Roundabouts good for your health

Are roundabouts good for your health?

Roundabouts good for your health

Roundabouts could be good for your health. That’s according to a recent study of air pollution levels.

Scientists from the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research and the Lancaster University Environment Centre looked at the UK’s 146 most populous urban areas.

They wanted to discover if there’s a correlation between a town’s layout and the levels of pollution.

The 146 largest conurbations were ranked by their NOx emission levels, with the data overlaid with the size of the population. Taking this into account, Milton Keynes is the city ‘most improved by urban form’.

‘Roundabouts do two things’

Speaking to the BBC, lead author of the study, Professor Rob Mackenzie, said: “The Milton Keynes roundabouts do two things – they reduce stop-start driving which reduces production of pollution, and they make space to help the pollution dilute and mix away.

“Milton Keynes has taken up much more space for its people and its transport which means the pollution it produces is diluted in a greater space.”

Just 23 miles down the road in Luton, the story is less positive. The town’s compact and built-up nature means fumes are unable to disperse as easily.

“Luton is much more compact so it doesn’t gain from that dilution benefit. The biggest effect green spaces have on air pollution in urban areas is to provide space for that pollution to disperse.”

Roundabout in Milton Keynes

Crucially, the two towns produce roughly the same amount of pollution for their size. But the air in Luton is much dirtier, because the pollution is trapped by tight roads and building. Conversely, the roundabouts, boulevards and open roads of Milton Keynes allow the poisonous gases to escape.

Professor Mackenzie said towns like Luton cannot “rely on the dilution effect of it being spread out to avoid the problem”.

“I’d be advocating that Luton recognise that their particular situation puts them at a relative disadvantage, so they ought to work even harder at driving down emissions from traffic.”

The following tables show the best and worst urban areas when it comes to dispersing pollution. The rankings are based on the percentage change relative to the 146 largest areas in the country.

Top 10 most improved by urban form

Urban areaPercentage change
1. Milton Keynes22%
2. Stoke-on-Trent21%
3. Weybridge20%
4. Aldershot19%
5. Macclesfield18%
6. Livingston18%
7. Swansea16%
8. Manchester16%
9. High Wycombe14%
10. Birmingham14%

Top 10 least improved by urban form

Urban areaPercentage change
1. Luton-24%
2. Crawley-15%
3. Leamington Spa-13%
4. Cardiff-12%
5. Coventry-12%
6. Stevenage-12%
7. Tamworth-12%
8. Bradford-12%
9. Oxford-12%
10. Worcester-12%
New road Carland Cross in Cornwall

‘Congestion-busting’ road in Cornwall gets green light

New road Carland Cross in Cornwall

The government has given the green light for work to start on a ‘congestion-busting and economy-boosting’ road scheme in Cornwall. It promises to bring relief to local residents, not to mention the millions of tourists who visit the county every year.

The single lane section between Carland Cross and Chiverton Cross is a notorious bottleneck, creating long delays at peak periods and during the summer. Now, Grant Shapps, the secretary of state for transport, has granted a Development Consent Order for work to start on a £290 million improvement scheme.

This follows the opening of a dual carriageway across Bodmin Moor at Temple in 2017, which removed another section of single carriageway between Scotland the far west of Cornwall. Bad weather meant the works finished a year behind schedule. The image below shows the congestion before the new road opened.

Work on the new 8.7-mile dual carriageway between Carland Cross and Chiverton Cross is expected to start later this year, with the route likely to be open to traffic in 2023. However, consent for the works is subject to a six-week period in which the decision may be challenged in the High Court.

Once completed, the new road scheme will include:

  • A 70mph dual carriageway
  • A two-level junction at Chiverton Cross
  • A partial junction at Chybuca
  • New bridges at Tolgroggan Farm, Pennycomequick Lane and over the Allet to Tresawsen road
  • A two-level junction at Carland Cross
  • Keeping the A30 as a local route

‘Vital upgrade of the A30’

Department for Transport policing review

Roads minister Baroness Vere said: “This government is committed to delivering an infrastructure revolution and levelling up access across the country.

“This vital upgrade of the A30 will improve safety, cut congestion, boost access for drivers on their daily commute and create better journeys for the surrounding communities.”

