What follows is a lengthy post, but the project is too important to not weigh in properly. Brief summary:
- Current plans for the A46 Stoneleigh Junction present a serious safety hazard for pedestrian and cyclists.
- Despite input from cyclists, WCC has not modified plans to increase safety.
- WCC prioritizes traffic flow and speed, putting safety of vulnerable road users at risk.
A couple of weeks ago, I described the current state of affairs for those wanting to travel from Leamington to Kenilworth or vice versa as an Embarrassment and Dangerous.
Warwickshire County Council (WCC) looks to improve the junction (see for early thoughts here), which it considers to be outdated and no longer able to handle traffic. This is certainly an issue during term time, when I have seen traffic backed up all along from the A46 to campus in the morning and in the opposite direction in the afternoon/evening during rush hour. Also, there have been reports of queuing on the A46 northbound in the mornings for short periods of time. There may be other ways to alleviate these traffic issues (WCC hopefully knows that they can not build their way out of a traffic jam, considering that induced demand will fill those new roadways up within a short period of time; for an academic paper explaining this in detail, see here). There are other ways to get people from and to where they want go instead of focusing on what is usually single-passenger vehicles. But that is for another post and another day.
This project constitutes phase 1 of up to three phases which will see further construction of an east-west connector towards the University of Warwick and potentially further west.
State of Affairs
The first two pictures show the current design. One of them points out that the current layout does not have adequate facilities for cyclists and pedestrians. While this is true, the current design is actually safer for cyclists than what is being proposed.
The following shows what WCC plans to do. The new design will essentially resemble the Thickthorn gyratory I wrote about previously, with all the dangerous aspects that design entails. Coincidentally, some of these aspect are exactly what WCC lauds as improvements: the installation of “segregated free flowing lanes between Stoneleigh Road and both the A46 on-slips”. More about that in a moment.
The bottom part describes the aims of the scheme: reduction of congestion, “[improvement of] reliability of journey times by increasing capacity of the junction” (read: higher traffic throughput), more efficient access to the A46 (read: higher speeds), reduce accidents, improve air quality (how that follows from higher vehicle counts is unclear). It also claims improvements to “facilities for pedestrians and cyclists”.
It is the last bit that I want to focus on here. Some background: Cycleways, a local cycling group and of which I am a member, invited WCC staff to a meeting shortly after the plans were unveiled. It was a cordial event and Cycleways members left with an expectation that the plans presented at the time would be improved. The current plans are identical to the ones shown at that meeting, which is – to put it mildly – a major disappointment. One very clear message Cycleways members conveyed from that meeting was that while the news that there may be improvements for the route between Leamington and Kenilworth were welcome, any crossing over the A46 must include proper and safe facilities for pedestrians and cyclists. How to achieve this is neatly encapsulated in Interim Advice Notice 195/16.
There is much in that document to like, but sadly almost none of the required or suggested measures (such as traffic separation by way of underpasses/overpasses, grade separation) are put in place. Rather, the plans make navigating the planned intersection considerably more dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians.
Problems with the Current Design
To illustrate this, compare the current design with what is planned. While not adequate, the current design (one lane in each direction) allows for a cyclist to control vehicular traffic by “taking the lane”. Below is a screenshot of the current situation, looking southeast with the A46 just ahead.
This may make some cyclists uncomfortable, but it is ultimately a safe way to navigate this area as anyone crossing the A46 on the existing bridge has priority over traffic entering Stoneleigh Road.
Scenario I: Intrepid Cyclist Choosing to Ride on Roadway
The proposed design (here is an image from WCC’s planning document) will require a cyclist using the roadway coming from Gibbet Hill heading towards Stoneleigh to move to the right to avoid the “free flowing” traffic destined for the A46 slip northbound (essentially a high-speed on-ramp). Our cyclist will then have to wait for a gap to enter the gyratory. Finally the cyclist will have to dodge traffic leaving the A46. Given that one of the stated aims of the project is to increase both traffic flow and traffic speed (due to the larger curvature radius for both left and right turning traffic leaving the A46 than in the current arrangement), this will be a hazardous route.
Scenario II: Cyclist Choosing to Ride on WCC-Provided Cycle and Pedestrian Path
WCC plans indicate that there will be some form of pathway on the south side of the project. This is the same design as the hard-to-navigate Thickthorne junction – and likely worse because of the dedicated high-speed on- and off-ramps.
