JohnPullin's Blog

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The Stonehenge muddle

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If I believed in reincarnation, what I’d most like to come back as is a traffic planner, because I think they have the most fun of all. With one sweep of my irresponsible pen, I could bugger up a whole city or a vast tract of landscape without leaving my desk. Oh, the enjoyment I could have just by “playing” with traffic light phasings. And roadsigns.

I wrote earlier this week about the daft roadsigns that you now find on the A303, the main direct route between London and the south west. The joy of the A303, usually, is that it isn’t a motorway and is therefore relatively interesting to drive. Also it doesn’t pass through any towns and only a few villages, so there are no massive hold-ups. And some of the scenery is terrific. Some sections aren’t very fast, it’s true, but speed in these things is relative and overrated: I’m happy to arrive 15 minutes later if it means I don’t feel like I’ve been through some form of racetrack competition.

But the A303 now has “Queues likely” signs near Stonehenge and has lost some of its relaxed charm. That is because of the traffic planners. They have, indeed, created queues: pretty much an hour in each direction when I took the road to Devon and back last week. What fun they must have had. And what little knowledge of human nature they have displayed in so doing.

The difficulty is, of course, that the A303 road passes very close to the ancient monument of Stonehenge, a World Heritage Site. You get quite a decent view from the road and you used, before the planners got their way, to be able to turn off on to a dozier road called the A344 where you could dawdle along to get an even closer view or go into the official car park to pay a proper visit.

That easy turn-off has now been blocked. To get a better, or more lingering, view of the stones of Stonehenge, you continue on the A303 (if you’re coming from London) to a distant roundabout, turn right and then right again and then you’re in the official car park. In other words, you now have to decide to visit properly. The easy dawdle option on the A344 has been removed.

So instead people are dawdling on the A303. Or turning off into a track next to the pig farm on the other side of the road. Or wandering among the cars and along the roadside, where there is no pavement, to get a better view. Or reversing out of the track into the traffic. All of this I saw last week. I had plenty of time to watch it, stuck in the queue for up to an hour each way. Though mostly, of course, I was watching the rear of the car in front.

Of course, the gawpers shouldn’t be doing any of this, and in the idealised world populated by traffic planners they wouldn’t be. But the reality is that people don’t and won’t do as they’re told, and traffic planning should take account of that. I can recognise that Stonehenge’s proximity to the A303 is a difficult problem, but the new “solution” creates a new problem that dramatically affects the road’s value as a through-route.

Anyway, if I’m reincarnated at any point soon, I promise to come back as a traffic planner to see if I can do any worse than the current road scheme at Stonehenge. I suspect I won’t be able to. But it’ll be fun trying. Though not for those wanting to use the roads to get around.

PS, a week or so later, I came through without any hold-up… but it was mid-evening on a Tuesday, cold and blustery.


Written by johnpullin

August 20, 2014 at 4:56 pm

Posted in Transport

Tagged with , ,

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