Highways England senior project manager Josh Hodder added: “We’re delighted to receive the secretary of state’s decision, which represents a major step in developing a scheme to help unlock congestion, promote economic growth and bring out better connectivity for local communities along the A30.

“Improving the A30 between Chiverton and Carland Cross is incredibly important for Cornwall’s future.

“It’s the only remaining stretch of single carriageway on the A30 between Camborne and the M5 at Exeter; journeys on this part of the road are regularly delayed, congestion often brings traffic to a standstill, and as a result the Cornish economy is being held back.”

The existing A30 will remain open while work on the new road takes place, although some delays are inevitable.

Watch as a motorway bridge is removed from the M5

No plans for smart M5 motorway

It’s amazing what you can achieve in one Saturday night. While many of us were sleeping, Highways England was preparing to remove a motorway bridge from the M5 in Gloucestershire.

The 40-year-old footbridge spanning the southbound and northbound areas of the Michaelwood Services had reached the end of its life. It had been closed to pedestrians since 2018.

A team of 70 people were involved in the cutting, dismantling and lifting of the motorway bridge, aided by a 750-tonne crane. A further two 130-foot cranes were used to manoeuvre the 69-tonne structure for cutting and removal.

In a real-life Saturday takeaway, the metal and concrete were transported away for recycling. Come the morning, the road was reopened for traffic, with many drivers oblivious to the removal job that had taken place overnight.

‘Massive operation‘

Highways England took the opportunity to carry out other essential maintenance work during the overnight closure. Project manager Adrian Simon said: “It was a massive operation for our principal contractor Carnell, we understood the closure would have an effect on journey times and we appreciate people’s co-operation and patience during the work.

“We carried out additional work between junctions 13 and 14 to minimise disruption, the removal operation was carried out safely and discussions are ongoing regarding building a replacement footbridge.

“As is the case with a lot of our replacement and renewal schemes, another positive will see the materials recycled and put to good use elsewhere.

Not everything went according to plan. The team experienced computer issues with one of the 130-tonne cranes, unseen issues detaching the main span from the piers and additional cutting of the bridge deck.

Adrian Simon added: “Due to the complex nature of the operation, we did reopen the M5 a little later than scheduled, and again, we’d like to thank drivers using the diversion routes for their patience.“

Now watch the time-lapse footage of the bridge removal. They make it look so easy…

£1m Norwich ‘bat bridges’ do not work

Seven bat bridges built over a main road in Norwich do not work as they should. That’s according to a BBC investigation.

When the £205m Norwich Northern Distributor Road (NDR) was built, 12 bat crossings were put in place, including seven bridges, two green bridges, two dark corridors and an underpass.

All bats in the UK are protected under Schedule Five of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Since 2007, the effective protection for bats now comes from Schedule Two of the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c) Regulations 1994. This makes all bats a European Protected Species.

The seven bridges, costing £1m, were built over what is now known as the Broadland Northway to help bats fly safely over the road.

The bridges feature wire mesh strung over the road between two poles. They’re intended to replicate hedgerows and trees, giving the bats a reference point for sonar. In theory, the bats should avoid the road, protecting them from danger.

Now, a report on the first year of the 12-mile road, along with data released to the BBC, suggests the bat bridges aren’t working. Indeed, just 49 percent of bats were flying close enough to the bridges to be considered as using them.

More worrying is the news that a survey conducted months after the opening of the NDR could only locate one of the three previously healthy barbastelle bat populations on the route.

‘Not meeting their purpose’

controversial bat bridges not working

Dr Anna Berthinussen, a bat ecologist commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to examine such measures on new roads, told the BBC it was likely the council’s attempts to protect the bats had failed.

“The evidence in the report suggests that actually no, these structures are not effective, they’re not meeting their purpose. I think it’s quite striking how few bats there are at any of the crossing points,” she said.

“At one of the bat gantries [bridges] there weren’t any bats recorded at all. At the others, just a handful of bats per survey, which is really worrying.

“The lack of bats at the crossing points is almost certainly down to the impact of the road. Bats may be avoiding crossing the road or disturbance caused by the road may have driven bats away from the area.”

Martin Wilby, council member for road and infrastructure, defended the bat bridges, saying: “I’ve seen the report. And I’ve seen that numbers of the bats have been using the bridges across the NDR.

