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Woodmill Waiting PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 08 April 2006 12:44

The temporary traffic lights at Woodmill Bridge have been in place for well over a year. Local resident Ian Thomas investigates.

Woodmill from the airWoodmill Bridge is the winding, single-track road bridge crossing the River Itchen at the extremity of its tidal reach, and adjacent to Riverside Park. There is a millhouse astride the river, where the circular saw was invented (the first patent was granted in 1777 to Samuel Miller of Southampton)

Here Woodmill Lane also crosses a green corridor leading into the city from the north, following the course of the Itchen into Riverside Park.

It’s a busy place, used by wildlife (including the occasional deer), pedestrians, bicycles, cars, vans and lorries.

Primary and secondary school pupils visit the area for field walks and outdoor activities at the Woodmill Activity Centre which now occupies the old millhouse and land to the north of the bridge.

Canoeists, especially kayaks, enjoy the white water created by the weir that stands under the bridge. Cars and small vans park on the south side of the embankment to gain access to the river.

Many people, including families with pushchairs, also cross the road just to the east of the bridge to continue their walks through Riverside Park.

A section of cycle track terminates to the south of the road.

Finally, there is a salmon pool just north of the bridge.

I have lived in nearby Oliver Road for three years now, and use the bridge everyday as a pedestrian, as a cyclist and as a car driver.

There are a number of things that led to my taking an interest in the bridge repairs.

  • A structural weakness was discovered in the embankment to the east side of the bridge whilst maintenance works were carried out in the summer of 2004.
  • The eastbound lane of the road was closed and temporary lights installed.
  • The temporary lights have been in place for over a year now.
  • The lights are inefficient in dealing with the changing traffic loads, resulting in long tailbacks of standing cars.
  • Traffic drives too fast through the lights-controlled section.
  • Vehicles continue to pass lights once they have turned red, resulting in people at the other end having to wait, after their light has turned green, while up to eight cars continue to stream (often too fast and too tight) off the bridge.
  • Pedestrians are exposed to increased risk from cars and lorries. Recently, I had to duck to avoid a passing lorry’s wing mirror.
  • Vehicles that are too wide, or too long to safely negotiate the bridge continue to do so.
  • Pollution has increased due to the long tailbacks that occur at various times of the day.

  • A mains water pipe has been replaced between Swaythling and Bitterne Park. Work to cross the road just east of the bridge took place in February, causing the closure of the road to traffic for several weeks.

I am told by the council that that there are three main options being considered for the future:

  1. Close the road to all motor traffic.
  2. Return the road to its previous configuration.
  3. Introduce permanent lights.

I suggest that:

  • The council and other interested parties agree what they are going to do, and get on and do it.
  • The road be returned to its previous configuration.
  • The weakness in the bridge needs to be addressed, as the current situation is inconvenient for users and a continuing expense to the council.

The options in detail

Close the road to vehicles
I understand that the council undertook research to assess the impact of closing Woodmill Lane to traffic, when the road was closed to allow the water pipe to be laid. The results indicate that the majority of traffic from Woodmill Bridge diverted onto Cobden Bridge, with a smaller proportion diverting onto Mansbridge.  Overall traffic flows crossing the river were marginally reduced when Woodmill was closed.

diversion signIt was clear to anyone trying to cross the river by car that the impact caused long queues to develop on Thomas Lewis Way southbound on the approach to the St Denys Rd lights, and from there on across the Cobden Bridge.  

Long queues of cars attempting to get onto Cobden Bridge formed in roads around the Triangle in the mornings, and by around 8.30 am there were usually cars backed up solidly along Bond Road, Manor Farm Road — almost as far as Nursery Road — and along St Catherine’s Road in the direction of Cobden Avenue.

The levels of pollution as children made their way to the two schools on Manor Farm Road must have been significant.

Even though I live near to Woodmill Bridge, and closing the road would make the area much quieter and cleaner, closing it to traffic is not a viable option.

Install permanent lights
On the face of it this may appear to be an attractive option. Control will be established, and the embankment may not require such extensive repairs if the extended single-track section is maintained. Another set of lights in Southampton would not cause great consternation.

