Paved with Good Intentions by Bill Higman

There has been vigorous criticism of recent road improvement works in Dulwich Village.  One could sympathise with Southwark Council’s traffic department for believing that it had ‘ticked all the boxes’ in carrying out consultation with residents, except that its traffic calming proposals were presented to residents in outline but, as frequently happens, the devil lay in the detail. After plans had been shown to residents at a public meeting there were some abrupt surprises at the time of their implementation.  These included the unheralded removal of the pedestrian refuge in Burbage Road by the roundabout, construction of an extended pavement promontory between Gallery Road and Burbage Road to prevent vehicles making a left turn from one to the other, and another pavement bulge at the Village end of Calton Avenue making this awkward for large vehicles to negotiate coming from Dulwich Village.

Ian McInnes has written about the debacle of the ill-conceived crossing in Dulwich Village near the roundabout and the high cost of undoing these mistakes.   Together with others in Redpost Hill and Alleyn Park these have to be carried ultimately by council tax payers.  This became a matter of increasing concern to the Council only when it was required to make financial economies.  There was then additional pressure put on it to complete as much work as possible before the end of the last financial year.

Time and costs restraints were also important factors in driving through the replacement kerbs and the laying of fresh tarmac on the road and pavements in Gallery Road. This has now emerged as a standard workman-like municipal job by Conways, the contractors, with new white lines down the middle of the road giving it more the appearance of an urban through-way than the entry to a village conservation area.  Gallery Road is now the only approach road into Dulwich Village which is not subject to the 20 mph speed limit until the inconspicuous road sign is reached at the Scheme of Management office.

We have at last succeeded in obtaining a small ‘Give Way’ sign in Gallery Road where traffic enters the Burbage Road roundabout.  We should have preferred a ‘Halt’ sign, but evidently this would require the special consent of the Secretary of State.

It is not clear just what the road junction changes in the Village were intended to achieve, but it is clear that they have not made life safer for pedestrians, a large proportion of whom in Dulwich are school children and parents with infants in push chairs.  Their safety is the paramount requirement.  At the same time we are trying to promote the greater use of cycle routes, and to insulate these safely from other road users.  There is a wide diversity of traffic in Dulwich, of greatly varying weight, speed and vulnerability.  Some heavy vehicles may be deterred from going through Dulwich Village by the unhelpfully obscure sign in Gallery Road warning them of a weight limit on the railway bridge at North Dulwich station “870 yards ahead” but this road, and in parallel College Road, are nevertheless used by large contractors’ lorries and corporation dustcarts which still have to negotiate the intersections and roundabouts in the Village.  College Road is also a P4 bus route, it would only inflict more trouble on other roads to divert the tidal flow of commuter cars elsewhere, and the daily school run still cannot be accommodated without the use of cars and school buses.

Road design to satisfy all requirements is not easy, but it is clearly not being achieved by creating a confused traffic environment in which everybody in charge of a vehicle, motor-cycle or bicycle is just expected to behave in a civilised manner.  Most may do so but a significant minority will not and speed restrictions, enforced if necessary by speed cameras make a valuable contribution to safety.

Southwark Council is now conducting a review of its streetscape policy and practice.  We understand it is to prevent recurrences of expensive and inconvenient procedures which require later alteration such as experienced in Dulwich Village.  We hope the Council’s review will then proceed to consider in more detail how the visual appearance of these roads, as well as obstacles to vehicles, can best contribute to ‘calm’ traffic in Dulwich.