The video above was forwarded to me this week. It shows how the centre of the village of Langholm in Scotland is blighted by an incredibly busy road passing through it. The description underneath the video is well worth reading:
Transport Scotland justifies the 30mph speed limit through Langholm High Street claiming it is ''...unsuitable for a 20mph limit due to the strategic classification of the road (A7 trunk road) and that it should be as free from obstruction to encourage the efficient movement of goods and vehicles....''
That Langholm's High Street is part of the route of the A7 - a major route across Scotland - is an historical accident. However, the traffic on the road has clearly grown well past the volumes which are reasonable to send through the narrow streets of a village of 2300 people.
Where it is wide, just as where it is narrow, the main street through Langholm is dedicated to the needs of those who pass through in motor vehicles in preference to those who live in the village. The narrow pavements provide no subjective safety for pedestrians, and this is a very hostile place to ride a bicycle. View Larger Map
Sadly, this is a scene repeated across the UK. Many small and pretty villages are blighted by absurd numbers of motor vehicles which pass through their centres. I am not aware of any situation where a Dutch village puts up with conditions like this. There are plenty of villages which have narrow streets, but they do not suffer the same blight of having these streets used as major thoroughfares by drivers who are just passing through and will never stop to discover the delights of the village itself.
I'm reminded of the village of Grafhorst in the Netherlands which I have cycled through on a few occasions. This has a population just half that of Langholm, but residents benefit greatly from the bypass which prevents the N760 from blighting their lives. It is safe for children from tiny Grafhorst to cycle to other villages in order to attend school. There are some images below:
Approaching Grafhorst from the South, the N760 is diverted to the East. Cyclists take the original route through the streets in the centre of the village. Drivers who wish to visit Grafhorst turn left here (as the blue car is doing) View Larger Map
The main street in the village is therefore free of through traffic. Even the Google Maps car went no further than this. A cobbled road surface, raised platforms and strategically planted trees help to persuade people not to drive quickly. View Larger Map
On leaving the other side of Grafhorst there is a cycle-path to the next village, much used by children and adults alike. View Larger Map
Note that the N760 is not so busy as the A7 and that speed limits outside the villages are restricted to 80 km/h maximum, and often 60 km/h rather than the 60 mph / 100 km/h normal across the UK.
Residents of Langholm are campaigning for little more than a lowering of speed limits through their village to 20 mph (32 km/h). It's a start, but they're not asking for remotely enough. While such volumes of traffic are allowed, even at a lower speed, they will continue to dominate the village and continue to affect the lives of those who live there. This village needs a bypass, and by bypass I mean something which keeps through traffic completely away from the centre rather than the British concept of a bypass which sadly often serves only to provide a parallel alternative route.
A bypass would of course be expensive. However, at this time the money is available. Billions have been set aside in the UK for infrastructure spending in order to stimulate the economyy. It can be spent on pointlessly increasing the capacity of roads between the places where people live or on improving the conditions of those who currently are blighted by roads which are already too busy. It is for British voters, councillors and politicians to decide on the most sensible way to spend that money, in Langholm and every other afflicted city, town and village.
|Streets just as narrow as those in Langholm abound in the Netherlands. Because they are never used as through routes for motor vehicles, they are pleasant places for people.|
If we're not interested in improving the lives of the next generation then who are we campaigning for ?
30 September update
Perhaps unsurprisingly, some correspondents from the UK made excuses of the usual form about how Langholm is "different" from the Netherlands and therefore a bypass would be difficult. It often seems to be assumed that everything is easy in the Netherlands simply because of the relative lack of hills, but nothing could be further from the truth. Actually, engineering here has been on a grand scale. The Dutch have built some of the world's longest dykes and the world's largest moving barrier. They also reclaimed land which forms the world's largest artificial island, and run trains though tunnels in soft ground below the water table. Just in the last few years in Assen we've seen a canal moved sideways by 2 metres to make space for a secondary cycle-path, and a bridge carrying a dual carriageway built to keep cars out of the way of cyclists. There are now plans to dig a tunnel to remove cars from the outside of the railway station. Major projects are common in the Netherlands even in small towns because they make life better. The only real difference is in the will of the people to demand decent infrastructure.
|Rattenberg. Transformed into|
a pleasant place to live.
Rattenberg was transformed by building the Rattenbergtunnel which bypasses the centre of the city by passing through a hill. Exactly the same approach could be taken in Langholm.
Grotere kaart weergeven
Finally, this blog is not just about Langholm and the problems in the centre of one small settlement. Rather, my interest is in the similar situations in hundreds of small towns and villages across the UK and in other nations, each of which are blighted in a similar way, regardless of the relative difficulty in removing their through traffic. The low aspirations of many campaigners make it easy for too little to be done to resolve problems.