The temporary traffic lights at Woodmill Bridge have been in place for well over a year. Local resident Ian Thomas investigates.
Woodmill 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:
- Close the road to all motor traffic.
- Return the road to its previous configuration.
- 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.
It 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.
Woodmill: consultation confusion - Dec 2006
Now we are two - Sept 2007
We're reader powered!
Without reader subscriptions and advertising, we'd have to stop publishing. If you value your local, independent website, please help us do more by taking out a regular subscription – perhaps for less than the cost of one posh coffee or a newspaper. Thanks!
Choose your subscription and use the secure Subscribe button below, or click to learn more. Thank you!