Blackpool’s controversial ‘shared space’ Promenade should stay as it is and NOT return to a four lane highway, according to transport experts hired by the town hall.
Consultants brought in by Blackpool Council to look into five proposed options for the Prom, including returning it to a four lane road, considered cost together with road safety and congestion issues – before recommending it should stay exactly as it is.
Manchester-based Ove Arup and Partners said the current layout, which was introduced in 2011 at a cost of £2.5m, may have reduced the number of accidents on the route and “provides a safe and attractive environment”.
It added issues relating to traffic congestion were merely “anecdotal”.
The council commissioned the report on the 600 metres between Talbot Square and New Bonny Street and revealed five options in May following complaints the shared space layout had sparked congestion.
But after three months of work and a public consultation, the consultants have advised councillors that nothing should change.
The report is set to be discussed by the 10 members of the council’s executive at meeting on July 15, when a decision will be made on how to proceed. The consultants’ report has been prepared as a guide, but members can opt to go against that advice and go for any option they like.
Cabinet member for transport, John Jones, was not available for comment, while council leader Simon Blackburn refused to speak to The Gazette about the matter.
Coun Tony Williams (pictured), leader of the opposition Tory group, said: “They (Coun Blackburn and Coun Jones) are in a quandary. They can’t really go against it – it’s so strong in saying it should stay as it is. I will go with the independent report.
“It’s reduced accidents. It said if we have four lanes speeds could be up to 20mph. Now it’s between 12 and 13mph.
“No doubt this report will have cost a few grand – all to be told it needs leaving alone.
“It’ll be a real quandary for them (the council leadership) as to what they do. They could of course go against the report – but why would you reject the opinion of experts?”
The report considered the other options – Option Two is to spend more than £1m to replace lay-by areas with asphalt; Option Three is to change the layout to provide a single lane in each direction with right turn refuges, lay-bys and pedestrian refuges at various points (at a cost of £800,000), Option 3A to do the same as Option Three but with an extended central reservation (costing £900,000) and Option Four – to restore a four lane road at a cost of up to £2.6m.
It claims a return to four lanes is the “least attractive” option. It would not be value for money, would cause “significant detriment the pedestrian environment” and would have “limited benefits to traffic movement,” the report says.
It suggests the impact on traffic would be limited because the road reverts to a single carriageway north of Talbot Square and south of New Bonny Street. It also says a site visit undertaken at 3pm on May 1 concluded that traffic was “quite heavy but flowing relatively freely.”
Councillors have also been told leaving the Prom as it is would mean no major cash outlay, with the cost of maintenance works on the road expected to cost between £10-20,000 a year. That compares to the £2.3m cost of returning the road to four lanes, which rises to £2.6m if night-time working is included. And it warns going ahead with all but Option One will mean spending is cut elsewhere within the budget to cover the cost.
A separate report prepared by council officers says: “Members would need to decide either to reduce the Project 30 programme in the remaining areas where work has not yet commenced which would be in the Squires Gate and Highfield wards or by reducing planned expenditure through the Local Transport Plan.”
That could mean things like bridge maintenance and local transport schemes are hit.
A public consultation undertaken in May saw a two day ‘open event’ and 700 replies to an online survey. It found almost 82 per cent of people wanted a good two way traffic flow. But 76 per cent also ranked pedestrian safety as the most important factor about the Prom.
And that is one area the consultants believe the current layout may be succeeding. Figures show there were a drop in collisions since shared space was introduced.
Congestion visit was done at wrong time, claims taxi chief
Bill Lewtas, secretary of Blackpool Licensed Taxi Operators’ Association, has hit out at the consultants’ report, saying a site visit should have taken place at rush hour.
Consultants Ove Arup visited the Prom at 3pm on May 1 to conduct a site visit and look at traffic flows.
Mr Lewtas told The Gazette: “The report mentions heavy traffic flowing relatively freely on a site visit they undertook on a quiet Wednesday in May at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
“They should have made their visit at a peak time to get a better understanding of the problem.”
He added: “Our suggestion to remove a zebra crossing on the Promenade has helped with traffic flow.
“Having said that it is still very congested at times, so I hope that Councillors make the right decision to deal with this congestion.”
The main talking points at a glance
The report states that congestion issues on the current stretch are “anecdotal”.
Reverting to a four lane highway would “very likely result in an increase in road traffic accidents and casualties as the previous accident record was poor compared to the current layout,” Councillors are told.
An officer report adds: “Immediately to the north and south of this section of the Promenade, the road returns to a single lane in each direction, therefore, the two lanes of traffic will need to merge onto one, potentially leading to some queuing.”
Figures referred to by the report appear to show the introduction of the current scheme has reduced accidents.
Between January and December last year there were three collisions, with four people suffering slight injuries – a pedestrian, two drivers and a car passenger. That compares to eight collisions in January-December 2010, causing 13 slight injuries and one serious injury.
Whichever option apart from Option One, where costs would be contained within existing budgets, all costs would have to be met by a reduction in spending elsewhere.
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