|The Rushden Echo and Argus, 7th October, 1949, transcribed by Gill Hollis
Trunk Traffic is The Worry Official View of High Street Problem
A discrepancy between the ideas of the County Council and the Divisional Road Engineer of the Ministry of Transport as to the alternative route to be “trunked” for north-bound traffic was revealed on Wednesday afternoon at a public inquiry into the proposed one-way traffic order for Rushden High Street.
The inquiry was conducted by Colonel W. S. Richmond, C.M.G., M.I.C.E., following the Ministry’s announcement of its intention to make an Order.
The part of High Street affected is between its junction with Station Road and Church Street.
The case for the order was not completed until late in the afternoon, and the inquiry was then adjourned until a date yet to be decided.
Mr. A. F. Skinner (deputy clerk) opened the case for Northamptonshire County Council. He referred to the fact that the industries of Rushden were scattered through the town and that High Street was the main shopping centre.
The Minister, he said, had got to satisfy himself that the street was too narrow to carry the traffic; that through traffic was impeded, and that the remedy proposed was the best solution of the problem.
At four separate points the carriageway was less than 20 feet wide, the minimum being 18ft. 2ins. A census taken on January 12th and 14th, 1949, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. showed that on the Wednesday 2,400-odd vehicles, excluding bicycles, used the road, and 2,527 on the Friday. There were 1,062 goods vehicles on the Wednesday and 1,166 on the Friday. 2,561 bicycles on the Wednesday and 2,876 on the Friday.
With the exception of bicycles, which increased towards midday, the flow was fairly consistent. High Street was an important trunk road, and the fact that through traffic was impeded was regarded as a serious matter.
Dealing with alternative remedies, Mr. Skinner said the best long-term remedy would be a by-pass road, but there was no money or materials for this. Widening the road was impracticable.
Mr. Skinner submitted that Station Road could be used by local traffic and the corner at the High Street junction could be improved. At the moment Rectory Road could not carry any weight of traffic, but he submitted there were plenty of ways which could be used by local traffic.
It had been suggested that a voluntary system of diverting north-bound traffic would be effective. Such a system was introduced during the war, and the directing signs still existed, but even though the through traffic was diverted there would still be too much bus and local traffic in High Street.
Two objections had been submitted one by the Eastern National and United Counties bus companies and one by the Chamber of Trade. Both parties feared inconvenience to passengers, and the traders also feared loss of trade.
Mr. E. A. Black, Surveyor to Northamptonshire County Council, said the length of High Street involved was 573 yards. In the January census there was an average of 205 motor vehicles and 226 cycles per hour, the peak being 522 vehicles per hour.
The Surveyor submitted photographs taken from the top of the Midland Bank and from Woolworth’s building. These, he said, showed “rather severe obstruction.”
Mr. Black said it was agreed some years ago that an enlargement of Duck Street would relieve the congestion in High Street. A scheme could not be carried out because of the war, but development of property was being controlled with a view to proceeding with the scheme when possible. This, however, would only be a palliative to the High Street problem.
Dealing with the one-way scheme, Mr. Black said north-bound traffic could use either Wellingborough Road and Station Road or Wellingborough Road and Washbrook Road the latter for long distance traffic. He claimed that in both directions traffic would get through quicker.
Mr. Black said that only two bus stopping points in High Street would be affected, and he suggested that there could be an additional stop in Wellingborough Road opposite Fitzwilliam Street. The removal of congestion would enable vehicles to be drawn-up opposite High Street premises without impeding moving vehicles, but the parking would need to be on a unilateral system.
Mr. A. B. King-Hamilton, cross-examining, asked: Would it be right to say I do not know that the local Council are very divided about the matter?
Mr. Black: I do not know.
Mr. King-Hamilton: Do you not make yourself familiar with the reports in the local Press?
Mr. Black: I have seen nothing about it in the Press.
Mr. King-Hamilton asked Mr. Black if he would agree when he told him that it was a very open matter in the town of Rushden and that the local Council was very divided.
