Dulwich Village junction closure – our view as a Committee

We are meeting with our Ward Councillors on 26 August to discuss the impact of the Dulwich Village junction closure and their proposals for ‘phase 2’ to be implemented in September.

To make sure we have a strong voice in that meeting, we need to get as much additional input as we can from you as our residents on what you think.  To this end, and given that it has not been possible to hold a ‘General Meeting’, myself and Bridget will be conducting a ‘door-to-door’ on Wednesday (19 August) – we will try to speak to everyone who is around, and will of course be suitably masked and socially distanced!In the meantime, we feel that we owe you our view, as a Committee, on the Dulwich Village junction closure and the likely steps to be taken in ‘phase 2’ in September.  We also want to set out, for the record, our thoughts on how this situation has arisen, and why – these are set out in the Appendix below.

This is an open letter to our members which we are forwarding to other interested parties, in the hope that it will be read and understood in full.

We didn’t support the junction closure in late June 2020.

This is because it was clear to us, and repeatedly made clear to Southwark, that the impact would be higher traffic flows and/ or traffic jams along Dulwich Village road and elsewhere.  We do not believe that there is residents’ support for the closure, and we have always feared that displacement traffic would harm the amenity of residents.

We now find ourselves in an invidious position.  If the junction closure stays in place, it seems the only way to effectively relieve Dulwich Village road of traffic jams is to close it for at least parts of the day as well as changing the traffic light timings at East Dulwich Grove.  This will have implications for traffic displacement across the whole area, as well as making it extremely hard for residents to get around by car when they need to.

In our view, the situation prior to the junction closure, where through traffic was more fairly shared among streets across Dulwich, was far preferable to both the current situation and that which would exist if these likely further measures were implemented.

We strongly support measures to encourage walking and cycling, and to reduce through traffic and air pollution.  The measures Southwark have taken, and plan to take, don’t in our view achieve these objectives and are in practice counter-productive and causing real hardship.

We think Southwark should re-open the junction forthwith and recommence a proper consultative process, with residents properly represented, to work out how to manage through traffic in the area, to encourage walking and cycling, and to decrease air pollution.

We look forward to speaking to those of you who are around on Wednesday.

 APPENDIX

Where does the support for this junction closure come from?
The ‘Our Healthy Streets’ Phase 2 consultation did not evidence a majority of residents in favour of the junction closure, and the detailed results of the Phase 3 consultation have not been released.  Since the junction closure, Southwark have sought comments via the Streetscape app (dulwichvillagestreetspace.commonplace.is/comments); unfortunately, in our view this survey is not a serious tool for measuring opinion.So we cannot see any hard evidence of support from affected residents which could be sufficient to justify this junction closure, given the severity of the problems it is causing for residents.The support seems to come largely from non-resident pressure groups.What have been the implications of this junction closure?The implications are stark and predictable.  Large areas of Dulwich and beyond are now subjected to higher levels of traffic and, in particular, standing traffic jams.  We cannot see that the closure has delivered any benefits whatsoever as regards dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Cairns Report “Disappearing Traffic – the story so far” (nacto.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/disappearing_traffic_cairns.pdf) has been cited by Southwark to support the closure and to make the case for ’traffic evaporation’.

The report is dated March 2002 so it is 18 years out of date.  It examines the impact on overall traffic levels of various schemes around the world.

It does conclude that ‘Traffic levels can reduce by significant amounts, with the average being that perhaps 11% of the traffic on the treated road or area cannot be found in the area afterwards. However, all schemes are different, and each will need to be considered according to its own circumstances.’

A review of the data supplied by Southwark on traffic flows during the OHS Phase 3 consultation makes clear that, given the traffic flows on Calton Avenue and Court Lane, even if the overall traffic across the Dulwich area did reduce by 11% as a result of the closure, there would still be huge displacement onto Dulwich Village and other still-open roads.

The Cairns study also makes clear that the impact on overall traffic is highly dependent on the specificities of the area subject to closures, and shows a very wide range of reported changes in overall traffic levels, from significant decreases to significant increases.  It seems to us that the implied assertion that Dulwich is ’typical’ for these kinds of schemes, and should therefore experience a ’typical’ overall traffic fall is highly questionable.  Dulwich is part of a complex pattern of traffic flows within South London and sits on a major commuter route to Central London as well as being a hub for thousands of schoolchildren; it is not easily circumvented by drivers.  None of the schemes cited by Southwark – such as for instance Waltham Forest – share these characteristics.

The same applies to school streets, which various pressure groups have been advocating.  Across London, there is only one example we have found of a school street with a bus stop on a through road – in London Fields – and there, there are ample diversionary roads for drivers to take.  This does not apply in Dulwich.

So we have seen near all-day standing traffic jams on Dulwich Village (right opposite Dulwich Hamlet school and JAPs), significant increases in traffic on Burbage, and various roads linking Court Lane, Woodwarde Road and Calton Avenue emerging as new rat-runs.  As schools return this situation will only get worse.

What happens next?

Rather than facing reality, and re-opening the junction, Southwark seem to be planning to double-down.  In an effort to relieve Dulwich Hamlet school in particular of standing traffic jams and the associated pollution, changes to the phasing of the traffic lights at the Dulwich Village/ East Dulwich Grove junction seem likely, together with some kind of timed restrictions to be installed on Dulwich Village.  The effects on traffic flows are easily predictable – starting with displacement onto Burbage Road – so it seems highly likely that additional restrictions would soon follow.

This will all of course be amplified by the school traffic as schools open up in September, with schoolchildren actively discouraged from using public transport due to Covid-19.The combined effect will likely be to displace large amounts of traffic around the area.

Such moves if implemented would also start to unacceptably undermine the ability of our residents to get about by car, given that any restrictions will not have access permits.  We all agree that folks should walk or cycle or take a bus where possible, but sometimes it is not possible, due to rain, wind, a load to carry or indeed where the traveller is not mobile.  A resident on Dulwich Village who needed to get home by car from the south during the restriction periods would face a lengthy detour via the A205/ Lordship Lane/ East Dulwich Grove with all routes clogged with traffic jams caused by the closures, as would residents on College Road and Woodyard Lane who needed to travel north.

Why is this happening?

We don’t doubt the good faith and intentions of our Ward Councillors, who have been as open as they can be about Southwark’s plans and have listened at length to our concerns.

However we fear that they and Southwark are engaged in wishful thinking about ‘traffic evaporation’; in the absence of a London-wide scheme to reduce traffic, such as road pricing, and with a limited budget, they seem prepared to take whatever local steps they can to make driving inconvenient, even if this can only be done by creating traffic jams and diversions.  Specifically, we suspect that they hope that the initial Village junction closure will lead to calls for more road closures (in this they would likely be correct), and that much in the manner of CPZ’s, road closures will rapidly spread across the area as each small community reacts to the displacement caused by their neighbours actions.  Ultimately, all through traffic would be funnelled down the remaining open roads and residents will struggle to access their own homes by car.

As to the various pressure groups, we feel they are simply misguided.  Their intentions, as signalled by their names, seem benign, but so far their schemes have only been detrimental to children living on Dulwich Village or who will in due course be travelling to school on that road.

We feel that Southwark are pursuing a fundamentally unjust approach to the issue of traffic in the Dulwich area.