Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Streaming through Fleetville

Just imagine: a flow of water making its way along Hatfield Road towards Sutton Road.  Sixty years ago it didn't need imagining.  The drains were poorly connected and surface water had limited escape routes within the pipe network.  The result was extensive flooding following prolonged and heavy rain.
Might this have been a former Fleetville landscape?

Of course, before we all set up our homes in Fleetville and Camp it didn't matter, but there were locations where homes flooded or pooling of water in gardens or the road cause water seepage inside. As we have written here before, there had been, or it was believed there had been, several streams, most of them flowing southwards towards the Colne or Ver.  Two of them still flow on the surface between St Albans and Hatfield.  

Evidence of early settled population groups, possibly one or two family groups, suggested the presence  of a stream flowing from the area of The Wick towards Fleetville and Camp.  These were clear water courses springing from the chalk, and it wouldn't have only been the pure water which gave rise to small settlement groups winning a livelihood from the landscape.

Wherever there is flowing water there is a range of plants not found in drier locations; plants which we could use and can be nurtured in chalk streams and the pools which are often associated with them.   Imagine being able to collect watercress on a walk along a clear rippling stream, perhaps in the vicinity of Eaton Road or Camp Road.   Now, of course, that is not possible for the simple reason they no long flow, largely because we now occupy much of the land area in south and mid Herts.

Hampshire chalk stream and watercress.  Courtesy Geograph.
The most recent watercress beds were at the River Ver at Priory Park, and one family, the Pinnocks, made a living from the plant, having moved from successfully growing it in  Westmill's clear streams, to start again at St Albans and its  Ver.

A member of the Watercress Wildlife Association, Cath Gladding, will be presenting a talk on the watercress and wildlife theme at Fleetville Community Centre on 30th January, but there will be no samples of the wholesome green stuff to take away!  Today it is available on markets and in supermarkets from further afield.  But it is as good for us as it ever was, and can be eaten straight from the bag.  And two or three hundred years ago it was probably picked from just down your road or on your way back from the market.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Northeastern Bypass

The St Albans ring road was not even complete when, in the 1950s, one or two residents – possibly living along the ring road's route – voiced the opinion that the ring road is in the wrong place; a far better location would be further out, and suggested a line crossing Hatfield Road at Smallford.  Smallford Lane (Station Road) and Sandpit Lane (Oaklands Lane) were the only two thoroughfares guardedly named as no other roads which then existed could be lined up to even vaguely connect up a circular route around St Albans.  To draw lines through the countryside and suggest roads are constructed along them would invite trouble from the Protect the Green Belt supporters.  So there the matter rested.

A major problem with ring roads of any kind is the choices we are invited to make.  Anyone driving inwards to the city centre might  have to contend with some congestion unless or until the central ring road (inner bypass), vehemently opposed by many residents, finally came about.  But if your destination is beyond the centre – in other words, you need to drive through to the other side – you would need to make a choice based on distance or time.  To travel roughly halfway around a ring road increases distance but may decrease time than crawling through the centre.  On the other hand, valuable time may be lost crossing a ring road's radial junctions, such as Hatfield/Beechwood or Marshalswick/Sandridge.

One answer would be to increase section lengths of the ring road in order to spread the traffic out and reduce congestion.  This can only be achieved by making a larger ring.  Which is what was proposed in the 1960s Transportation Study.  Quite apart from carving out a countryside route it would suffer from the ring road's biggest issue : that it is not a full circle.  Depending on the radial road a driver is approaching the city from, the choice of clockwise or anticlockwise is skewed towards the west, north and east, because the circle is incomplete.  This may force a longer journey, by time or distance, than might be desirable.

