Road-Hump Madness Comes to the Heatons
Quality of life in one of Stockport's more pleasant areas will be seriously compromised by ill-considered traffic schemes
The Four Heatons, lying between Stockport Town Centre and the Manchester boundary, have traditionally been seen as one of Stockport's pleasanter residential districts. They have also had one of Stockport's better road systems. In the core of the area, the quadrant between Didsbury Road and the A6, the street layout was designed in the period between about 1890 and 1940, with an irregular grid of open-ended roads, which means that traffic is well-dispersed and flows smoothly with little congestion. It also means that residential streets are quiet most of the time. We have also recently seen a rare example of sensible traffic management from Stockport Council in the form of the traffic lights at Heaton Moor Top. The main road through the area, the A6 (Wellington Road North) is wide and straight and, apart from the peak of the rush hour, free-flowing and uncongested.
You may think that was a desirable situation, and "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". But Stockport Council are now proposing to make things worse on two fronts - by introducing "bus priority" on the A6 and a widespread "traffic calming" scheme in the Heaton Moor area. A problem with commenting on these schemes is that it's very difficult to find out the exact details. It's not as though they publish them on the Internet or anything user-friendly like that. And the exhibition about the traffic calming plans was deliberately and cynically staged at a time when most working people would be unable to view it.
The proposal is to create bus and cycle lanes, either full-time or part-time, along the entire length of the A6 (Wellington Road North) between Mersey Square and the Manchester boundary at Lloyd Road, Levenshulme. Along most of this length the road is scarcely ever congested anyway, so bus lanes will make no difference to journey times.
The key question is what will happen at the various traffic lights along the road, which has not been made clear. If the bus lanes terminate some way before the traffic lights, then they won't do much to speed the flow of buses along the road. But if they only allow a single file of non-bus traffic (including lorries and vans as well as passenger cars) to proceed through the lights, then it will cause horrendous congestion during the rush hour, and greatly increase pollution from standing traffic, which presumably is something that the supporters of the scheme want to reduce. Either way, it's not a good idea.
Shopkeepers have complained that it will damage their business by preventing parking near their shops. It will also make life more difficult for residents by stopping them parking outside their houses. Concerns have been expressed that the scheme will make it well-nigh impossible to turn right at the junction with the B5169 (School Lane/Heaton Moor Road) which will encourage drivers to take risks and lead to increased danger. A further problem is that it is likely to cause the diversion of traffic along other roads, particularly Errwood Road in Burnage and Manchester Road in Heaton Chapel, which will increase danger on those roads and annoy local residents.
The scheme has been defended by left-wing Heaton Moor Labour councillor Helen Nance, a well-known opponent of personal freedom and mobility. However, it has been strongly attacked by prominent local Conservative Les Jones (who was very narrowly defeated at the last Heaton Moor local government election) and there have been a number of articulate and strongly-argued letters in the local press opposing it (including one written by me under a pseudonym).
I am sure that a traffic census would establish that the majority of car journeys were not ones that both started and finished near to the A6 - they were only using the road for part of their journey. Given this, in practice, the scope for car users transferring to buses is going to be extremely limited. Most people who work in central Manchester will already use some form of public transport anyway because parking is limited and expensive.
This is a misconceived and unnecessary scheme which will do nothing to improve transport in the A6 corridor. It will reduce road capacity and increase congestion, journey times and pollution. Let's hope that the Council see sense at the last minute and reject it - as normally left-wing and anti-car Manchester have rejected similar proposals for Levenshulme and Longsight further north along the road. If they do anything, they should look at the parallel railway line, reopen closed stations at locations such as Heaton Norris and Longsight, and introduce a Metrolink-style ten-minute interval service.
Update: April 2000
Despite a wave of protests, Stockport Council gave the go-ahead for this scheme on 23 March, with some minor amendments to provide additional parking bays for some properties on east side of the A6 in Heaton Chapel. Even Councillor Helen Nance, who had initially been very vocal in her support, changed her tune and started to express doubts about some aspects of the scheme, no doubt with an eye on Labour's re-election prospects. Despite this, Conservative candidate Les Jones comfortably won the Heaton Moor ward back from Labour at the election on 4 May. It was felt that anger about the bus priority scheme was a major factor in this.