”We should monitor them and if they don’t work over a period of time, fine, we’ll accept that – but at this present time it’s very early days.”

The full investigation into the Norwich bat bridges will be shown on BBC Inside Out East tonight at 7.30pm. It will also be available afterwards on the BBC iPlayer.

Highways England 70mph Thames tunnel

Consultation begins for 70mph tunnel under the Thames

Highways England 70mph Thames tunnel

Highways England is planning what it calls ‘Britain’s most ambitious roads project in a generation’. Plans for a 70mph tunnel under the river Thames enter the next phase of public consultation next week. 

The multi-billion-pound Lower Thames crossing will connect Essex, Thurrock and Kent. The latest consultation will allow people to have their say on the current state of the project’s design.

Highways England 70mph Thames tunnel

It will be an eight-week process, running from Wednesday January 29 to Wednesday March 25. There will be 20 events along the route at which people can offer their thoughts. You can also complete an online survey. 

Changes have been made since the last public consultation in 2018. These are with reference to the 29,000 responses Highways England received on the project, as well as new technical information from ground investigations and surveys.

Highways England 70mph Thames tunnel

The Lower Thames Crossing in its current state would be a 14.3-mile 70mph road – the longest road tunnel in the UK. Road capacity to the East of London across the Thames will be doubled. 

“The Lower Thames Crossing is Highways England’s most ambitious scheme in 30 years,” said Chris Taylor, director of Highways England’s Complex Infrastructure Programme.

“We are designing a new route that will boost the local and regional economy, while providing quicker and more reliable journeys.”

Highways England 70mph Thames tunnel

“We have made some changes to the design of the scheme based on new information, feedback from our consultation in 2018 and ongoing engagement with the local community and organisations.

“This further consultation is an opportunity for people to have their say on the changes before we submit our planning application later this year.”

Motorway money used to restore historic buildings

Gunnersbury Park mansion

Money put aside for reducing the road network’s impact on the historic environment is being used to revitalise historic buildings.

Highways England has awarded £340,000 to Gunnersbury Park – a 75-hectare park near the M4 motorway in West London.

In 2009, eight of the listed buildings in the park were placed on Historic England’s Heritage At Risk Register. There are 22 listed buildings in the park, many of which have fallen into disrepair.

The Highways England cash is being put towards securing three of the threatened buildings. The plan is to transform them into cultural and artistic facilities for the local community.

Last year, Highways England awarded £90,000 towards the cost of specialist surveys of the small mansion and stable buildings. Now, a further £250,000 has been allocated to the cost of repair.

In the future, Gunnersbury Park will boast a multi-million-pound sports hub, offering tennis, football, cricket, gym facilities and angling to local people.

‘Derelict for decades’

Highways England cash restoring old buildings

Highways England principal cultural heritage advisor Jim Hunter said: “I am delighted that Highways England has been able to contribute to this scheme which will help ensure a sustainable future for this beautiful park and its important buildings for generations to come.

“We believe in operating and improving our roads in a way that protects and supports people and the things we value for our quality of life, and helping to enhance the historic environment on or close to our road network is what our Designated Fund for Cultural Heritage is all about.”

Emily Gee, Historic England’s regional director for London and the South East, added: “These special historic buildings within Gunnersbury Park have been derelict for decades and it’s wonderful that they are set to be transformed into cultural and arts facilities for the local community.

“We are delighted that Highways England’s funding has helped to secure the future of this precious landscape together with the commitment of Ealing and Hounslow councils.”

The fund is part of a £675 million fund allocated to Highways England over a five-year period from 2015. Its aim is to mitigate the road network’s impact, focusing on air quality, the environment, cycling, safety, integration and innovation.

Buckingham Palace is the most dangerous landmark to drive past

Buckingham Palace dangerous place to drive past

Buckingham Palace is the UK’s most dangerous landmark to drive past. That’s according to new research conducted using data from a road safety charity.

Using traffic accident statistics gathered between 2013 and 2018, the monarchy HQ is one of three London landmarks to appear in the top ten – the others being the Houses of Parliament and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

If the Queen was in residence at the right time, Her Majesty would have witnessed 203 accidents over the three-year period – that’s an average of 34 accidents a year.