A double bend along Sandringham Crescent

One section of the proposed northeastern bypass, or half a ring, was constructed, of sorts, in the 1970s.  This became Sandringham Crescent and House Lane when Jersey Farm development was being planned, but it doesn't look very bypass-ish today as it snakes its way from Sandpit Lane to St Albans Road.  Another section would have made use of the bypass between London Colney and Colney Heath, and traffic could then also continue on the bypass between London Colney and Park Street, where it would have diverted to become absorbed into the ring road in King Harry Lane.  In other words, a ring road which is not quite a ring, in that it would fail to join up.

Whether it would have worked in terms of alleviating congestion in the city centre and/or alleviate junction capacity on the ring road is conjecture fifty years on, because we never did benefit from the northeastern bypass.  Instead we have made do, just as we have made do without the proposed central (inner bypass) changes.

Whatever we each think, there is one element of the data which is missing: the traffic stats for fifty years ago are very different from today's traffic count.  This has been just a game!

Sunday, 6 January 2019

A Way Through

Most of us have come to terms with – or not as the case may be – St Albans being a nightmare to drive in or through.  But for us on the eastern side there was, in the early days of motoring, an indirect benefit brought to us courtesy of the government's post-WW1 roads programme.  The St Albans Bypass, which was also in part a Fleetville Bypass, was a present to the district in the 1920s.  So, we might ponder where we might be today without it.  Would Hatfield Road instead be a dualled carriageway?  Possibly, or maybe not.

In 1965 the County Council's St Albans Transportation Study (SATS) was published, the result of detailed analysis of traffic movements, congestion and other factors, such as parking, which acted as influences on everyone's journeys by road at the time.

The City Council had spent the best part of thirty years developing the ring road, finally completed the project just as the SATS was published.  As we realised fairly quickly the early parts of the road were developed, not as a single infrastructure project, but in conjunction with housing developers; the result being that the ring road was just another residential road, and as direction signs moved traffic on to it and away from the city centre, there were many objections from residents' groups, mainly because of the heavy vehicles using it.  Eventually the signs disappeared, and so did the ring road name.

Two new traffic schemes were discussed in the SATS.  One will form the subject of the next post; the other became possible because British Rail offered for sale the branch railway land it owned, now Alban Way.

Looking towards the former Northwestern Hotel, Holywell Hill.
SATS therefore proposed – another – Fleetville Bypass using railway land between London Road and Colney Heath Lane, although the maps produced showed an extension to link with the then newly dualled carriageway at the former Northwestern Hotel, Holywell Hill (or is it St Stephen's Hill at that point?).  

The link with London Road is shown as a curved road which was "thoughtfully" constructed as the later Orient Way.  A roundabout was proposed at Ashley Road, although the difference in elevation would have required some infrastructure works at a location which had only just received a new bridge.  Presumably, the connection at Hatfield Road/Colney Heath Road would have similarly been in the form of a roundabout – how today's drivers would welcome a roundabout here.
This road leaves London Road and connects with Alban Way at the former
London Road Station.

The press made the assumption that the new road would be a dualled carriageway, presumably because that is what most bypasses were.  However, SATS states that the road would be a two lane single carriageway; just as well, as the railway land would not allow for a wider road.  While raising this option as a viable option, the report also recognised a serious concern that air quality and traffic noise would be brought close to people's homes over the majority of the new road's length, and that would count against that option in any decisions the county council would have to make.

Colney Heath Lane/Hatfield Road junction.  Considering the subject
matter, in these three photos there is barely a vehicle to be seen!

Since the railway route did not materialise – nor any other option put forward – we are left to speculate on the benefits it might have had.  What difference would it have actually made to Hatfield Road?  Would it have made any difference to driving (or riding on a bus for that matter) into and through the centre of the city?

So, from the point of view of the railway route, fifty-five years on and we are still using the same road network, and goodness knows how many road possibilities have been drawn on council maps since.  Meanwhile, the original bypass (North Orbital) has since been dualled – it was initially laid as a single carriageway – and still has the land for widening to three lanes each way.  Its actual capacity is limited by its

surface roundabouts, and still lacks the overbridge at the Smallford Lane/Colney Heath intersection.  But that's another story.