The new pedestrian crossing on Sidmouth's Esplanade is another example of waste of public money by Devon County Council. The incompetence of both councillors and officials is unusually well documented: residents predicted in some detail exactly what would happen in a series of letters to the local newspaper.

In the age of 'consultation' and 'accountability' there could be few better examples of how elected councillors and dimwit officials steadfastly ignore advice from local experts. They show no hesitation in adopting a wholly cavalier attitude to wasting public money - secure in the knowledge that most electors will soon forget. The intellectual bankruptcy of Councillor Christine Channon (Deputy Leader of Devon County Council) is particularly well demonstrated.

When things went predictably wrong, instead of apologising for having failed to heed design advice she glibly asserted that "if it doesn't settle down we can look at changing it" - at the cost of another 10,000 or 20,000 perhaps. Her understanding of traffic appears to be even more limited than that of Sidmouth's other county councillor - Stuart 'lunatic' Hughes.

After six years the crossing on Sidmouth's Esplande is still causing problems - witness this report from FolkWeek in August 2009:

For the history of all of this - see the material below. The same councillors are still in power, still as dozy as ever and with no prospect of change.

Sidmouth police positive on FolkWeek crime - August 2009

SIDMOUTH Police's neighbourhood beat manager, PC Steve Lemon, has described last week's FolkWeek "as the best I have been to." Reporting to Sidmouth Town Council on Monday, PC Lemon said: "I don't think we had too many issues at all. People came to enjoy the festival this year."

Councillor Chris Wale praised the police, saying they had been "superb" during the week.

"It was a sheer pleasure, it was a fantastic atmosphere and there was a great police presence. You carried out your duties 100 percent," he said. He also praised East Devon District Council's StreetScene for its "excellent service" in keeping the town clean.

Councillor Tony Reed, who is FolkWeek chairman, said the pedestrian crossing along the Esplanade "proved to be totally inadequate" during the festival because pedestrians caused long hold-ups of traffic until police stepped in to relieve the problem.

He thanked police for "stepping up and relieving the situation" and asked how the crossing could be adapted to make it more efficient, with control "over people and cars."

PC Lemon thought the crossing was in the wrong place and should have been further along the seafront.

"I was in the traffic and it was gridlocked," said Councillor Christine Drew, who thought a crossing controlled by lights would be better there.

The comments by all these councillors just prove how dozy they are: they have failed to see what the problem really is - and the solution. The comment by PC Lemon is just laughable!

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The new crossing on Sidmouth's Esplanade, during a quiet period! It is located at one of the 'natural' crossing points along this heavily used road.

Queues of 20 or more cars build up during hot sunny weather. Pedestrians crossing elsewhere are now arguably at greater risk because drivers become so frustrated.

The overall consequences of even a simple zebra crossing can be unwelcome.

For decades pedestrians have co-existed with traffic along Sidmouth's picturesque Esplanade. People have crossed the road when and where they wished and there have been no serious accidents (at least, none that I can remember). In essence, people have crossed at a large number of points along the road and taking advantage of gaps in traffic. This 'give and take' avoided concentrations of pedestrians at a few or one point. Now, many people use the new crossing rather than wait elsewhere, and we have long queues of traffic where none existed before. It is an example of where more control produces a worse overall result. Conceptually, this is similar to one of the consequences of the Sidford traffic lights - when the facility for 'opportunistic filtering' was removed, congestion inevitably increased.

For many years, the town council had set itself against a 'controlled' pedestrian crossing of the pelican or puffin type because this would have detracted from the 'ambience' of the area. They finally decided to have a simple 'zebra' crossing with Belisha beacons and set about deciding where to put it. Their first suggestion was a location far from the several 'natural' crossing points along this long road and near a noisy drinking den. This was so laughable I decided to let them get on with it - hardly believing that they would do something so stupid. In the end they decided on a more sensible location. What they totally failed to do was to heed all of the good advice they were given as to how the proposed type of crossing would adversely affect traffic flow - and indeed whether it was a good idea at all. They have also failed even to consider measures to reduce the flow of traffic along this road - much of which during summer is youngsters driving up and down to show off 'just for the hell of it' and with noisy stereo systems blaring.

The results have been as predicted - a large increase in congestion and pollution, long queues where none existed before, intense driver irritation (which may itself be a cause of accidents) and howls of derision from the public. These letters from the Sidmouth Herald tell how the story developed and should be a warning to taxpayers everywhere: never trust the idiots at County Hall - they probably really do know less about the subject than you do.

Priority to pedestrians - 27 June 2003

I was rather concerned to read your report of the town council's discussion about a pedestrian crossing for the Esplanade in Sidmouth. It seems to me that a zebra crossing, whilst providing a priority crossing for pedestrians at that point in the road, also sends a signal to motorists about other parts of the road. The subconscious message to the motorist is that pedestrians only have priority at the crossing and elsewhere the motorist has priority.

In Church Street we have a working example of a completely different approach to pedestrian safety. The road surface is paved rather than asphalted and looks similar to the pedestrian pavement. In this street pedestrians of all levels of agility walk without fear in the middle of the road, only moving over when a vehicle approaches (generally slowly).

The subconscious message to the motorist is that Church Street is an area primarily for pedestrians and the motorist is there as a guest.

We have the opportunity to ask for the Esplanade to be modified in a similar manner, with a changed surface, specific speed limits and a notice advising that pedestrians have priority over motorised traffic. We should press for this solution before we pedestrians are corralled into using the one and only authorised crossing that the town council has asked for.

6 Fortfield Terrace

Cut seafront traffic - 11 July 2003

There have been too few comments in the Herald about the proposed new pedestrian crossing on the Esplanade. There is an inherent conflict between pedestrians and cars throughout the town centre. How about five or six new crossings, including three along the Esplanade?

Well thought through solutions would centre more on removing some or most of the cars rather than on corralling pedestrians to designated crossing points. These would detract from the 'timelessness' of the seafront which is one of Sidmouth's selling points. Severely restricting car access is both desirable and perfectly feasible.

Why are people wedded to solutions that accept the inevitability of yet more cars in the town centre? It is quite the opposite to what works well in so many places, especially in Europe.

The frantic search for a 'town centre' location for a new doctors' surgery is another manifestation of the same illness. Why encourage patients to gravitate to the centre where there is limited parking? Many of them are unfit to drive in any case!

I have long advocated a shuttle bus service to make use of the Manor Road car park for shoppers. A similar service (or even the same one) could be used to ferry people to a new surgery on the outskirts. The existing health centre does not maximise the potential of a prime site. It would fetch a good price for a block of flats - with views over Blackmore Gardens!

Covenants could ensure that only people without cars were allowed to live there This too has been done elsewhere, and would align with the need to repopulate town and city centres in England. Even three storey flats would not look out of keeping amidst the other tall buildings.

Incidentally, I do not know why Cllr Clarke is so worried about loss of hotel bed spaces. So long as those along the seafront do well, then the special appeal of the town should survive. Imagine Sidmouth in the summer with its splendid old buildings, some new pavement cafes along the Esplanade and no roar of traffic!

Are there any signs of intelligent life in the corridors of power?


Well done but, but... - 12 March 2004

May I congratulate our town and county councillors? A shuttle bus to serve the Esplanade and Manor Road car park is an excellent idea.

I suggested it in the Herald about five years ago. These five years have cost us at least 500,000 in running costs for the town council alone. We should be grateful that at least 5,000 will be well spent.

However, it is the combination of a dependable and regular shuttle bus service with the new pedestrian crossing on the Esplanade that exposes how wrong I have been to criticise. As the more loyal of your readers will recall, I have often advocated prohibiting most traffic along the Esplanade during the summer months.

We will all be encouraged to use the new crossing. The law is quite clear. If anyone pushing a pram is waiting to cross, drivers must stop. Similarly, if anyone puts a foot onto the crossing (rather than waiting meekly on the pavement), cars must stop - and remain stationary for as long as anyone is on the crossing, walking in either direction.

Imagine now a busy summer's day. At 10am, traffic in both directions will halt to allow a lone pedestrian to cross. Immediately, he (or she) will be followed by others. Faced with an unbroken stream of perambulators, car drivers may elect to switch off their engines.

Only when ice cream vendors have closed for the day will the crossing again become 'pedestrian free' and both cars and the shuttle bus will be able to proceed. The central part of the Esplanade will have become essentially traffic free! In their wisdom, and having regard to the historic ambience of the Esplanade, councillors decided against having a pelican or puffin controlled crossing - these being used elsewhere in the country where pedestrian flows are so large and regular that they could otherwise produce 'traffic gridlock'.

The continuing plight of Sidford should also be mentioned. We have road humps on what were (and are) little-used back roads. Pretty flashing lights announce to motorists that it takes 20 councillors to make one silly decision. At least that seems to be their purpose - they have long since ceased to have any effect on vehicle speeds.

We have promises of a pavement to the Blue Ball  yet no action in respect of the potentially more deadly stretch of road at Porch Cottages. This has been a menace for decades and it remains the most urgent job in all of Sidford.

Amongst the other interesting items in last week's Herald was the announcement of a fortnightly column by our part-time MP. Do I detect a Parliamentary election on the horizon? It would be fairer if the Herald were to offer a regular column to all those who declare themselves as prospective candidates.


Totnes shows the same symptoms - 26 March 2004

Your local council would do well, I think, to take heed of Dr Stephen Wozniak's letter of March 12, regarding the pedestrian crossing on the Esplanade.

I was in Sidmouth a month or so ago, and the crossing was not there then, but it sounds imminent from Dr Wozniak's letter.

I live in Totnes, and there is a pedestrian crossing across the main road at the bottom of town, connecting Safeways to the town. This crossing is an absolute menace if you are on foot. A car may stop coming from one direction, but just as you start to cross, a car will come from the other direction and drive straight on. This has happened to me on several occasions and is quite frightening.

If you are in the car, as Dr Wozniak suggests, you can (and frequently are) trapped at the crossing for quite a long time particularly during the holiday season. If you are trying to get to the railway station to catch a train, or something else urgent, the crossing is an absolute nightmare.