Mr. Black replied by saying that at the conferences that he had attended, the people were in agreement.
Mr. King-Hamilton: I have no doubt about that. The people who attended the conferences would be people who supported the proposals. For whose benefit would you say that these proposals were being made?
Mr. Black: For through traffic mainly.
Mr. King-Hamilton: Through traffic has not the least desire to go through the High Street, but local traffic wants to go through the High Street? Yes.
Witness would not agree that there would be no problem if through traffic was withdrawn. He agreed that the obstruction was caused by parked vehicles and that this was shown in every case by the photographs which had been submitted.
As to the yellow band system, Mr. Black agreed that the only inconvenience it would cause would be to the drivers concerned. Unilateral parking, too, would alleviate the position. Even with through traffic diverted by signs, however, there would still not be room for local traffic and parked vehicles.
Mr. King-Hamilton asked if they had considered the idea of making the High Street a one-way road in the other direction and making South-bound traffic come down Rectory Road.
Mr. Black said the idea had been considered, but had been rejected mainly because of the condition of the road.
After Mr. Black had drawn attention to the difficulties of using Rectory Road for through traffic, Mr. King-Hamilton pointed out that it would in any case be used for one-way traffic only. It was at the moment being used by some buses.
Questioned regarding bus stops, Mr. Black did not agree that people who arrived from the north and alighted in the centre of High Street would want to begin their return journey from the same point. He thought that if they were shopping they would walk toward one end of the street or the other.
“We all have to walk some distance,” he said, in reply to further questions, many of which related to the convenience of workers at dinner hour.
“Just imagine the consequent loss of temper and the indigestion, all because you propose no bus stops in that street,” exclaimed Mr. King-Hamilton.
“I have indigestion myself,” retorted Mr. Black, “but I have to walk.”
Mr. King-Hamilton: “Have you the remotest idea of the number of people who board United Counties buses alone at this point at the corner of College Street?” No, sir.
Mr. King-Hamilton: Can you guess? Do you know that in one day alone not the whole day just part of the day 767 people boarded United Counties buses at that point?
When he exclaimed that it was a 12 hour period, Mr. Black did a quick calculation and commented: Sixty-four an hour. Then remembering previous figures that had been mentioned, he added: Eight per bus.
Mr. Black admitted that some inconvenience would be caused to 767 people, but he could not say whether this was a far greater number than would be inconvenienced by the yellow band system or by one-way traffic in Wellingborough Road.
Mr. King-Hamilton: Do you know of any other town that has one-way traffic in one direction and not in another direction? Oh, yes; Wood Hill, Northampton.
Admitting that the one-way system would increase the speed of traffic in High Street, Mr. Black said he did not think there would be more danger of accidents.
When his attention was drawn to one of the photographs showing an empty carriageway at 10 a.m. Mr. Black observed pleasantly: “I thought you would like to see that one.”
Mr. King-Hamilton also referred to “a van which appears to be there at all times of the day.”
After the luncheon interval the County surveyor (Mr. E. A. Black) was questioned by Mr. R. A. Evans, representing Rushden, Higham Ferrers and district Chamber of Trade.
Mr. Evans: Can you tell me what practical steps have been taken during the last 20 years to deal with the problem?
Mr. Black: None, excepting the direction of traffic.
Mr. Black agreed that he did not know of another case where there was a 500-yard one-way route and no return route.
He further agreed that nothing has been tried out.
Mr. Evans: You are advocating rather drastic surgery? I don’t think so.
Mr. Evans suggested that disorder would arise in the side streets where the traffic with no lead, would behave erratically.
Mr. Black agreed that Rushden had only one main shopping street which was High Street.
Mr. Evans: You told me a moment ago you considered that through traffic was the main problem.
Mr. Black: No, I said it was the main part of the problem. I considered local traffic as well.
