Yesterday evening about 30 locals and at least as many representatives from the Council, Network Rail, TfL and Network Rail’s works delivery partners met in St Paul’s Church hall for a public meeting about the closure of Wightman Road for six months next year.
In case you’ve missed this story so far, there’s a section of Wightman Road about 150 metres from Finsbury Park which is in fact a bridge crossing the Barking to Gospel Oak railway line. Built 120 years ago, the bridge has now become a very elderly lady and has, we were told by Network Rail last night, reached the ‘end of its natural life’. So there’s no two ways about it, it has to go and a strapping new bridge put in its place.
Whilst this work has been on the cards for a number of years, its programming to start in Spring 2016 has been driven both by the serendipitous coinciding of the signing off of the nearly £3M budget (from TfL and Network Rail) and the planned electrification works of the Gospel to Barking Oak line.
It also happens to coincide with the planned Harringay Traffic Study due to run for six months from January 8th next year (and this could be helpful since it will allow a period during which the impact of the closure of Wightman Road can be assessed).
Forewarned by last year’s furore over changes to Ladder traffic flow occasioned by the 2013 works on Green Lanes, the meeting chair, Haringey Council cabinet member Stuart MacNamara, seemed determined to ensure there is transparency in the way both the Wightman Road closure and the Harringay Traffic study are planned and implemented.
Last night was the first stage in what looks to me like a very genuine effort by MacNamara to do things right this time with community involvement in a major works programme. In this generally good-natured meeting, we were given the headline technical details about the bridge and, perhaps of more importance to the assembled residents, details about the impacts this will have on traffic in the local area and so on all our lives. The council cabinet member made it clear that he will enable community involvement and influence in as far as it is practical. I believe that he means this - but time will tell.
Until you give this road closure a few minutes of head-space, you may be tempted to wonder what all the fuss is about. I mean what’s a bridge or two between friends, right? However, once you start looking at the role Wightman Road plays in moving traffic through Haringey and start considering the possible implications both for Harringay and for neighbouring areas, it becomes a very big deal indeed.
Wightman road was made a ‘B road; in 1930. That means it is supposed to play a supporting role in moving traffic around, connecting the main arteries, our ‘A roads’ and motorways. However, both by accident, and many think by design, Wightman Road has ended up playing the part of an ‘A road’. Although much narrower than A roads, the volume of traffic carried by Wightman Road is very nearly the same as that carried on Green Lanes through Harringay, on Seven Sisters Road through South Tottenham or Tottenham Lane through Crouch End*. So once it is blocked, the relentless stream of traffic will have to flow somewhere. Most of last night’s discussion was about what could be done to direct this flow and where it might be directed.
First a few facts about the works.
The bridge replacement will necessitate Network Rail completely removing the old bridge and slotting a new one into its place. This will mean a total closure of that 100 metre section of Wightman Road for a maximum of six months. (Network Rail are hoping to shorten the timeframe, but they absolutely guarantee that there will be no over-runs).
We were promised that both pedestrian and cycling access would be maintained throughout the works, but the details of how that will be achieved to minimise possible pedestrian-cyclist conflict are yet to be finalised.
For all locals who never quite lost their love of Tonka Toys, there will apparently be some huge and impressive specialist vehicles brought in to carry out the works (and if you want to be sure to see them, we were promised notice of when they will be on site).
All works vehicles will be parked in Finsbury Park when they're not in use.
Most of the work will be carried out during working hours, but we were warned that there’s likely to be a few isolated weekends when activity will be continuing 24 hours a day.
Then we came to the plum in the pie, the fate of Wightman Road’s huge traffic burden. To set the scene for this section of the meeting Councillor MacNamara explained that two unassailable principles would underpin decision-making. Firstly the aim will be to ensure that any traffic displacement will be to roads of an equal or higher level than Wightman Road in the road hierarchy. And, since Wightman Road is a B road, this means the aim will be to displace traffic to B roads or A Roads.
Secondly, great pains were taken to stress that the solution will be the one that, in addition to meeting the needs of the statutory authorities, will achieve the greatest level of consensus from local residents and traders.
With those principles in place, council officer Tony Casale outlined three options to us. They were clearly explained and presented in order of increasing feasibility.