The council says that it has received a lot of correspondence in favour of permanent traffic signals and some people believe that they provide better control of traffic movements than the more ad-hoc arrangements that previously existed.

However the council also points out that there are a number of practical issues that prevent this from being a viable option: ‘detector loops’ would need to be cut into the bridge deck and ducting installed between the signal heads; the structure of the bridge apparently makes this difficult to achieve. Other problems include how to control vehicles exiting from the access by the Canoeing and Outdoor Education Centre and the need to provide adequate clearance for cyclists.

My view is that installing permanent lights will continue to tempt drivers to speed through the section and to jump the lights, as they do now. Even if the embankment is comprehensively repaired and lights are installed close to the millhouse, drivers will still tend to accelerate across the narrowest part of the bridge, where pedestrians are most at risk.

There are traffic surges at different times of the day and in different directions, e.g. rush hours, and school pickup & drop-off times. It may be possible to install lights that respond efficiently to changing demand, but that will not help to make pedestrians safer.

Traffic lights are also expensive to install and maintain.

Return the road to it previous configuration
The original traffic flow system deserves some explanation. The bridge is crossed in two hops by taking advantage of a passing place (in the middle section, adjacent to the entrance to the Activity Centre) before proceeding to the exit. The entry point on the west side was where the temporary lights are now and the entrance on the east side was about 10yds from the eastward end of the mill-house.

In action, it works like this
Three, or a maximum of four, cars at a time move onto the bridge and pull over in the middle to allow another three cars to pass in the opposite direction; they then pull out and complete the crossing. This has a number of beneficial effects:

  • Cars can cross in both directions at the same time.
  • When loads are light you do not wait at the entrance.
  • Cars tend not go over 20MPH as they cross the bridge, as they usually have to stop in the middle.
  • When traffic is heavy access to the crossing is shared equally.
  • If there are only a few cars from one direction and a surge from the other, then a stream of cars can cross.
  • There are no lights for cars to jump, or the council to maintain.

Whilst this may not be the most efficient system, it better balances the needs of road users with those of pedestrians, by helping to keep speeds down.

I also propose that the following features be introduced:

  • Additional pedestrian protection should be installed on the west side of the bridge, especially at the point where the footpath crosses the weir. At this point the road is especially narrow and an elbow of pavement sticks out into the carriageway. Vehicles are almost forced onto the footpath, as there is a crash barrier on the north side of the road.

  • Width barriers should be introduced on both entrances to the bridge. They should be placed in such a way that it will be impossible for lorries to mount the pavement to get round them.
  • Improved signage would help drivers to work the bridge efficiently, such as signs at either end, giving priority to traffic coming off the bridge, a 20MPH speed limit, and “Give-Way” markings on the road. I understand that a “Three-cars-at-a-time” sign would be difficult for statutory reasons, though it would help those unfamiliar with the workings of the bridge.
  • A zebra crossing where the footpath crosses the road on the east side of the bridge will improve the safety of pedestrians following the riverside path. This should not have traffic lights, and need not be lit at night.
  • Continue to allow cars to park up off the road to enable canoeists and others to gain access to the river.
  • Finally! Please improve the angles of the railings on the north side of the bridge, by the millhouse. Even in my small car I find I have to steer round them, forcing me too close to the footpath on the other side.

A letter based on this article has been sent to the council officers in charge of this project and also to all the city councillors with responsibility for the bridge.

Ian Thomas

See also
Woodmill: consultation confusion - Dec 2006

Now we are two - Sept 2007

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0 #11 Markwell 2007-01-05 13:04
I am hoping to film some footage about the Woodmill consultation over the next 6 days for a university project.
Please email me at if you'd be willing to talk to me over the next few days about your views on the proposals and how they could effect you.

Ian Thomas- It would be fantastic if you could contact me too.

Many thanks.
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0 #12 iant 2007-01-05 18:05
Environment Agency
Subsequent to a meeting between officers of the Council (including Graham Redman), and of the Environment Agency, and the Environment Agency's consultants in August last year, I spoke to Karen McHugh (Asset Systems Management Officer - Flood Defence at the Environment Agency) who was also present at the meeting.