Select Car Leasing, the company behind the study, puts this down to a “glut of tourists, cabbies, private vehicles and cyclists”. It’s also claimed that the roads around Buckingham Palace are “fast-becoming a hotbed of road accidents”.

Somebody ought to warn the Queen.

Angel of the North

The leasing company used the Think! crash map to count the number of accidents within 10 metres of 50 of the UK’s most popular landmarks. 

Only three of the landmarks in the top ten are adjacent to what you’d call a fast road. This suggests a number of the accidents are low-speed collisions, caused by inattentive drivers and ‘rubberneckers’.

Top 10 most dangerous landmarks to drive past

LandmarkAccidents (2013-2018)
1. Buckingham Palace, London203
2. Brighton Pier, Brighton124
3. Scott Monument, Edinburgh89
4. Houses of Parliament, London79
5. Stonehenge, Wiltshire60
6. Angel of the North, Gateshead53
7. Humber Bridge, Yorkshire49
8. St. Paul’s Cathedral, London40
9. Blackpool Tower, Blackpool30
10. Windsor Castle, Berkshire28

As part of the research, Select Car Leasing also looked into the accidents around the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London.

In the years prior to construction (2013 and 2014), there were 17 accidents – an average of 8.5 a year. Once construction has started (2015 to 2018), the number increased to 47 – or 11.8 a year.

That’s a 39 percent rise in traffic accidents, presumably as a result of construction traffic and people stopping to take a look at the new stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium construction

Select Car Leasing said: “The advice is clear on passing landmarks: when you’re driving, keep your focus and watch the car in front.

“They may be tempted to slow down to view the passing monument or attractions. It’s also important that your own eyes aren’t drawn from the road towards the landmarks, or it might be you who causes the accident.”

A new road sign has been approved – but not everyone is happy

Lynton Lynmouth funicular railway

The Department for Transport (DfT) has approved a new road sign, but not everyone is happy.

Devon County Council applied for authorisation to use a brown sign ‘for the purpose of informing road users of the location of cliff railways’. The application was approved before Christmas.

It means that visitors to Devon should see the new cliff railway (funicular) sign when they return to the county this summer. There are two funicular railways in Devon: one in Babbacombe and the other one connecting Lynton with Lynmouth.

There’s no word on whether other local authorities will seek to use the new brown sign. Other funicular railways can be found in the likes of Saltburn, Bournemouth and Southend.

Cliff railway funicular brown sign

The approved design hasn’t been met with universal acclaim. Alex Ingram, a ‘researcher focused on transport’ tweeted: “Concerns have (naturally) been raised that funicular railways have the door at the end of the carriage and not on the side. Thus the sign needs amendment.”

Mr Ingram retweeted a suggested redesign presented by Funimag – an online magazine devoted to funicular railways. The subtle tweaks sees the removal of the door, with the magazine tweeting: “There are plenty of Cliff Lifts like this in Britain except none have their doors on the long sides but on the short sides.”

Fun in the sun

According to Devon County Council, brown tourist signs are designed to safely guide visitors to an attraction along the most appropriate route. They’re also used to indicate attractions or facilities that a tourist would not reasonably expect to find in that location.

‘A national embarrassment’

The funicular sign joins a long list of brown tourist signs in the UK. It’s not the first time that a design has proved to be controversial. In 2017, 20,000 people signed a petition calling for the redesign of the sign used to direct people to a football ground. ‘Maths crusader’ Matt Parker labelled the football sign “a national embarrassment”.

In response, a spokesperson for the DfT said: “The purpose of a traffic sign is not to raise public appreciation and awareness of geometry, which is better dealt with in other ways.”

As this brown sign enthusiast website shows, some of the designs provide a more accurate representation of the attraction or facility. We suspect the funicular railway sign is here to stay.

How Highways England will keep the roads clear on Christmas Day

Highways England keeping roads clear Christmas Day

Last year, Highways England’s traffic officers responded to 611 road incidents on Christmas Day. Proof, if proof were needed, that life goes on after everyone has driven home for Christmas.

Included in the 611 incidents were 343 breakdowns, 24 collisions and 17 instances of animals on the motorway.

There were 310 collisions on England’s motorways during the four days before Christmas Day – half the total number of collisions attended to by Highways England across the 12-day festive period.

