large new supermarket, literally a dozen restaurants (serving alcohol) and is also at the confluence of the main foot route between Old Town and central, as well as the pedestrianised main shopping precinct and Commercial Road.

The Poynton junction was originally a series of traffic lights which coordinated a complex cross-road type junction. Regents was not characterised by traffic lights. It had pedestrian crossings. This is an important distinction; pedestrian crossings only function ‘upon demand’. The comparison with Poynton on the basis of ‘stop start’ caused by traffic lights on a cycle might, therefore, be questionable.

The type of flow of traffic between Poynton and Regents is also different. As far as we understand, Regents is a gyratory junction – essentially a merging of the two lanes coming round ‘curry island’ (with one dual lane splitting off to go up Eastcott and Crombey) and the two from Commercial, before they sweep round towards the Wyvern. Poynton was more akin to a cross-roads, as the Youtube video clearly shows.

Poynton was a renowned traffic bottle-neck. Until the recent changes, traffic flow round Regents actually seemed to work really well – so again, the comparison to Poynton seems to be misleading.

Regents shared space is a ‘solution’ to a problem which didn’t appear to exist, unless there is information available to the contrary?

Please could you give a detailed response, explaining SBC’s position regarding the choice of a ‘shared space’ scheme for this location (subject to the response to question 1) – with special attention to the justifications made for the removal of the designated crossings.

3. In the Poynton layout, you can see from the video that the demarcation for the ‘shared space’ is introduced to the drivers clearly and well in advance of the junction. This is not the case at Regents. At a meeting held on 15th July with Cllr Pajak, myself, Andy Brown and Clare Cornelius, there was some discussion regarding signage to alert motorists/pedestrians to this ‘shared space’. Clare and Andy agreed to look into this but, as yet, we have not been advised of any action to be taken.

…. and to which we can add the following issues and questions which remain unresolved:

4. The new layout forces cyclists to ‘merge’ with laned traffic which appears dangerous.

5. The new layout features cobbles which have such large gaps between them that they catch cyclists tyres (and potentially just as easily, high heeled shoes, pram wheels etc.) http://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/news/11304305.Cyclists____concerns_over_cobblestones/

The council’s reaction to date has been to offer to fill the cobbles with new mortar, but only, according to the response given to the Swindon Advertiser by an SBC spokesperson, ‘in a stretch equivalent in width to a normal cycle lane on either side’. This appears to go against highway code, which stresses the cyclists right to take up a full lane space (essential if they are turning right or changing to a right hand lane), but it also shows the trip/trap risk will remain across the majority of the cobbles for every other person on that section. Again, this was discussed at the meeting on 15th July and no response on action to be taken has been received as yet.

6. According to the Highway Code, drivers are actually only legally obliged to stop for pedestrians on one of the recognised and designated crossing types. Shared space ‘tables’ are not designated crossings. Whilst in theory, confused drivers slowly negotiating a shared space are more inclined to let people cross, this only works with some important distinctions:
– One: that its a single lane being negotiated (the case at Poynton, but clearly not at Regents), after-all, one driver stopping does not indicate that the driver in the adjacent lane has, or will.
– Two: The Government’s own ‘Manual For Streets’ guidelines show that pedestrians are unhappy/unable to safely negotiate a shared space scheme where vehicle movements are over 100 per hour ( https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/manual-for-streets ).

I believe Andy Brown was asked in an aforementioned email for the peak vehicle movements at Regents. Can you confirm whether you have a statistic on this please and comment appropriately?

7. Charities and disability interest groups across the country are concerned about the impact of ‘shared space’ schemes upon people of reduced mobility, from the blind to wheelchair users through to the elderly and young mothers with prams and toddlers. For example, guide dogs are trained to stop at kerb edges – shared spaces like Regents simply don’t have any. For years, parents have tried to teach children to stop at kerbs and to use designated crossing (there aren’t any). For years we’ve also tried to teach children to cross the road when there aren’t any cars coming – again, a shared space scheme relies on a ‘stand-off’ in which a pedestrian chooses to cross according to a judgement made on a car slowing or voluntarily stopping. Again, we are concerned that this creates huge ambiguity and potential danger.

8. Concern has also been raised about the current pavement closure of Victoria Road which is forcing pedestrians to either cross via Victoria Road to Groundwell Road to Princes Street to get to a pedestrian crossing. Some pedestrians are trying to cross by the shops (with their visibility impaired to oncoming traffic due to vehicles parked by these shops) at the bottom of Victoria Road to bypass the above convoluted journey above. This was also discussed at the 15th July meeting and Clare Cornelius was going to ask SBC officers to investigate. Has this investigation taken place?

9. May we please have a comment on the following statement, taken from http://www.guidedogs.org.uk/supportus/campaigns/streets-ahead/information-for-street-designers-and-councils/effective-consultation#.U9E2rijjI20 (Guide Dogs UK Charity for the Blind)

The Equality Act 2010 sets out a clear duty on public bodies such as local and highway authorities to promote equality of disabled people in the practices and policies they undertake and to engage and involve them in:
1. Policy development
2. The design, delivery and implementation of developments such as the provision of streets and external spaces.
Consultation with local people, including disabled people, older people and children, should be a fundamental part of any street design process, and details of the extent and scope of the consultation should be clearly identified in any Design and Access Statement prepared for planning permission.
Design and Access Statements are part of the Access Statement process which should start at the strategic or briefing level of any development and “grow” through the planning and design stages to guide and inform the management of the completed development.
Please may we also have a copy of the Design and Access Statement?
10. Other shared space schemes projected for busy pedestrian spaces have already been abandoned – see http://www.rudi.net/node/21479 -and the shelved plans for Exhibition Road in London, where the proposals were opposed by an alliance of over 28 disability groups. What consultation has been made with which disability groups (please could you list) within Swindon as part of the assessment and impact of this scheme in keeping with The Equality Act 2010?

We are concerned that if no action is taken to respond to and resolve the points raised above that SBC may be held liable for the death or injury of a pedestrian or cyclist resulting from not providing a safe street environment that Swindon residents deserve. The amenity and ease of access for disabled people due to the lack of any designated crossings also appears to be restrictive and potentially discriminatory. From our own experiences and that of residents (as per the recent Swindon Advertiser article) the current traffic arrangements appear not to be fit for purpose.

We are advised that an update on Regents Circus has been added to the next Locality meeting agenda on 7th August – we had asked to discuss these issues at a residents meeting but this has been refused. We would appreciate a formal response to the issues raised above as soon as possible.

With best regards,

Yours sincerely

Tracy White
Chair of Swindon’s Back Garden (Residents Association)

Sent on behalf of and in consultation with Swindon’s Back Garden (Residents Association)

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