She was able to confirm that the Environment Agency's plans for the river will not require any changes to the structure of the bridge. She wrote "Our department would be the one to work with highways on their proposals - my boss is Mike Mullins who sees no reason why the bridge should not be repaired."

...and also "The Agency would not stand in the way to any essential repairs that highways need to make."

This was back in August 2006. So how anyone with any knowledge of matter can say that the Environment Agency is a block on the works being completed is quite beyond me.

I spoke to Graham Redman a month or so ago, but he could only tell me that no decision can be made until the after consultation is concluded, and that the consultation is still yet to happen because they/he were not sure how best to do it!

I recall another conversation with Graham way back in late 2005 about this very matter. Even then we were discussing which types of consultation might be used: road-side interviews, mail-outs, local paper etc etc. I am astonished that over a year later this remains unresolved, and that indecision over conducting such a relatively straightforward public consultation is being presented as a legitimate reason for continued delay.

Ian Thomas
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0 #13 carrie 2007-01-19 23:40
I use the bridge daily to go to work in chandlers ford. To go around the long way after dropping my children at BP junior school in the mornings would be and was a real head ache last year when the bridge was temporaily closed. The poor triangle was bursting at its seams with traffice. There's no easy solution, but I vote, spend our council tax wisely, mend woodmill bridge. I'd like to see permanent lights, people are always in a rush and many lack the courtisy of giving way to others on the 3 in 3 out old policy. Someone please be decisive and take action soon!
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0 #14 Helen 2007-05-01 13:48
I use the bridge several times a day and live in the local area. It is strikes me that there is a lot of difference of opinion and the council will clearly not be able to please everyone.

Whilst the current solution is not ideal (nor are the proposed ones) it is a reasonable and thought out solution given the constraints and problems surrounding the issue. It has not been the speediest of events, but what is when you need to consult several agencies, specialists and be part of a democracy. I think the council should be applauded for their attempts to get us to feedback our points of view (email, persons hading out leaflets to bridge users and direct mailings to local streets) and that they are not rushing into hasty and inappropriate decisions.

The old system worked perfectly well unless you are a nervous driver, spectacularly impatient or one or two people were silly and blocked it up (rare). Many of the issues would be improved by better signage, as commented by other members of the site.

The lights actually make things quicker at certain times of day and slower at others and with better timings or a part-time basis this could be improved more.

I rarely see persons jump a red light and when your light is green and there are still cars crossing this is usually because the traffic goes reasonably slowly through the narrow section. The shorter timing than is sometimes needed means less wasted time when the bridge is quieter. Please do not assume that traffic coming your way has jumped the lights because yours is green- this is often not the case.

Personally I would prefer the bridge not to close as I think it adds to problems at the triangle and that speed of traffic should be modified. Let us hope that whatever the final decision is is as sensible and suitable as possible and congratulate the council if it is.
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0 #15 iant 2007-05-21 18:36
Helen is right when she says that it has not been the speediest of events and I applaud her generosity of spirit, but feel compelled to point out that job has always been a road repair, plain and simple.

From the summer of 2004 when the road-width was reduced and the 'temporary' lights installed I was very understanding of the lack of progress for about a year, and tolerated the polite indifference of council officers.

Over the subsequent two years patience has worn rather thin. I happen to know a person in the Environment Agency with responsibility for the river above Woodmill and there was no reason for delay from the EA's point of view, despite this still being used as an excuse several months after the meeting where the EA's involvement was clarified.

A public consultation was discussed in early 2005, yet there is no explanation as to why it has taken another 24 months (that's nearly 100 weeks) to undertake a badly flawed exercise.

So long as there are traffic lights there will be long queues of stationary traffic, with cars and vans continuing to speed over the bridge putting pedestrians, parents with buggies, and cyclists at considerable risk of being struck by passing wing mirrors.

I will put my cards on the table, making the lights permanent will entrench dangerous driving over the bridge, whereas re-establishing the original road-layout will reduce speeds over the bridge back down to around 15-20mph, as there will be little opportunity to accelerate over the bridge. It will also maximise traffic flow. As humans, we are far more adaptable than the best lights computer. Have we become so drone-like that we crave control even over negotiating a small bridge?