There has also been an outcry about alterations to the line marking scheme on the A6 between Manchester Road and Crossley Road, which has made the road little different from the notorious 3-lane roads that have now almost entirely disappeared. This was headlined in the Heatons & Reddish Reporter as "New Lanes are Fatal" and the Highways Department have already made minor changes. However, there remains a widespread view that the scheme is dangerous and will eventually have to be removed.
In broad terms, the proposals are for a mixture of road humps, traffic tables and speed cushions on a number of roads in the area bounded by Didsbury Road, Wellington Road North, Heaton Moor Road, Clifton Road and Mauldeth Road. Heaton Moor Road is about the only road in the area that is definitely excluded. As mentioned above, it has not been made clear exactly what is being proposed on a road-by-road basis.
The objections to this are the same as the objections to so called "traffic calming" anywhere, i.e.
If approved, Stockport Council plan to implement this scheme when funds are available in the 2000-2001 financial year. Hopefully enough local residents have written in to object to ensure that it doesn't happen. I know I have!
Update - July 2000
The first and least controversial element of the Heaton Moor traffic scheme has now been implemented in the form of the traffic lights at the junction of the A6 and Heaton Road by the Dunham Jaguar dealership. This was always a dangerous junction where drivers found it difficult to turn right onto the A6 and were often prompted to take undue risks. The new lights must make it a lot safer, although they will no doubt encourage more traffic to come down Parsonage Road and Heaton Road rather than going to the Heaton Chapel lights.
However, the traffic planners have made a characteristic mistake in only marking out one lane on the southbound A6 at the junction. There is just about room for two lanes, and in practice two lanes will form at busy times, but this means vehicles encroaching on the cycle lane. If the traffic remained in one lane, which is ludicrous on such a wide road, then an enormous tailback would form. Surely this is ill-thought out and potentially dangerous, and they should have ensured that enough room was left, and the road was marked, for two lanes of motor traffic plus the cycle lane. It will be interesting to see how this junction is treated when the bus lanes are implemented.
A new Pelican crossing has also been installed on the section of the A6 between Heaton Lane and Georges Road, near the Job Centre. So far there is no sign of any work on the bus lanes.
A further Pelican crossing is being installed on Didsbury Road near the junction with Branksome Road, by the Langham House flats. I'm not sure of the point of this, as the road has a central island here and I've never had any problem crossing. It has also meant the loss of the bus-stop lay-by. However, by stopping the traffic it will make it easier for me to get out onto Didsbury Road in either direction when in my car!
Update - December 2000
Bus Lanes: The scheme was discussed at a stormy meeting of the Four Heatons Area Committee in September 2000 at which the atmosphere was described as being "like a bear garden". Despite the level of public anger expressed, committee chairwoman Counciller Lesley Auger (Labour) told the campaigners that there was no way the bus lanes would be scrapped, as they had been approved by the Council back in March.
So far (early December 2000), there has been no sign of the bus lanes appearing, although some lines have been repainted near the Belmont Way traffic lights. A letter in the Stockport Express in early December claimed that a survey of premises affected by the proposals had found 88% to be opposed.
Traffic Calming: The detailed proposals were published in mid-September, and indeed expanded on the original plans to include over 50 road humps or cushions, and extensive 20 mph zones - although as the Council are extremely reluctant to make details public, for example by putting them on the Internet, I'm not sure of the precise details.
Not surprisingly, there was an angry reaction, with many letters written to the local press, citing increased pollution, damage to vehicles and delays to emergency services as problems caused by humps. This culminated in another stormy public meeting of the Four Heatons Area Committee on Wednesday 22 November. However, the plans, with some minor amendments, were railroaded through, and we currently look forward (?) to the work starting.
(Original article: March 2000, last updated December 2000)