Congestion on Chelmsford road part of county’s plan to force traffic down alternate route

Essex County Council has launched a campaign to ease traffic on one of the busiest roads in Chelmsford used by 17,000 vehicles a day – although it says it cannot alter phasing on the road’s major set of traffic lights.

The city council leader has said this has been deliberately arranged to force traffic down another route.

Councillor Stephen Robinson has asked for a rephasing of the traffic lights at the bottom of Broomfield Road. He told cabinet on October 10: “That is the thing that causes the biggest backing up of the traffic up Broomfield Road.

“The county council refused to change the phasing of the traffic lights as a matter of policy because they want Broomfield Road to be congested to encourage people to use Chelmer Valley Road.”

However, Essex County Council said changes to one site will have a knock-on effect and affect the flow and capacity across the others, particularly Parkway.

Instead the county council is focused on a new campaign highlighting alternative travel options to tackle congestion, particularly on Broomfield Road.

A spokesman for Essex Highways said: “The traffic lights on Broomfield Road are part of a controlled and linked network of signals in the centre of Chelmsford, including Parkway, Glebe Road, Broomfield Road and Chelmer Valley Road. Changes to one site will have a knock-on effect and affect the flow and capacity across the others, particularly Parkway.

“However, there has been an increase in the volume of traffic using Chelmer Valley Way in the last 18 months during the morning peak times, which suggests that rather than congestion being caused by traffic signals, it is instead due to increased use of Broomfield Road by cars during peak times.

“Broomfield Road recently benefitted from development, which includes the installation of an improved cycle path and new pedestrian crossings. We can all play a part to reduce congestion by thinking about our journeys and adopting more active types of travel – cycling, walking for example – for those regular shorter journeys.”

Broomfield Road is used by approximately 17,000 vehicles a day and suffers from significant traffic congestion and delays, particularly at peak times, the county council says.

Essex County Council’s new Saving the Day campaign, which is part of its ongoing Safer, Greener, Healthier initiative, aims to simply highlight the alternatives to driving and how people can avoid the traffic.

The superhero-themed campaign promotes the benefits of walking, cycling and travelling by bus. This highlights how swapping even a few regular journeys can save people time, money and hassle.

It says following the government’s recent announcement of an extension to a bus fare cap scheme, people can travel for just £2 a journey until December 2024 and for longer journeys into Chelmsford from the north of the city, such as the Braintree area, the Chelmer Valley Park and Ride also offers an alternative to driving into the city centre. The cost is now just £3 a ticket – significantly cheaper than city centre parking.

Cycling can also offer a very cost-effective alternative to driving, especially for shorter journeys. At the busiest times of the day, it can also be quicker. Cycling along Broomfield Road is up to three and a half minutes faster than driving at peak times.

As part of the Chelmsford City Growth Package, the council created a new flagship cycle route along Broomfield Road. The new route provides hybrid cycle tracks between the city centre and Patching Hall Lane.

Councillor Tom Cunningham, Essex County Council’s Cabinet Member for Highways, Infrastructure and Sustainable Transport, said: “We know it is not possible to swap every car journey for cycling or travelling by bus, but even small, manageable changes can make a big difference.

“That is what the Saving the Day campaign is all about – shining a spotlight on the travel alternatives which can not only help reduce traffic, but also help save people time, money and the hassle of sitting in queuing traffic.

“If everyone in Chelmsford switched just two journeys to work each week to walking, cycling or taking the bus then it would remove over 100,000 trips from the city’s road network each week.

“With the government extending the £2 bus fare cap and some excellent cycling facilities along Broomfield Road, I would encourage everyone to at least give it a try.”

The Saving the Day campaign will include various online, social media and outdoor advertising. There will also be free instructor-led cycle rides along the corridor during the October half term. These will help familiarise people with the cycling routes along Broomfield Road and improve their confidence.

The council’s sustainable travel team will also be working with local schools and promoting Bikeability cycling courses and the support they can provide with travel planning.

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter