We need to tame the traffic in Stortford to preserve the town's character
There exists in Bishop's Stortford a significant opposition to most forms of progress, perhaps because we fear that it might destroy the character of our town.
Appreciating our conserved heritage, with its wealth of fine buildings, narrow streets and lanes, needs time, an opportunity to linger and ‘soak it up’. If we rush hither and thither on whatever mission we are on, taking little notice of our environment and the pleasures it has to offer, the conservation area might as well not exist.
The Town Centre Planning Framework (TCPF) suggests that the primary objective for people movement through the town centre should be a network of attractive, inter-connected walking routes, “whilst recognising and maintaining an appropriate level of car access to support the town’s rural hinterland, where the car is an important and necessary mode of transport”.
Prioritising walking and cycling above motor vehicles, it claims, will change our pace, give us time to consider our surroundings and instil in us a sense of calm as we do so.
We will develop an affection for our town and start to care about it – and for it.
Whilst we strive to conserve the bricks and mortar of our legacy, we, oddly, throw cars, vans and delivery lorries at it! To make it easier for drivers, particularly car drivers, we have created an extensive one-way system, with the capacity to carry more vehicles at greater speeds, but in doing so we have carved up the town centre and isolated one part from another and the river from all of it.
These high-speed routes cut across our otherwise attractive walkways and have turned Riverside, Dane Street and Station Road into a racetrack that seriously discourages pedestrian movement.
This feels like a form of abuse of our heritage that, despite our conservation efforts, we appear to accept. If we intend to respect our town we need to tame our cars and reduce their number to less insulting proportions.
To help with this, the TCPF includes proposals to return Riverside, Dane Street and Station Road to two-way working, providing central reservations, easy crossing points and wider pavements for pedestrians, thus opening up walking routes and, importantly, slowing down the traffic.
We will still need our car parks
Studies have shown that by 2021 parking demand will exceed supply by 12%. Most of this parking is surface-level only at present, being very inefficient usage of land within the town centre.
However, opportunities present themselves in the master planning of our major town centre developments to incorporate new land-efficient, multi-storey car parking (MSCP) to the north and south of our conservation area, no more than a short stroll from, ideally, a pedestrianised central retail area. This will obviate the need for many cars to enter the historic centre at all. But, of course, there are snags.
One of these car parks is that proposed for Northgate End and feelings locally are that this should not happen. If realised, this car park will become a northern terminus for car-borne visitors to the town centre from which easy pedestrian access to the centre and to the new cultural quarter at Old River Lane can be achieved.
The other is a proposal for a southern short-stay car park as part of the Bishop's Goods Yard development.
An ideal feeder route to and from the south would be the new goods yard relief road, which at the same time could relieve Hockerill junction, enabling a pedestrian phase on the traffic signals.
Currently, Herts County Council has restricted this road to a through route for buses, taxis and cyclists only, because to open it to all would make getting to the town centre by car too easy – contrary to its policy of encouraging ‘modal shift'.
The other major snag in the provision of short-stay spaces to the south is the very high demand for long-stay, expensive rail commuter parking.
During the week there are no spaces, short- or long-term, for town centre visitors. These highly profitable car parks are primarily for the benefit of train passengers whilst disadvantaging the town in terms of road congestion and emissions. It is unclear how a new town centre short-stay car park might emerge from this.
Summarising, the TCPF proposals for rationalising vehicular movement in the town centre are:
- Remove the one-way systems on Dane Street, Station Road and Riverside.
- Negotiate the opening of the planned north-south relief road through the goods yard to all traffic.
- Explore the provision of affordable short-stay town centre visitor parking at the Bishop's Goods Yard development.
- Deliver the new MSCP on the Link Road at Northgate End.
- Explore the potential for timed closure pedestrianisation of South Street, thus reducing traffic congestion and vehicle emissions.
- Introduce a pedestrian phase for the traffic signals at Hockerill, to improve walkability around the junction, and reduce air pollution, enabled by the relief offered by the new goods yard through road.
Next time you are in town, take a good lingering look at your heritage to discover what it is that is being conserved.
Decongesting the town centre is a major part of keeping it attractive and bringing it back to human scale and is a worthy target to aim for. It’s called progress.