Further along the road leading out of town, there are two separate pelican crossings, which are both well used, but cause very little bother.

Also mentioned by Dr Wozniak are speed humps. Between the bottom of town and our house there are 11 newly constructed road humps so I imagine the local garages will soon have extra work as our cars' suspensions go as we lumber over square edged bumps.

Perhaps Sidmouth and Totnes have the same councillors?


Give and take worked best - 16 April 2004

After the first holiday weekend of the season, we have at last been able to enjoy the benefits of the zebra crossing newly installed on the Esplanade.

In addition to the foul smell of rotting vegetation and stagnant water by the coach drop-off pick-up point and the Bedford Steps, we can now take invigorating lungfuls of fumes emitted by the vehicles queuing whilst a long, slow moving line of pedestrians ambles nonchalantly across the road. Eventually, we receive an extra burst of noxious gases as irritated drivers speed off when a brief opportunity presents itself.

I am a motorist and a pedestrian and in neither capacity have I hitherto experienced any real problem in negotiating the Esplanade. There has always been a spirit of give and take displayed by all who enjoy the seafront. So why did the council take it into their hands to waste money on another ill-conceived traffic project scarcely more use than the execrable humps?

Roll on Folk Festival week!

Sid Lodge
Sid Road

Seafront crossing: "Let's see if it beds down" - report of 30 April 2004

A WAITING game is being played by Devon County Council to see if a new pedestrian crossing on the Sidmouth seafront is a success.

Speaking at Annual Town Assembly held by Sidmouth Town Council last week, the deputy leader of the county council, Christine Channon, said: "If there is a string of problems, I need to be told."

The comments came following reports of traffic having to queue along The Esplanade to wait for crossing tourists and residents.

"New systems can take a while to get going. Let's see if it beds down and, if it doesn't, we can look at changing it," Mrs Channon said.

Perhaps Cllr. Channon could explain precisely how a simple zebra crossing is supposed to 'bed down' - are all local people supposed to get used to it and somehow ignore it (and the Road Traffic Acts) thus compensating for her inept decisions? How about the thousands of drivers who will meet it for the first time during each summer?

Keep traffic out of the town centre - 7 May 2004

Our councillors appear not to understand interactions between parking, pedestrians and traffic. On page 11 of the Herald of 30 April, Councillor Reed summarises the 30-year debate on parking in Sidmouth by saying that "At the moment we do not seem to be able to put our finger on the solution". It was pointed out in the Herald during 1998/99 that identifying the solution requires first that the true nature of the problem be acknowledged.

Sidmouth was not designed to accommodate thousands of cars vieing for space with hapless pedestrians. Endless circular discussions will not change this. Keeping most of the traffic out of the town centre at least during peak months would provide harmony, peace and safety, as well as fresh air along the Esplanade.

On 30 April also, Councillor Channon is reported as having suggested that the new crossing along the Esplanade be allowed to 'bed in' before being finally condemned. She should have paid more attention to letters in the Herald!

On 27 June 2003, Jo Firth warned that a simple pedestrian crossing could cause more problems than it solved. It was a particularly prescient letter because redesigning road surfaces to send 'subliminal' messages to drivers has only recently been adopted in a few areas of the UK, having been used elsewhere in Europe.

On 11 July 2003 I warned that there had been too little discussion of the proposed crossing. I also suggested further elements of a sensible solution.

On 12 March this year as D-day (debacle day) approached, I outlined in some detail exactly what was going to happen. On 26 March Vanessa Burch outlined the problems she had experienced in Totnes with a similarly badly designed scheme. Even at this late hour, these letters should have caused councillors and officials to reflect.

Finally, on 16 April Mr Garnett drew attention to increases in fumes, irritation and queues. It is all so predictable because the loss of what he describes as 'give and take' has rendered the Esplanade more dangerous and congested. Very similar problems continue to occur at Sidford Cross where the inappropriate design of traffic signals has served to increase queuing along all approach roads.

The money wasted at Sidford and along the Esplanade probably now totals in excess of 80,000. The Esplanade is more dangerous than before and nothing has been done about the most dangerous part of Sidford - at Porch cottages. We need two new county councillors.


Proof of flaws in Ham car park plan - 14 May 2004

Dr Wozniak rightly points out the immediate extra congestion of traffic on the seafront arising from the new pedestrian crossing - and this is in the 'quiet' season!

Further proof (if it were needed) of the far worse confusion that would result from encouraging hundreds more cars a day to drive back and forth along the eastern Esplanade to a multi-storey car park on the Ham.

There is no perfect solution to the increasing traffic and parking problems in Sidmouth - unless there is to be a complete ban on all vehicles entering the town. However, a concealed car park beneath the Fort Field would provide over 400 new parking spaces and allow some reduction in 'on street' parking in Fore Street and High Street.

The town centre would then become a more enjoyable and safer place for its residents and visitors to browse about safely.

Chairman Sidmouth Millennium Walkway Group
3 Corefields

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