Saturday, 24 August 2019

Yes, But Is It safe?

The city has many alleys, examples of former countryside public footpaths.  Some are well trodden; others come as a complete surprise when discovered.  They exist because they were rural community ways of getting about.  When a town encroached on the countryside, homes, gardens and residential streets had to be accommodated round the public routes already present.  Most are unnamed, such as the former track between Camp Road east and Ashley Road, between Breakspear Avenue and Vanda Crescent, or between Woodstock Road south and Beaumont Avenue.  Occasionally, as in the path between Marshals Drive and Marshalswick Lane, we find a name, Wickway in this case.

It is rare to find such an urban alley which does not have street lighting.  Sure, these units are not always appropriate for the task they are required to serve – very narrow paths between gardens, and often with dog-legs and blind corners – but at least there is lighting.

Farm Road, formerly "Muddy Alley"
A form of alley, in that it was a farm lane which failed to become a public road, remains unadopted.  It is Farm Road, between Beechwood and Beaumont avenues.  The responsibility for adding lighting is that of the owners of the formerly-named muddy alley, and presumably they feel it is unecessary, although, from memory, I think one householder has fitted a lighting column.

A well-known and lengthy track, Jersey Lane, which provided a link between the drive serving the old Marshals Wick House and one of its farms, had for centuries been unlit, except by the moon; it led to open country. Nowadays it is a recognised walking and cycling route passing through Jersey Farm residential area, and because we expect to remain out and about on occasions during the night-time hours it is equipped with street lighting, especially useful given the extent of tree cover.

Jersey Lane
Another well-used walking and cycling route, one which does not have a history in the same way as Jersey Lane, it being a former branch railway, is Alban Way.  This delightful and well-used route is a hybrid, being neither between the houses, nor beckoning towards the countryside.  Instead it serves as a kind of bypass around parts of the south and east of St Albans, parallels Hatfield Road in the unbuilt distance between Colney Heath Lane and Ellenbrook, before carving its way past the Hatfield residential areas towards its old centre.

Alban Way may be one of the busiest tracks of its type in the district and is certainly enjoyed.  But there are users who do feel unsafe; their experiences of walking along it tells them so.  There are others who presume it to be unsafe at times because others have told them so.  It does not help that the local press describes the Way as "the notorious crime-ridden pathway," even though anyone who has been a victim of verbal or physical attack will likely concur with the newspaper's headline sentiment.  There will undoubtedly be statistics to demonstrate the frequency and severity of incidents – it is probably for the newspaper to justify the accuracy of the wording used.

Alban Way east
However, it seems a precedent exists for whether or not tracks such as these are, or should be, lit.  Closed circuit television is another matter, but once the principle has been established, we also have to justify the spending of required funds on the basis of need and whether other paths have been similarly funded.  Where we go from here is another matter, but it would be a shame if we are genuinely put off from making use of this gem of an open space because we feel uneasy about being there.

1 comment:

  1. I used enjoy using the alleyways, footpaths and short cuts in the Camp neighbourhood where I lived in the 1950/60s, but would I use them now (even in broad daylight)? No, definitely not.