A couple of weeks ago I had a surreal moment, as I walked around a corner into Oldfield Recreation Ground and found a red helicopter, about to take off. The reason for the air ambulance being there was all too real An elderly man had been struck by a car as he crossed Greenford Road and even though, on this occasion, the injuries weren’t life threatening there have been fatalities in the section between Rockware Avenue and Greenford Flyover. Speed cameras were installed there following a pedestrian death involving a large commercial vehicle but I was surprised to have a householder who lives in that part of Greenford Road tell me that his neighbours are convinced they’re only there for the sake of appearance. They don’t seem to have had an impact on the number of accidents, which is a cause for serious concern in a residential area with schools. There are two sets of zebra crossings and one pedestrian island on this part of the busy, vital route for heavy goods vehicles travelling between the A40 and business parks in Oldfield Lane North but you could be forgiven for thinking that pedestrian safety comes second to the need to keep traffic flowing on the A4127 and the streets around it.
Constructed in the 1920s, Greenford Road bisects the suburb from Sudbury Hill/Harrow Road in the north to Uxbridge Road in the south. Accidents involving cars and motorcycles have been a cause for concern for the Members of Parliament for the area from the earliest days of motoring and by 1967 pedestrian safety in the constituency of Ealing North was a matter for debate in the House of Commons. The Member of Parliament at the time, William Molloy, spoke on the issue, especially with regard to children on their way to school. He mentioned incidents in which they had been the victims of accidents, even when escorted by their mothers. “In this day and age, with all the dangers that exist, we should make every effort to alleviate this situation. This area is in the permanent grip of a massive traffic thrall. Dangers to children in going to school are enormous.”
I wonder what Mr Molloy would say about the situation in today’s Greenford which, in spite of the construction of the flyover in 1979, is often in the “grip of a massive traffic thrall” during the morning and evening commutes. A number of the footbridges and pedestrian crossings in use today are there, in part, because of his efforts to raise awareness of the dangers caused by traffic at the time, including the metal bridge connecting Runnymede Gardens with Leaver Gardens, near South Greenford Station. It was built after pedestrians had been killed trying to cross the A40 there rather than walk to the footbridge near Greenford Roundabout in one direction or the subway at Medway Parade in the other. It gave in to a desire line of sorts but would Mr Molloy have approved of the plans to give in to those who cross at the slip roads at what is now Greenford Flyover by providing surface crossings? In 1967 the MP described the efforts of responsible mothers to get their children safely across local roads on the way to school. In 2014 irresponsible mothers lead infants through standing traffic or run to avoid fast moving vehicles directly above subways that would allow them to cross in safety. I’ve seen some do this while using mobile phones, setting a poor example to the pedestrians of the future.
I’ve never been convinced that they’re too afraid to use the subways because so many others (including me) do that every time they need to cross at the flyover. Those who take a more hazardous way can see where they want to get to and consider time spent using the designated route as time wasted. The positioning of a bus stop where it can be seen from the northern side of the Flyover must encourage some people to take chances. If surface crossings are put in and pedestrians push their luck to catch a bus it may be just as dangerous as it is now, the only difference is that it will have cost the taxpayer a lot of money to find that out. The plan was first mooted when Greenford Green ward was under Conservative control but is being pursued by the newly elected Labour councillors. I have been advised by Bassam Mahfouz, Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment that the council has “secured funding to…install level pedestrian crossings north/south across the Greenford roundabout in the next few months.” There are now five schools within a few minutes walk of the Flyover, one (William Perkins Church of England School) is in sight of it, so it’s important that Ealing Council gets it right.
The approach to providing safe pedestrian routes around traffic systems seems to be changing, roads are more likely to go through tunnels while those walking or cycling tend to be provided with bridges. Perhaps the theory is that people feel safer when they think they can be seen. From personal experience I would say that a lonely footbridge on a dark night is no safer than a subway. I’d still be on my own if someone decided to block my route – I doubt whether many passing drivers would feel obliged to stop and rush from their cars in an effort to help me, should they even see me as they race along the A40. By contrast I rarely encounter anyone else, let alone a mugger, in the subways around Greenford after dark. Most people are too frightened to use them in the evenings and thieves know it. Problems with subways include flooding, after heavy rain the one connecting Medway Parade with the Haymill Estate under the A40 can be inaccessible. The layout of some subways can make the installation of CCTV less straightforward than most people realise. Those with sharp bends (sometimes referred to as “doglegs”) mean that more cameras are required to cover the space from all angles, making it even more expensive to provide.
Even some existing crossings don’t seem to afford the safety that pedestrians are entitled to. The western section of Rockware Avenue, between Oldfield Lane North and Greenford Road, was the location of a fatal accident in 2012. The victim was knocked down close to the entrance to the Wincanton depot. Apart from being closer to the bus stop that position gives a view of traffic from both directions whereas the crossing at the traffic lights forces you to peer around the corner into Greenford Road, just in case someone jumps them. I’m certain that at one time there was a sign advising pedestrians to be aware that this might happen. The designated crossing doesn’t feel safe.
The danger to pedestrians that results from narrow pavements and the presence of a large number of HGVs, supermarket delivery vans and trucks carrying aggregates from Station Approach is compounded by the fact that buses terminate in Rockware Avenue. At times it can be difficult to move along the pavement without being forced off the kerb as a mass of passengers wait at the bus stop near the junction of Rockware Avenue and Oldfield Lane North. The issue of an improved terminus area was raised at least three years ago at a Greenford Green ward forum but I was told that difficulty in contacting the owner of the land to the north of the railway embankment had prevented any progress.
