The council's plan to pedestrianise part of Greenwich Town Centre, being consulted on now, is one of those things which looks, at first glance, worth having. But any close examination of the proposals shows them to be damaging, if not indeed unworkable.
No-one, of course, can be happy with the present situation in the town centre - and the new proposal is not without merits. But on balance, what's proposed is appreciably worse than now.
The suggested changes will only remove traffic from a relatively small part of the centre. But they will impose extra traffic on the rest of the centre - and across a far wider area. Most options proposed will also devastate Greenwich's bus service, hardly conducive to a car-free future. The only one which doesn't do this will, as the council admits, lead to extra congestion.
The main beneficiaries, as the council explicitly states in its Greenwich Time advert, will be tourists ("the millions who will visit Greenwich in 2012, and in the years to come") and the businesses that serve them. The main victims will be local residents and non-tourist businesses.
The consultation is in the very finest traditions of Greenwich Council - a loaded questionnaire; a short deadline for replies (15 January); a public exhibition lasting all of three days, tucked away in a room down a back corridor of a building accessed via a path leading off a side street; and no data to back up their claims. They say some of the pedestrianisation options would "reduce overall congestion and pollution," but the people at the exhibition admit that no modelling has in fact been done on how the proposals will affect traffic flows. If you do want to go, today is the last day of the exhibition and you have until 8pm. Or you can respond online.
The easiest way to understand what's proposed is to look at the maps in the consultation booklet, downloadable here. But here's my summary of it.
The plans would pedestrianise the College Approach and King William Walk parts of the one-way system. Traffic travelling east from Creek Road to Romney Road would go the other way round the town centre - that is, turning right into Greenwich Church Street then left into Nelson Road, which would become two-way.
There are two options for what happens to traffic going west after it leaves Nelson Road. In option 1, it would turn right into Greenwich Church Street, which would also become two-way. This option would almost certainly lead to enormous traffic congestion at the junction by St Alfege Church and is thus, as one of the officers admitted to me at the exhibition, probably "unworkable."
Option 2, which the council appears to prefer, is turning the whole of west Greenwich into a giant gyratory system. Greenwich High Road (between the town centre and the North Pole pub) would become one-way, westbound-only. The whole of Norman Road would become one-way, northbound-only. Creek Road (between the top of Norman Road and the town centre) would become one-way, eastbound-only.
Under this option, westbound traffic from Romney Road/ Nelson Road to Creek Road would use Greenwich High Road as far as the North Pole, then turn right into Norman Road, then left into Creek Road.
No traffic would be able to approach Greenwich on Greenwich High Road. Everyone coming from Greenwich South Street, or the lower reaches of Greenwich High Road, would have to go all the way round via Norman Road and Creek Road.
All this, it seems to me, would have the following - positive and negative - consequences.
Advantage: a traffic-free King William Walk and College Approach.
This would make it easier for people to get from the market to the naval college and Cutty Sark. King William Walk and College Approach are the least well used parts of the town centre by pedestrians at the moment, because there are few shops along them. However,
council officials talk lyrically of creating new promenading areas along these streets, with their buildings (currently mostly residential) turned into new shops and restaurants.
Advantage: some widening of pavements elsewhere.
Notably along Greenwich High Road between the station and town centre.
Disadvantage: traffic would increase substantially in the parts of the town centre that most pedestrians actually use.
Neither of the town centre's main shopping streets (Greenwich Church Street and Nelson Road) would be pedestrianised. Traffic on Nelson Road would almost double, since it now becomes two-way (it wouldn't quite double, since traffic from, say, Creek Road to Greenwich High Road would no longer need to go round the one-way system.)
Traffic on Greenwich Church Street would double under Option 1 and increase somewhat under Option 2 (because of journeys into the residential streets of West Greenwich, see below.)
There would probably also be serious congestion on Greenwich Church Street - right in the heart of the town centre - as two lanes of eastbound traffic narrow down into one to pass along Nelson Road.
Disadvantage: pedestrianisation is no panacea.
Pedestrianised streets can be bleak, particularly at night. Pedestrianisation would probably lead to a rise in Greenwich's already growing problem of drunken anti-social behaviour.
