The best evidence about the Totnes Experimental Traffic Order is weak, so it pains me that it splits the town. The only report we have lacks evidence for the conclusions it draws. It doesn’t prove that the new traffic flow is damaging trade, because it doesn’t prove anything at all.
The only hard statistics we have are from the ticket machines on the street and in the car parks. Here’s what we know: The same number of motorists are using car parks, numbers are similar under both systems, but people are currently parking for longer. On the other hand, On-Street parking has decreased. That is it.
We have anecdotal reports of an increase in footfall in some shops, we can probably balance this with a decrease in other shops. There are 14 new businesses registered on the high street on top of the normal replenishment rates. But while this correlates with the ETO being in place, we can’t say it is because of the ETO being in place.
Our high street is the best in Devon for its low vacancy rate, currently 3.2%, down from 5.9% before the ETO. This is strong performance against a national backdrop of Highstreets containing more than 11% empty shops.
I don’t know how difficult or expensive it is to engage with the High Court in Bristol, but whether it was the best use of time and money remains to be seen. If I were running a struggling business mounting a High Court case would seem a potentially expensive proposition, a scheme that might not only fail, but might well distract me from improving my business.
Before the court case, Totnes was on its way to shared space. These are the steps that were needed:
1. Create pinch points at Seven Stars and King William pub: Done
2. Halve amount of traffic: Done
3. Extend Civic Square right across road, to blend directly into the Butter Walk, do the same at the Mansion House: Not Done.
Shared space hasn’t happened despite there being the time, money and motivation to implement it. The sad fact is that as soon as the court case started, the time and money were tied up. The energy and enthusiasm of Councillors and council officers to deal with Totnes High Street is now diminished. They are fed up with it, they have had their fingers burnt.
Neither did the judges decision give any satisfaction. The outcome of the case was that the plans should have been run by the Secretary of State, because they changed the route of a bus. Specifically, it changed the route of Bob the Bus. This is a technical issue affecting all bus routes in England, although quite how the Secretary of State will deal with all these traffic islands, crossings and lowered curbs is unclear. Generally, councils don’t consult him about such trivia, but this time the judge ruled they should have. What he didn’t do was commend one system over the other.
Devon County Council have asked for leave to appeal the judgement, I wonder if the fact that Bob the Bus is driven by volunteers, who don’t hold PSV licences, will form part of their case, it’s not a commercial bus like other commercial buses.
Whatever happens with traffic flow in the town centre, all seem to agree that traffic at the Morrisons roundabout and along Station Road can be a nightmare, something about that roundabout is broken. Many believe returning to the old traffic flow would lessen pressure on Station Road, others point out that the Fore Street/High Street isn’t a through road, you’re only supposed to use it to park and shop, not to get from A to B.
And then we have reports of people coming out on twitter to show their support for one system over the other, facing verbal abuse on the street. Lifelong friendships have been broken over this issue. I wonder when the dust settles on the road layout, whether this sort of behaviour still lingers in the air like a bad smell?
In the spirit of democracy you may wish to sign a petition. Here’s two you might like, if you can’t decide which way you prefer the traffic flow, you could always sign both. Before you dismiss them, be aware that the council are paying attention to these.
Sign here to return to the One Way Up (currently on 385 signatures)
Sign here to keep the current system (currently on 574 signatures)