It isn’t just about safety. This is, for many people visiting Westway Cross retail park, what they first see of the area when they walk there from the station. It isn’t much of a welcome yet we’re supposed to be encouraging visitors to travel to Greenford by public transport rather than by car. It’s even signposted as being on the Capital Ring at a place where it can be awkward for more than two people to pass by or wait for the lights to change because bushes have been allowed to grow over the pavement. It would make a considerable difference to pedestrians if these were cut back or removed altogether but, for the moment, it’s hardly surprising that they avoid crossing there.
The Rockware crossroads is one of the A4127 junctions where vehicles come first and pedestrians seem to be a nuisance that planners are forced to factor in. Further north along Greenford Road, where it meets Whitton Avenue, the junction has been designed to cope with large volumes of commuter traffic at certain times of day. It means a long wait for drivers and those on foot as they wait for the lights to change in their favour so both take risks. Drivers jump the lights and pedestrians cross when they think the coast is clear rather than when they’re supposed to. Large pedestrian islands are provided halfway across Whitton Avenue to the east and west of Greenford Road, with signs to indicate when it’s safe to cross.
For those crossing Greenford Road there are smaller islands but no crossing signs. I remain unconvinced that the buttons available to press when you want to stop the traffic at Whitton Avenue/Greenford Road are anything but a sham. When it is safe to cross at this junction you’d better have your running shoes on because the opportunity is a short one – not much help to the elderly or infirm. It’s astonishing that this crossing has been allowed to remain like this for so long because it must be used by a considerable number of pedestrians walking to and from Sudbury Hill Station and the bus stops near it.
Those on foot really do seem to come off worst in Greenford. Some pedestrians take unacceptable risks but I’ve seen equally bad behaviour displayed by drivers at the zebra crossing near the junction of Greenford Road and Uneeda Drive. Drivers turning left take advantage of poor road positioning by other drivers to come up alongside them as the rest continue north along Greenford Road. I’ve almost been hit on two occasions because those doing so seem oblivious to the presence of people using the zebra crossing. They often speed up as they head along Uneeda Drive, ignoring the 20mph limit.
Drivers in the southbound lane also seem determined to speed up, having escaped the traffic lights at Rockware Avenue. I discovered just how dangerous this can be about twelve years ago. A car had stopped for me and I began to walk forward when I found that my path was blocked because it had been shunted forward by the car behind. I had one of those slow motion moments as I found myself folding forward gently over the bonnet of a vehicle that shouldn’t have been there. My feet, despite their being so close to a front wheel, were uninjured. The second car sprang back with the force of the collision, scattering broken glass across the road. One of the passengers was taken away in an ambulance. I walked away from it shocked but unhurt. If the incident I’ve described had involved one of the many articulated lorries that are now so common on this section of Greenford Road I would probably have been seriously injured or killed. An increasing number use the route from Auriol Drive and Ockham Drive to the A40, turning into Greenford Road at the Rockware junction where damaged barriers often testify to the risks faced by pedestrians. Even as they emerge from the Greenford Park industrial estate off Oldfield Lane North they present a challenge to those walking past the entrances. Ockham Drive has a pedestrian island halfway across the very wide junction there, intended to make it easy for large HGVs to turn right and left. Auriol Drive, equally wide, does not, yet it is on the way to Greenford Station for residents as well as those employed at Greenford Park.
One area where improvements to pedestrian crossings would make a considerable difference is at the junction of Ruislip Road (Greenford Broadway) and Greenford Road, a place often described as “Greenford’s main shopping area”. This may have been the case thirty or more years ago but, as in many local high streets, hair and beauty salons, fast food outlets, charity and pound shops are now the most obvious presence. It’s clear that better off residents mainly shop somewhere else. A one year experiment with a street market was forced out by certain shopkeepers. The Red Lion pub has been demolished, its place soon to be taken by a development called Red Lion Court. There has been considerable debate about ways to regenerate the area around Greenford Broadway but I have never heard anyone point out that the biggest hurdle to making it a good place for retail therapy would be to slow down the traffic that thunders through it. Safe pedestrian access can be the key to success in these cases but, again, those on foot come second to drivers. According to the “Good for Greenford” plan on Ealing Council’s website improvements were completed in 2010 except for “Changes to existing traffic lights at the junction of Greenford Road and Greenford Broadway.” It’s now 2014 and I can’t say I’ve noticed the benefit of their efforts. Pedestrians still have a long wait and drivers behave with impunity. Cars end up on pedestrian crossings, blocking the way until the lights change with people wandering past them whether or not they are supposed to. The gridded area, meant to be kept clear, frequently isn’t. It makes me wonder whether drivers are ever pulled up for doing this because I see it happen so often.
Greenford Road is going to become even busier in the next few years, especially once the development at the former GSK site is completed. The proposed supermarket is bound to draw many more cars to the area, apart from those belonging to new residents. It is absolutely essential that the main road through the suburb is ready to meet the increase in traffic. However I also feel that, as Greenford absorbs more and more people, along with all their bad habits, we should be doing as much to improve behaviour as we do to improve the places where road users and pedestrians interact. That means zero tolerance when it comes to rule breaking by drivers and pedestrians. It means public safety campaigns that impress upon adults the responsibility they have, as pedestrians as well as drivers, to set a good example to the next generation.
The pensioner who was airlifted to hospital might once have expected the car that hit him to have slowed down enough or even stopped to let him pass (older drivers still do that in Eastcote – I’ve found myself wailing “But you have right of way!” as they hold up the traffic out of politeness). Today he might count himself lucky to be allowed to reach the other side of a designated crossing without being hit. All road and footpath users contribute to the safety or otherwise of their area but somehow it has become easier to give in to an increasingly common sense of entitlement than to remind them of this. Asking people to behave themselves will hardly win votes and there are certainly roads that need improvement but I suspect we’d be paying the council a lot less to ensure a safer environment if residents used what’s already provided in the way that they’re supposed to.
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