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UK roads are a mess of poor thinking and confusing investments

PUBLISHED: 21:50 28 February 2019

The A11 close to the Barton Mills roundabout

The A11 close to the Barton Mills roundabout

Copyright Archant Norfolk 2014

Iain Dale says problems on our roads need serious action and our highways network must be drastically rethought

I increasingly labour under the (probable) misapprehension that all transport planners are car-hating zealots, who have probably never driven a motor vehicle in their lives. It’s the only way to explain the increasingly bizarre decisions they take, most of which seem designed to ensure that driving is transformed from being a pleasurable experience into an absolute chore.

It’s almost as if a diktat has gone out from transport secretary Chris Grayling that everything possible must be done to make driving on this country’s roads such a horrendous experience that people will be forced to give up their cars. You may think I exaggerate to make a point, but I fear I don’t.

On the one hand we’re told that it’s so important that we improve air quality, especially in our cities, and yet most new transport plans make it worse. Traffic lights are being installed in streets or on roundabouts which just don’t need them, causing needless tailbacks of cars which inevitably keep their engines running.

Let’s take an example which everyone who has ever travelled up the A11 knows well – the Fiveways roundabout at Barton Mills. Following the completion of the dualling of the Barton Mills-Thetford stretch, I admit there were a few holdups at the roundabout, especially on the southbound carriageway at peak times. The solution of our revered transport planners was to install a complicated series of traffic lights at each entrance to the roundabout, and two sets within the roundabout, all at a cost of close on £500,000.

On my last trip northbound, mid-morning on a Friday, there was a half-mile queue to get onto the roundabout. Once I got on the roundabout, I saw there were queues at every single entrance point. Cars within the roundabout were at a standstill because of the phasing of the lights, blocking other cars from getting on to the roundabout. This was at 11.30am!

And then, when I travelled back on a Sunday night at midnight, the traffic lights were still on! Why? What is the point of causing totally unnecessary delays at a time when there is absolutely no need to have the lights still switched on.

Here’s another example, this time in Norwich. Whichever Norfolk County Council transport planner decided to close St Stephen’s, one of the main thoroughfares through the City, to cars, must want their head examining. All it has achieved in the last four years has been to make air pollution worse as cars have to travel miles out of their way on a detour. Yes, it makes it easier for shoppers to cross the road, but if that were the main priority they’d have banned buses too.

My final example comes from London, where Boris Johnson went mad and created a cycle lane super highway along the Embankment from the Tower of London right up to the Houses of Parliament. It means that even late at night it takes anything up to an hour to escape central London.

Just as bad, if you’re driving along the Embankment towards Big Ben, you now can’t turn left to go onto Westminster Bridge. Instead you’re forced to turn right, drive right round Parliament Square and then back on yourself onto the bridge. All this causes more congestion and more air pollution. I tackled the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, about this and he admitted he thought it was ridiculous. “You’re the Mayor of London, you control Transport for London – you’re in a position to do something about it!” He merely shrugged his shoulders. Pathetic.

We should also remember that these transport planners are the very same people who continue to think it appropriate to completely close main trunk roads like the A11 and A14 with little prior warning. As I wrote in my first column in early January, barely a week goes by without a stretch of the A11 being shut, thereby effectively cutting off Norwich from the rest of the country. This never used to happen, and there’s no good reason for it to happen nowadays

Much as I might like to blame local transport planners entirely for this mess, in the end it is national and local politicians that we must hold to account too, as well as the ‘numpties’ who run Highways England.

Email Iain at iain@iaindale.com or follow him on Twitter @iaindale

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