Disadvantage: bus services would be devastated.
Assuming, as we probably should, that option 1 is a nonstarter, under option 2 more than100,000 bus passengers a day on all seven routes passing through Greenwich would suffer disruption. Many would suffer massive disruption.
- The 199 (coming from Catford and Lewisham) would simply no longer be able to serve Greenwich town centre at all - the closest it could get would be the railway station. It would have to turn right from South Street into Greenwich High Road, then into Norman Road and then pick up its old route at Creek Road, skipping the centre. Alternatively, it would have to make a double loop of Greenwich, adding perhaps 20 minutes to the journey time.
- The pedestrianisation would swallow up the current terminus for the 129 and 286. The people at the exhibition had no idea where these buses would turn round under the new scheme. They too might not be able to serve central Greenwich at all.
- The 180 from Lewisham and 386 from Blackheath would be able to reach the town centre, but would have to make a huge detour via the station, Norman Road and Creek Road, adding at least another ten minutes to their journeys (probably far longer in the peak) and at least doubling the journey time from Lewisham to central Greenwich. If the 199 did not do a double loop, the frequency of service from Lewisham to central Greenwich would also be halved.
- The eastbound 177 would have to make a similar lengthy detour and would no longer be able to serve the railway station.
- The westbound 188 would also have to make a lengthy detour via Greenwich High Road and Norman Road.
- There is currently a bus lane eastbound along Greenwich High Road which significantly speeds buses. However, there will be no bus lane along Norman Road, the proposed eastbound diversionary route, meaning even slower journeys for bus passengers.
- There would be enormous confusion generally among passengers. Many passengers (particularly those travelling to Creek Road and Greenwich High Road) would be faced with longer walks to or from their nearest bus stops.
One possibility to address most of these problems is the council's option 2b, which puts an eastbound bus contraflow lane along Greenwich High Road (between the North Pole and the town centre) and a westbound contraflow lane along Creek Road (between the town centre and Norman Road.)
However, this would, the council admits, result in "additional traffic congestion" because buses turning right at St Alfege Church and stopping on Nelson Road to pick up passengers would significantly slow down the traffic flow through the town centre, causing major jams. It would also preclude the pavement improvements.
Disadvantage: traffic and pollution would be spread over a wider area.
Even if the total number of vehicles does not change, most drivers coming from the east and south will have to use more roads and drive significantly further to pass through the area. This means more pollution for everyone, and more traffic for many.
On Greenwich High Road, for instance, there may no longer be any eastbound traffic - but that will be more than made up for by a significant increase in the amount of westbound traffic. All the westbound traffic which currently uses Creek Road, as well as High Road's current westbound traffic, will have to pass along here. Norman Road will also see much more traffic. Residents of Roan Street, Randall Place, Straightsmouth and the Tarves Way/ Haddo Street estates will effectively find themselves in the middle of a giant roundabout.
There will also be traffic jams in new places: for example, at either end of Norman Road.
Disadvantage: many local journeys will become very long and convoluted.
It will no longer be possible to approach Royal Hill or Stockwell Street/ Crooms Hill from the west - or leave them if you are going east. To reach these streets from central London, or leave them towards east Greenwich, you will have to go round via Norman Road, Creek Road and the town centre (getting caught in all the traffic congestion on the way.) It will become much more difficult to drive to Somerfield or the cinema. There is an option 2a allowing two-way movement on the High Road (as far as Stockwell Street) which would mitigate this.
Disadvantage: more rat-running.
Rather than go all the way round via Greenwich High Road and Norman Road, many rush-hour drivers driving up through Greenwich Park would instead cut through the back streets of west Greenwich, such as Circus Street and Gloucester Circus. The proposals contain nothing to prevent this. The convoluted journeys for local residents will also lead to significantly more rat-running by locals.
Disadvantage: more traffic through the Park and over the Heath.
It is likely that rather than brave the new gyratory, some traffic will divert to the A2 - further increasing congestion on this route - or come through the park, perhaps rat-running through residential streets as before.
Unsatisfactory as it is, the status quo remains the least worst option. The latest proposal seems yet another of the council's ill-thought-out Olympic-related schemes. Its benefits are modest and its drawbacks far greater.