I have heard from an officer in Highways that the real reason this has taken so long is that no-one wants to take responsibility and spend money to fix the road. So, the decision gets put off officers move on to other jobs, and the de-facto situation of the bridge being reduced to a single lane with lights becomes the accepted norm. This way the council ignores the cost of putting the road back the way it was and quietly slips another set of traffic lights in, to no-one's great surprise.

But who will take responsibility if someone gets killed or seriously injured by the wing mirror of a van speeding over the bridge, as happened in Portsword not so long ago?

The overriding criteria here must be the safety of the public, not the perceived convenience of drivers. If it is not, then the council will be in breach of its public duty of care.
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0 #16 Roberta 2007-10-29 15:23
I know it means more public money, but would it not be feaseable to have somewhere up or down the river in respect to Woodmill bridge a foot-bridge and cycling bridge (shall we call it the Millenium Bridge of the Itchen :-). I just think it would make miracles in terms of making cyclists, kids and walkers safer and far from cars and it would leave more room for cars to use the actual bridge.
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0 #17 IanT 2008-02-23 12:57
As people are no doubt aware, work has finally commenced on repairs to the bridge. Hooray!

The Woodmill Action Group successfully pressed the Council to re-consider the decision made by Cllr Dick (con) in November, to install permanent traffic lights on the bridge.

An amendment was passed at the full council meeting last Wednesday to refer the decision back to the cabinet following trials and further consultation.

This means that the necessary repairs will be completed and that any further expenditure to install lights will have to be justified from the results of trails. It is my contention that these trials, with and without lights, will reveal that there will be no net benefit from installing lights, at an initial capital cost of over £100,000, plus annual running costs. Public funds will be much better deployed in effective actions, such as traffic calming measures outside Southampton's primary schools.

There is evidence that over the last twenty years, whilst the amount of traffic in Southampton has grown steadily, the number of vehicles crossing the bridge has remained constant with or without lights. This is simply because the capacity of the bridge is limited by the single track section.

Installing lights will not increase the traffic flow or increase public safety, as publicly admitted by Cllr Dick at a hastily convened and heated public meeting at Woodmill in November.

The new leader of the council, June Bridle wrote this week to a resident, "As someone who was born and raised in Bitterne Park, albeit many years ago, I fully understand your reasoning but I also think the lights unnecessarily alter what is an historic part of our city, with all its unusual quirks, especially when there is no real need." and MP John Denham also commented that he "is not
convinced that the proposed scheme is necessary or a good use of public money. "

The repairs to Woodmill bridge have been the longest running road-works in Southampton. It has been over three years since this matter first surfaced. It is now very clear that the procrastination and badly flawed consultation process has resulted in an irrational decision that represents a waste of public money.

I am hopeful that common sense shall prevail and that this charming and unique part of Southampton will continue to be managed in a manner that benefits all the people who use it.

Ian Thomas
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0 #18 lilbluemel 2008-03-01 21:02
As a regular user of that bridge, 2 mornings and 2 afternoons a week i personally think that this bridge would benifit from permentant light fixtures at either end.

If there's not room for 2 cars to pass any where on the bridge (without using the area of drive for woodmill outdoor activity center) then at rush hour lights will be nescecary. Every morning, whether im going at 7:45 or 8:45 there is a long que either end of the bridge, without lights this junction would become extremly messy and potentialy hazardous for any users of the bridge.

Also, in response to those who dont want this historical part of the city altered, i am pretty sure that permenant lights will look alot better than the temporary lights that are currently in place.
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0 #19 bemused26 2008-03-27 12:40
Lights are a good idea. They cannot close the bridge to traffic completely, that would be ridiculous. I was not driving until after the temporary lights went in so I cannot comment on what the system was like before, but I do know that when the bridge is closed it causes absolute mayhem everywhere else in Bitterne Park. I am getting fed up of not being able to get off my own drive in st catherines because of all the cars trying to get down to the triangle. Some people eventually are nice enough to let me pull out of my drive, but most are so fed up of the traffic too that they look at me and carry on! It is a nightmare situation when the bridge is closed. For goodness sakes, just either leave those temp lights in or put some new ones in. Or even get rid of the lights, they just need to do it quick!
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