Little wonder Highways England operates 24/7, 365 days a year to keep traffic flowing.

Spare a thought for the traffic officers and control room operators who will be keeping the roads clear on Christmas Day. For some, it’s a case of keeping it in the family.

Take husband and wife Greg and Angela, who will be patrolling the A38 and M5 in Devon. “Christmas Day may be a bit unusual for us but we want everyone to have safe Christmas journeys and we can celebrate later!” Angela said.

“And our Christmas message to anyone driving is to check your vehicle before you set off – to help ensure you get to your destination safely.”

Meanwhile, father and son Nick and Phil Shaw will be monitoring the motorways and A-roads of the East Midlands from the control room in Nottingham. Back in the South West control room near Bristol, mother Beverley and son Tom will be keeping eyes on the region’s roads to handle any incidents and maintain the flow of traffic.

‘Prevention is better than cure’

Highways England roads on Christmas Day

South West Operations Manager Beverley said: “It’s the first time Tom and I will have worked the Christmas Day shift. We’ll be up at 4.30am for our shift, and we’ll get in a little earlier to ensure our night duty team can get back and get some sleep before enjoying their Christmas.

“I usually prepare dinner for my family and parents, Tom included, but this year the preparations will be done a little earlier and the celebration will just be a little later –it’ll also mean an early night as we’re both back in for the Boxing Day shift.

“It’s certainly going to be a family affair on Christmas Day as my husband, Andy, has promised to bring in bacon butties for all the control room operators.”

The traffic officers are urging motorists to carry out a few simple checks to their vehicles – and to make sure they have plenty of fuel – to avoid spending Christmas Day on a motorway verge.

Phil Shaw advised: “Prevention is better than cure. By preparing for the journey, checking tyres, oil and so forth, it will make sure people don’t break down in the first place and everyone has a happy Christmas.”

How to avoid a Christmas breakdown

Winter breakdowns RAC

Highways England has issued five tips to avoid a breakdown while you are driving home for Christmas:

  • Lights: Ask someone to help you check the lights, including the brakes and reversing lights
  • Oil: Use a dipstick to check you have enough oil and prevent your engine from seizing up
  • Fuel: Always keep your fuel tank at least a quarter full and fill it up to the top ahead of a long journey
  • Tyres: Check the pressure and tread depth of your tyres to make sure they are safe and roadworthy
  • Screenwash: Keep your screenwash container topped up so you can clear dirt off your windscreen

Severn crossing motorists saving £365,000 a day

Severn Crossing Prince of Wales Bridge

It’s a year since the removal of tolls on the Severn crossings. In that time, drivers have saved around £365,000 a day.

Until the toll was abolished, drivers were paying £5.60 to travel westbound into Wales. The move has saved commuters as much as £1,400 a year.

As a result, journeys into Wales over the Prince of Wales Bridge have increased by 16 percent, with an average 39,000 journeys being made each day.

The Prince of Wales Bridge – also known as the Second Severn Crossing – opened in 1996 to ease the pressure on the original Severn Bridge. 

It cost £332 million to construct, but the overall cost, including debt repayments, interest and tax, spiralled to more than £1.3 billion.

When announcing the end of the tolls, the Welsh secretary Alun Cairns said: “The decision to abolish the Severn tolls next year sends a powerful message to businesses, commuters and tourists alike that the UK government is committed to strengthening the Welsh economy.

Severn crossings

“By ending tolls for the 25 million annual journeys between two nations, we will strengthen the links between communities and help to transform the joint economic prospects of south Wales and the south-west of England.

“I want to ensure that visitors and investors know what Wales has to offer socially, culturally and economically. Most importantly, I want the world to know how accessible we are to business.”

It is thought that people have paid to cross the Severn Estuary since the 12th century, be it on a ferry, on a train, or in a car.

‘Paying dividends‘

Government minister for Wales David TC Davies said: “Over the last year, drivers have reaped the benefits of free road travel into Wales, which is paying dividends for businesses across both sides of the Severn.

“We are better connected economically as a result and through the Western Gateway initiative we will harness the joint strengths of these two regions while respecting our distinct identities and traditions.

“The UK Government is committed to boosting Wales’ transport infrastructure and connectivity which is central to ensuring we raise our game economically and boost our productivity as a result.”