‘Option A’ was to simply close Wightman Road at its junction with Alroy Road and to allow traffic to find its own flow. The disadvantages of this choice are immediately obvious. Allowing motorists to self-manage the disruption will almost certainly lead to them finding alternative routes principally involving the Ladder rung roads. Channelling an additional 20,000 cars a day along our already well-used streets would lead to a very unpleasant six moths.
Option B moved to what you might call ‘traffic management lite’. In this option all the down, or west-to-east, Ladder rung roads would be closed at their junctions with Wightman Road. On the plus side this would disrupt the chaos that would follow under Option A, but foremost amongst the disadvantages it would almost certainly make life pretty challenging for some of the up, or east-to-west roads. There's little doubt that these roads would be much more heavily used for rat running than currently is the case.
So then, on to Option C. This blueprint was the only one that either the officials or the audience thought had any chance of delivering on the principles set out by MacNamara. It is an almost exact copy of a plan set out on Harringay Online by Harringay’s Ward Sergeant Jono Clay-Michael PS25YR back in 2010. This will leave rung road flows unaltered and would involve a series of vehicular road blocks along Wightman, effectively slicing the Ladder into four or five sections. This would mean that by using the Ladder, rat runners would only skip a relatively short section of Green Lanes, so drastically reducing its appeal as an option for avoiding the traffic snarl-ups that will inevitably be created by the works. In addition all the roads that run between Wightman and Willoughby would be blocked at their Wightman end.
I apologise if my explanations aren’t clear, but we’ve been promised the papers from last night. Included amongst those are some diagrams which may help. I promise to post those as soon as they are received.
No solution will be pain-free, but I think most people in the room thought that Option C at least looks workable. Both the cabinet member and officers made it clear that they have worked more options which they are happy to share and they are equally willing to take on board any suggestions we all may have.
There will be more public meetings in January/February and again in April/May to which anyone is welcome. Once dates are set I’ll post them on HoL.
Future of Wightman Road
In the meantime, there were a few questions asked last night which the Council representatives were unable to answer and to which responses are promised. For me, first and foremost amongst those is the question of future plans for Wightman Road that were raised both by past events and by what was said in the invitation email to last night’s meeting.
Those of you resident in Harringay back in 2008 may remember the shock discovery made by Wightman Road resident Paul Jenkins that the Council planned to block Wood Green High Road to all traffic except buses. Their solution at the time was to formalise the situation they’ve allowed to develop and to make Wightman Road part of a Wood Green bypass. Paul’s keen eye and a subsequent campaign on HoL led to the Council abandoning this plan.
With this history in mind, some locals were dismayed to read the reasoning behind the forthcoming bridge works that were set out in the meeting invitation a few weeks ago. Minutes attached to the invitation included the following:
“…since the bridge is on a principal road network, Haringey required the bridge to have a capacity of 40 Tonnes (in line with EU regulations and TFL requirements)”
The phrase ‘principal road network’ is key here. The Department for Transport guidance to councils states that “All sections of the strategic road network and primary route network which are not classified as motorways are classified as A roads”. As far as I can find out, Wightman Road has not been reclassified and is still a B road. In this case it cannot be part of the primary route network. The fact that it was described as such in an official report by Haringey Council Transport officers to the Council members is real cause for concern. At best it simply betrays how the Council have been treating Wightman Road for many many years. At worst it suggests that the desire to formalise Wightman Road as part of the Wood Green bypass may still be alive within the Council.
To be fair, Councillor MacNamara was very frank in holding up his hands and describing Wightman Road as a ‘complete mess’. He’s promised an answer to the question of the road’s status and as things stand I’m rather inclined to trust that he is a man of good intention who genuinely wants to work with residents to not only help us through a difficult six months but also to work with us to find longer-term relief to our traffic woes. Let’s hope my assessment is not too far off the mark.
*According to www.uktrafficdata.info Wightman Road takes about 18.5k vehicles a day, compared to 20.7k on Harringay’s stretch of Green Lanes, 18.k on Seven Sisters Road in South Tottenham and 19.2k on Tottenham Lane in Crouch End.
You know what, once they spend £40 million on that bridge there is no way they're going to close off Wightman Rd. This is another chimera of consultation.
You may be right about the consultation, but I don't think you are on the cost. Roughly £4 million. But I realise that 40 (tonnes) is uppermost in your thoughts!
Gulp! Yes, my bad (again in this thread!).
Many thanks Hugh for this careful account and the link to UK traffic data.
