Bath street 'freed from the tyranny of the motor vehicle' by LTN, say locals

-Credit: (Image: John Wimperis)
-Credit: (Image: John Wimperis)

People living on a Bath street closed to through traffic as a “liveable neighbourhood” have declared the scheme “a success.”

Bollards were installed across Sydney Road where it becomes Sydney Place in April as part of Bath and North East Somerset Council ’s liveable neighbourhood (LN, also called LTNs) programme, which aims to make the street “a safer and more pleasant walking and cycling route.”

But the move has been controversial, with around 4,000 people signing a petition against the scheme amid fears it would increase congestion. Sydney Road was a popular route for people driving into Bath from the east to get into the city centre. But — in statements from the public at Bath and North East Somerset Council’s annual general meeting on May 16 — locals have praised the move to stop this “rat running.”

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Malcolm Robinson said: “Walking, strolling, wheeling, ambling, perambulating, whatever is your bag, the Sydney Road LN creates a small safe space to move around without fear of being run down by a rat runner from Bathampton trying to get to Waitrose before it closes. Other more appropriate and better built roads are available.”

He said: “Since the intervention, I now see children being dropped off below Sydney Gardens and walk up a safe and pleasant Sydney Road to school. [...] There are more cyclists, there are more pedestrians, people chat in the street. Our community is coming back to life.

“The process works. Our local community has been on board from the beginning and remains to this day engaged and strongly in support of this scheme.”

Richard Andrews, who’s houses fronts Sydney Road, said: “Our neighbourhood has been transformed since the trial began. There are more pedestrians and cyclists on the road; instead of traffic noise, we now hear birdsong; and we live in a quiet environment which I believe is a reasonable expectation in a residential area.”

A cyclist on Sydney Road -Credit:John Wimperis
A cyclist on Sydney Road -Credit:John Wimperis

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He said: “Prior to the trial we endured constant traffic and constant traffic noise starting around 6.30am and easing off around 6.30pm. Few drivers appeared to observe the speed limit of 20mph, probably none in the rush hours, and very few drove below 30. B&NES have now provided a much safer environment, free from speeding traffic, for both residents of the area and the many visitors to Sydney Gardens.”

He added: “Ambulances, sirens wailing. would come down Sydney Road on a regular basis. I contacted the South West Ambulance Service as I was concerned that a traffic filter would impede emergency services. I was told that the closure of Sydney Road would not cause significant delays as ambulances could still use Beckford Road.”

Mary Allan, who lives on Sydney Place, said: “We are still in the early days of the ETRO [experimental traffic regulation order] trial but I would already like to declare it a success.

“Others will be monitoring footfall, traffic flow, and pollution levels, perhaps identifying issues and suggesting improvements. The evidence of my own eyes shows that Sydney Gardens has been triumphantly restored to the community in which it sits. The gardens and the surrounding built landscape were designed to work together.

“This connection had been eroded by dangerous rat running, creating a hazardous divide between the gardens, local residents, and visitors. Now it is a pleasure to see parents with young children on bikes, scooters, and in buggies have easy stress-free access to the gardens and the wonderful playground, as well as the elderly and less able moving freely about in this reclaimed safe space.”

The bollards on Sydney Road in Bath, with Sydney Place behind them -Credit:John Wimperis
The bollards on Sydney Road in Bath, with Sydney Place behind them -Credit:John Wimperis

She added: “People can linger on the pavement without fear of losing their head to debris bouncing off a speeding flatbed truck — and this very nearly did happen.”

She said: “We have been freed from the tyranny of the motor vehicle. Restricting through traffic has proved the only way to achieve this.

“The 20mph speed limit was ignored routinely and flagrantly. Motorists who were using Sydney Road and New Sydney Place to avoid a red traffic light and save 10 to 30 seconds on their journey time are the very least likely to observe a 20mph speed limit.

“Our brave SpeedWatch volunteers have witnessed cars racing through at twice or even three times the speed limit.”

Some issues have remained. Just two days after the locals spoke at the council meeting on Saturday May 18, a coach which headed down Sydney Road had to spend half an hour turning around. A lorry which made the same turn a few days before knocked down one house’s gatepost.

The coach turning around on Sydney Road in Bath -Credit:Keir Cooper
The coach turning around on Sydney Road in Bath -Credit:Keir Cooper

On Monday May 20, Bath MP Wera Hobhouse (Liberal Democrat) and North East Somerset MP Jacob Rees-Mogg (Conservative) — whose constituents include people living in Bathampton that drive into Bath along Warminster Road — clashed in Parliament over the scheme.

Sir Rees-Mogg warned: “The anti-car policies that are being introduced have a big effect on people living in rural areas. Because they affect them as they try to go about their business without the concomitant benefits. It doesn’t help you if you live in a rural area that an LTN comes in in a city that you need to go through, or that you wish to do business in.”

But Ms Hobhouse said: “The term LTN is new, the concept is not. The planning principles of LTNs have been used in street design since at least the 1960s. The concept has suddenly become controversial because of the motives of such LTNs, such as reducing traffic and encouraging active travel, and it is at odds with the government’s new-found pro-driver policy.”

She said that surveys did not support that the scheme was making traffic worse elsewhere but, as a trial, the scheme could be removed if it did not meet its success criteria.

Bath and North East Somerset Council is now planning on closing three more streets to through traffic for another liveable neighbourhood trial in July.

The plans will totally overhaul Gay Street between Queen Square the Circus, with traffic to no longer be able to travel past the George Street junction. Meanwhile bollards will be installed on Catharine Place and on Winifred’s Lane at the top of Cavendish Hill. The schemes will block access for cars but not cyclists and pedestrians.