Here is what WCC thinks is adequate for cyclists and pedestrians (it is helpful to think of this in rainy and dark conditions, such as would the be case when leaving work at the University of Warwick at 5 pm or 6 pm in January):
- a cyclist coming from Warwick Uni on the proposed path (there is little indication where such a path will begin and it is unlikely to be of any considerable length) will have to cross the road with no help from a red light to the north of the proposed roundabout (visible on the top left);
- Our cyclist will have to cross another two lanes of traffic over Dalehouse Lane without the help of red light;
- Then our cyclist will have navigate across a high-speed slip-road from the A46 northbound and traffic entering the gyratory from the same direction (without the help of red light);
- Then, s/he will have to navigate across traffic leaving the gyratory heading south on the A46 and the high-speed slip-road coming from Stoneleigh (by now you know that this is without the help of red light);
- In order to continue on the correct side of the road, our cyclist will then have to cross Stoneleigh Road (do I need to repeat that there will be no …?).
So, there you have it. Our cyclist will have no less than five roads (meaning at least 10 lanes) to cross without any aid from red lights. It will deter all but the most determined cyclists to use this roadway and is about as uninviting as it could potentially be. Infrastructure for cyclists needs to be as good if not better than that for motorized vehicles as the level of risk is simply higher given the lack comparable safety compared to motorized vehicles.
It is clear that WCC has many competing demands that need to be reconciled as its staff has pointed out repeatedly. But first and foremost among those must be safety for vulnerable road users and this is where the proposed design fails miserably. The current design quite clearly shows that WCC prioritizes speed and convenience of drivers over the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. One of the arguments WCC has made is that it is too difficult. To which I respond that the aforementioned Interim Advice Note 195/16 has plenty of good ideas that should be implemented: grade separation, underbridges, stop lights and more. Of course such steps require extra efforts and potentially more funding. But it is simply a terrible excuse to say that it is “difficult”.
The project lacks even the most basic elements – which are not difficult to put in place (and which would make the design only marginally better): push buttons to allow pedestrians and cyclists to actually get across the numerous lanes of traffic that the planned project entails. By necessity that would mean that vehicular traffic would have to stop and that is not something WCC plans for or wants to see happen.
Alternatives May or May not Come and Are not Viable
We have also heard that – at some undetermined point in the future – bicycle provisions will be made in the context of this project. Where this will be is unclear. WCC staff have indicated that they want to extend an existing pedestrian bridge between the Stoneleigh and Thickthorne crossings over the A46. While this would be welcome, there is no certainty as to when such a project would be undertaken. Assurances are worth absolutely nothing at this stage as previously WCC has indicated that the design of the Stoneleigh Junction would be reconsidered.
Such a bridge would also not be a genuine alternative for anyone wanting to travel between Kenilworth and Leamington (depending a bit on where you live of course) as it increases the distance considerably and – just like car drivers – cyclists also prefer direct routes.
Consider also the following: anyone wanting to go, say, from Stoneleigh to the University trying to avoid this new junction would see their distance increase from 3.1 miles to 5.3 miles using Crew Lane into Kenilworth and to the Uni. This will discourage almost anyone from using a bike.
This shows that WCC fundamentally misunderstands that any project it undertakes across the A46 or similar roads must include proper and safe cycling and pedestrian facilities. These projects have a lifetime of 40-60 years and given that roads like the A46 are essentially insurmountable barriers, any possibility to provide passage for pedestrians and cyclists must be taken on in a meaningful manner. The current plans fail that test.
I apologize for the length of the post, but the project is too important to allow WCC to get away with the current design. It is not only what is being planned, but the attitude with which the project is being designed.
Safety must be the number one priority in such a project, but the plans show that safety – at least as it pertains to cyclists and pedestrians – is far down the list for WCC. From a safety perspective, the current plans are actually worse than what is already in place. To understand what the project will look like you need to look no further than the Embarrassing and Dangerous crossing over the A46 between Leamington and Kenilworth. I would like to be wrong, but the proof will frankly be in what WCC will build. There is still time to make the necessary changes.
In the meantime, I invite WCC staff or any councillor (and their families) to join me in navigating their designs (bike provided). It promises to be an eye-opening experience.