Magic Roundabout

On 20 August a consultation group of local residents and business owners met with council officers to discuss a £550,000 scheme to reduce accidents at the Seven Dials roundabout. At present about 26,000 vehicles pass through this junction on a typical day and short of waving a magic wand which would make most of these vehicles disappear completely, there seems to be no solution to reducing this traffic, and, therefore, the number of accidents, other than to divert the traffic onto neighbouring roads, or to hope that, by narrowing access and creating more congestion, commuters, in particular, will immediately take to public transport, cycling or walking.

However, there is always the risk that car drivers will simply choose to sit in longer queues of traffic, creating more pollution, whilst wasting time and fuel. The group felt that improvements to Bath Street might be made without unwanted consequences. These included restoring it to two-way traffic with mini roundabouts at each end, and the addition of a bus stop. The possible consequences require careful consideration. New development has been given planning permission recently for 31-33 Bath Street, which, at one time comprised a car show room, offices and one dwelling but which has been abandoned for some years and will now be demolished. The site will be rebuilt as five town houses to the rear around a courtyard with pedestrian access only and three “live work” units facing the pavement. There will clearly be a need for loading bays in Bath Street if these units and, indeed, the houses to the rear are to be in any way fit for purpose. The question that arises is whether loading bays, a new bus stop, mini roundabouts and two-way traffic can all function together, particularly when more traffic might use Bath Street to avoid the roundabout itself.

The existing central island of the roundabout is a dismal example of the traffic engineer’s aesthetic, and it must be hoped that if this is to be the future centre of a “Seven Dials Village”, as one local councillor has put it, the centre piece of the roundabout will be worthy of such an important part of the public realm. Flowers used to adorn the pavement railings and were just about the only thing to lift the spirits of pedestrians negotiating the crossings, but the flowers have gone this year. It seems that if they ever return, it will be for local residents to tend and water them. We might think that the £18,000 being paid by the Council to recruitment consultants to find (yet another) Council Chief Executive could be better spent employing a person with a watering can; but, sadly, we can dream on.

Dreaming apart, the stark reality is whether spending £550,000 digging up the roads around the Seven Dials can achieve the declared objective of reducing accidents, without merely displacing them or without the having the pollution which comes with more congestion. Whilst the work is being carried out the disruption will be considerable. Will it all be worth it? Over the last century the size of the central island has been made either smaller or larger with each passing fad of traffic engineering. What leads us to believe we will get it right this time? Does a magic roundabout exist or is this as fanciful an idea as talking dogs, snails and rabbits?

Jim Gowans

Categories: Environment

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