Witness gave his opinion that 10 m.p.h. was a safe speed for traffic in High Street. He expressed surprise on being told that it was often possible to look out of an office window and see 15 perambulators. He agreed that unilateral parking slowed down the traffic to a safe speed but it also caused delays.
Mr. Evans: That doesn’t matter does it?- Oh, indeed it does.
“I have been held up for minutes in High Street, Rushden,” added Mr. Black.
Mr. H. A. Milcham, representing the Automobile Association and the R.A.C. also raised questions on technical points.
Questioned by Mr. A. F. Skinner, Mr. Black said there was no objection to the alternative route allowing traffic to travel north instead of South and using Rectory Road, but there was a very dangerous corner where traffic would turn left under the railway bridge.
Police Inspector H. L. Dale, Rushden, said congestion in High Street was a serious matter, with the most serious congestion caused by stationary goods vehicles. Normally there was one policeman on duty in High Street whose chief duty was to keep traffic moving. He had plenty to do.
Questioned by Mr. King-Hamilton, he said that not many private cars parked in High Street but after looking at nearly 30 photographs he agreed most of the vehicles parked were private cars.
In six months there was only one prosecution for obstruction in Rushden and that was not in High Street.
Mr. King-Hamilton: You can’t have it both ways. Why don’t you prosecute? Witness: Because the system is that prevention is better than cure. You must give reasonable facilities for shopping.
When counsel read from the local Press reports of Rushden Council debates in which members spoke against the one-way traffic plan, the Inspector said he disagreed with the councillors.
Questioned by Mr. Evans, Inspector Dale said that at the moment it was impossible for a car to turn round in the High Street, and agreed that the scheme would put more traffic on the side streets, making them more dangerous.
Mr. Evans pointed out that if the order was made and buses from south to north made to proceed along Wellingborough Road and turn into Station Road, they would have to turn into a very narrow entrance and into oncoming traffic.
Inspector Dale did not think the traffic in Wellingborough Road was heavy. If buses turned down Station Road toward the blind corner at the junction with Moor Road there could be remedies preferably a “Halt” sign. He did not think there would be undue congestion at the “Oakley” cross-roads, though the character of the crossing would be changed. There would naturally be more traffic in Washbrook Road, where the children’s chief recreation ground was situated.
He thought High Street much too narrow for unilateral parking. He did not like the idea of two one-way streets, using Rectory Road for traffic going from north to south, but thought it would be worth a trial if Rectory Road could be improved.
Mr. A. R. Howlett, senior engineer to the Ministry of Transport, said the majority of the heavy traffic in High Street was through traffic. If and when a by-pass road was made, the need for one-way traffic in High Street would disappear.
Regarding the improvement of Rectory Road, Mr. Howlett said the housing problem would set it back for at least five years, and there could be no Ministry of Transport grant for two years. To widen Rectory Road to bring it up to the standard of a classified or trunk road would cost from £30,000 to £40,000.
Answering further questions Mr. Howlett said that whenever the Ministry made a one-way route it trunked the alternative route. The alternative route at Rushden was Wellingborough Road and Station Road.
Admitting that the Ministry’s chief concern was the long-distance driver who had got to go, perhaps, from London to Carlisle, Mr. Howlett submitted: “If anybody has got to be put out, does it matter if the local man, who has come in for an afternoon’s ‘potter,’ is inconvenienced for a minute or two?”
After a long passage of questioning in which Mr. Evans urged him “not to be grudging,” Mr. Howlett said it was not proposed to “trunk” Washbrook Road.
“Nobody,” he added, “ever suggested that any of the roads here are really suitable for trunk roads, but they are the best we can do.”
Regarding the Press reports of criticism by Rushden councillors, he declared: “I understand this is a democratic country and that the will of the majority is enforced on the minority. The local opinion is reflected in the resolution of the Council, and that is all we can go on until there is a public inquiry.”
Mr. Skinner expressed surprise that Mr. Howlett’s department proposed to “trunk” Station Road and not Washbrook Road. “As a County Council we don’t agree with that,” he said.