I agree that Councillor MacNamara seems to be open and frank and the consultatiive process that he has started is a very good idea. We should however hesitate to take comfort from such subjective aspects.
My own concern is much more about the fate of Wightman Road after the bridge has been replaced. Yesterday’s meeting was not about the future although it clearly worries many of those present. I don't recall any reported incident that was made worse because an emergency vehicle was prevented from using Wightman Road on account of the weak bridge. That point (made last night in favour of strengthening the bridge to 40 tons) seems to be in the same class as the casual references to EU rules – ie where officials are too ready to accept technical assertions with asking simple questions. More on this topic at the bottom of this post.
However good they are, councillors come and go on a much shorter timescale than projects and policies of this kind. Moreover, decisions are not taken by individual councillors and we must not forget the range of other interests that will be brought to bear when the decisions are made.
I have had a house in Wightman Road since 1979 and traffic volume really started to increase only after parking on the pedestrian pavements was introduced. Before that happened, I was able to walk to Harringay station as quickly as the traffic moved. I have always seen the road traffic as our biggest environmental problem both in terms of road dust, dirty air, obstructed footways, noise and discarded litter. Happily, the weakness of the bridge has been a great advantage which has prevented the additional problems we would get if HGVs also used our road (still more noise but mainly physical damage to buildings cause by vibration).
Allowing parking on the footway was clearly a big mistake, because it increased the capacity of the road to carry more traffic whereas what we want to see is less traffic. My understanding of modern road planning is that increasing the capacity of roads, increases the total amount of traffic, it does not merely increase the speed of the existing traffic. The view expressed last evening (by a resident) that Wightman Road's existing traffic will have to go elsewhere during the six month closure failed to grasp that the total amount of traffic will always adjust to the available capacity. Some people who merely transit our area by car will find it so irksome that they will stop doing it and travel by other means and that, surely, is exactly what we want to happen.
Economically speaking, the ideal solution could be a Haringey Congestion charge (payable by non-residents), which with modern technology ought to be more flexible than the Central London case. Who knows, perhaps we could even get rid of the charge for residents' parking and fund it all with the payments from road use!
Returning to the point about the bridge needing to be stronger for the sake of emergency vehicles. It is the fire service that is meant here. A morning’s research reveals that the great majority of London fire appliances (and an even larger majority of those called out) are regular fire engines (known as dual purpose ladders) and these weigh less than 12 tonnes. The fire brigade also has a number of other specialised vehicles such as aerial ladder platforms, which weigh 23 tonnes, for reaching up tall buildings. Also fire rescue vehicles of which I haven’t found the weight but the Mercedes chassis points to no more than 20 tonnes. Aside from these, LBF has a tiny number of foam tenders which weigh 32 tonnes. These however were deployed only 16 times in two years in the whole of London. Moreover they are stationed at Sutton, Harrow and Barking. I just don’t believe that the fire brigade will ever want to bring a foam tender along Wightman Road. The 24 tonnes that Network Rail allegedly require for this bridge would be perfectly adequate and, according Haringey’s own paper, would be a great deal cheaper.
One of the Haringey officials told me yesterday that there was no hidden agenda but it does seem to me that the decision to upgrade this bridge to 40 tonnes has been decided upon for no good published reason. Tax payers’ money (whether it’s Haringey’s, TfL’s or Network Rail’s) is being spent too generously and, even if none of those involved have a hidden agenda, strengthening this bridge so much will be a hostage to fortune that we could all come to regret.
Wise words. I reserved some caution but perhaps not quite so much as you.
In an ideal world Dick, you would be one of our long standing local councillors.
The results of the traffic study will be really interesting. The notion that all that traffic 'has to go somewhere' is often used as a reason why residential areas must remain rat runs ('once it is blocked, the relentless stream of traffic will have to flow somewhere'). There is considerable evidence that when road space is reallocated away from (motor) traffic much of the traffic that was there before, after a period of (probably chaotic) adjustment, disappears - because people's transport choices are swayed more towards other modes, or travelling at different times, or not travelling at all, etc.
Assuming the adjoining through roads will be adequately monitored, it will be interesting to see how this theory works out in practice on a pretty major scale too!
Yes, there was some discussion of it, either one side or both, possibly at certain times of day. Clearly this will be very contentious with the traders along Green Lanes and so no decision will be taken until after they, as well as the residents, have been fully consulted.
Groaning? Ummm.... The English habit of understatement again. ;)
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