After over a week of revising plans, the notorious South Row rat-run in Blackheath has finally been closed to cars – but motorists have started trying to drive on the heath to dodge the restriction.
A bollard was installed on Thursday together with a temporary warning sign at the start of the rat-run on Westbrook Road, something that was missing when the closure was first attempted last Tuesday.
The closure has slashed the number of drivers attempting to use the cut-through between Kidbrooke Park Road and Prince of Wales Road, near Blackheath Village, which is also a key route for cyclists. Now locals will be watching to see if drivers will be attempting to use the private Blackheath Cator Estate to avoid having to use the A2 or A20.
Lewisham Council had proposed the scheme to make it easier to walk and cycle in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which has cut the capacity of buses and trains. The first closure blocked the east end of South Row, but drivers simply rerouted down Paragon Place, an even narrower road which contains a school, to reach Blackheath Village. There was also no signage at the other end of the road to warn drivers, thanks to a lack of co-ordination with Greenwich Council, which controls the eastern end of the route.
Then the original closure was temporarily tweaked to effectively make South Row westbound only for drivers to give some relief to Paragon Place, but motorists simply ignored “road closed signs” to head westbound only.
Now a bollard has gone in halfway along South Row, allowing cyclists and pedestrians through but not drivers. However, there have been images on social media of drivers simply mounting the heath to get through.
Lewisham’s cabinet member for transport, Sophie McGeevor, commented on one tweet showing a 4×4 being driven on the heath: “Absolutely disgraceful behaviour. Confirming the stereotype of 4×4 drivers.”
Absolutely disgraceful behaviour. Confirming the stereotype of 4×4 drivers. This is not what is meant by ‘driving off road’ https://t.co/F10BlG7uIu
— Cllr Sophie McGeevor (@SophieMcGeevor) June 26, 2020
On Friday morning, a driver of a Smart car could be seen trying to mount the pavement before realising it was too narrow. They then reversed and drove onto the heath.
The scheme will need some kind of protection to stop illegal driving, and permanent signage on the western end of the route to deter drivers from using it. Early indications did appear positive on Thursday evening and Friday morning.
The closure does leave the Blackheath Cator Estate – itself a popular haunt for walkers, runners and cyclists – vulnerable to drivers seeking to find a new route. Blackheath Cator Estate Residents Ltd, which manages the roads, has responded by closing its Morden Road gate at all times, blocking the other way through; its other entrances are closed in rush hours.
“We will continue to monitor traffic flows through the Estate and take action on the gates as appropriate,” it says on its website.
The South Row scheme was part of an initial batch of six projects to open up neighbourhood streets to walking and cycling. In the week ahead Lewisham will embark on a bigger scheme, creating a “healthy neighbourhood” on back roads from Lewisham to Lee Green, with 13 barriers restricting access to drivers.
London boroughs are bidding for funding from TfL to create these schemes. Greenwich has yet to come forward with its plans; on Wednesday night its cabinet member for transport, Sizwe James, said residents should “be patient”. “We are spending so much time talking about what we are planning to do instead of getting down and doing it, which is what we are concentrating on,” he said at a council meeting.
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