Proof that I am completely out of touch

I’m living among lunatics – and they’re in charge! Don’t tell them, or they’ll think it’s me that’s crazy.

I have weird, deviant beliefs, you see.

Such as this: Residential streets should be for the use of residents and their visitors, not for use as rat-runs for people passing through.

I know this makes sense to you, dear reader, as you and I can see I’m making sense. But to most people out there, the idea that residential streets are for the people who live there is a strange, crazy notion which must be resisted at all costs.

I refer you to my main exhibit, a clipping from London’s main newspaper, the Evening Standard:

A clipping from the Evening Standard newspaper, where a taxi driver describes how to avoid congestion on main roads by using residential streets as rat-runs.

Am I insane, or is everyone else?

So here we have a hypothetical punter who wants to go from the tube station at Oxford Circus to the tube station at Archway, and decides that the best way to get there is by taxi.

But fair enough – maybe they have lots of luggage, or are a wheelchair user. But because the Evening Standard’s “Clever Cabbie” knows that the direct route through Camden will be congested, they can use a route which avoids the traffic jams and instead cuts through quiet residential streets.* (Well they would be quiet streets if it wasn’t for all the rat-running traffic.)

A photo of the junction of Holmes Road and Spring Place, which the Evening Standard newspaper recommends people use as a rat-run

Do you live near Holmes Road or Spring Place? The Evening Standard thinks there should be more transient cars passing through here! (Photo: Google Maps)

The offensive thing is that vehicles using routes like this provide nothing of benefit to the neighbourhood, but they bring noise, fumes and danger.

Why do we allow our residential streets to be used this way? Why are routes like this even possible – shouldn’t all through-traffic be on main roads? Do councils, despite their fine talk about ‘better neighbourhoods’ and so on, secretly like these rat-runs because they reduce congestion elsewhere?

But again, this proves how out of touch I am with the general consensus. That London’s main newspaper can even consider printing such a piece (and it seems to be a regular one) shows how rat-running is considered normal, acceptable, even something to be encouraged, whereas safe and pleasant streets are the dreams of mad people like you and I.


I haven’t done The Knowledge of course, but I wonder what our Clever Cabbie’s route would be if residential streets were unavailable for rat-running (as they are in any sensible country). Would they head East along Euston Road/Pentonville Road joining the A1 at Angel? Or would Caledonian Road be pressed into service?


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8 responses to “Proof that I am completely out of touch

  1. I get lots of requests to close rat runs which are always rejected by the politicians, many of whom are against the idea as it restricts people’s freedom (to drive) and forces traffic on already congested main roads (duh). It is very rare to get a request to reopen a road and if I do, it is because the person is moaning about being (causing?) stuck in traffic. I am now pretty blatant in suggesting to politicians that they either need to widen roads to give extra lanes and bigger junctions (and knock down residents’ houses), put up with congestion, or promote measures to get people out of their cars at peak times – they haven’t sacked me yet!

  2. Good on you, RH. SC, have you thought about turning this blog into a letter for the Standard?

  3. The answer to your question:

    “Do councils, despite their fine talk about ‘better neighbourhoods’ and so on, secretly like these rat-runs because they reduce congestion elsewhere?”

    Is, in some cases, unfortunately, yes, and it’s not so secret.

    This is a conversation I have actually had with transport officers in Brent, and, while I’m not saying it’s explicit council policy, it is a belief that some of them have that rat runs cannot be closed because it would push too much traffic on to already over-capacity main roads. So they do consider it a legitimate function of small residential streets to take some of the through motor traffic off main roads. Unless they change this attitude, it can clearly only lead to impasse in trying to implement the Mayor’s new Cycling Vision, as traffic will have to be removed from these roads to create practical cycling “Quietways”.

  4. Every local authority I know is committed to reducing rat-running and the impacts of commuting upon mainly residential streets. There even seems to be some sort of political acceptance that, inevitably, this could lead to higher volumes on streets that are already at capacity. From a political perspective, it is accepted that rat-running traffic, putting the lives of their electorate and their kids at risk, is a huge political no-go. I would certainly bet that any politician standing on a ‘more traffic in our residential streets’ ticket would not get many votes.
    What we have found through our own experience is two things. Firstly, that rat-running is very often not the problem, or not as major as people make it out to be. Our traffic surveys often show that most of the impact is actually created by local people driving through said streets to access their homes. True ‘through traffic’ is often limited, typically 5% of total flows, and even where there is through traffic it is often people local to the town who are doing it! This brings in much wider questions about car dependence and the like, particularly for the more local journeys.
    Secondly is the acceptability of the solution proposed. In most cases, the solution that will meet the objectives and be the most effective (closure and filtered permeability) is opposed by people who are often not the minority, but are the most vocal and affect decision-makers more. What then happens is a compromise design that doesn’t restrict traffic movement that much, has very little impact upon movements at all, but has a perceptual impact. Because “something” has been done and we like that something, its made things better, even if evidence says otherwise. For a few engineers (none that I come across, of course) this leads to a cycle – it was a pain trying to get through the optimal design last time, so i’ll go straight for the compromise next time. I understand this to a degree, working with huge workloads to tight deadlines in an increasingly stressful workplace like the public sector seems to be nowadays – though I don’t necessarily accept it.

    • I can sympathise with this a bit. My own sister complains that her street is used as a rat-run (it definitely is used as a short-cut to avoid a busy roundabout) but when I suggested closing one of the connecting streets she argued against it – I suspect because she uses that connecting road herself and doesn’t want to add 60 seconds onto her regular journey.

      Human nature, people want to have their cake and eat it.

      • davidhembrow

        We lived in a street in Cambridge which was actually quite nice, but which allowed drivers to take a short cut and avoid traffic lights. Naturally it was used as a rat-run, people would drive along there at twice the speed limit. Of course some of the people living in the street behaved just as badly. It also suffered from parking at a primary school (which has seemingly got worse) and the junction at one end was awful and often the scene of squealing tyres and occasionally broken glass and bent metal. Since we left it has proven to be lethal.

        During the time that we lived here I complained about all these things. I would have liked our children to have been able to cross the road safely. I would have liked to have been able to pull out of the end of our road, either on a bike or by car and actually be able to see what was happening around the blind corner. I would have liked it if parents who took their children to that school didn’t park in our driveway making it difficult for us to escape even on foot to walk a mile to the primary school that our children went to. However, none of these things ever changed.

        I particularly remember the conversations I had with some of the neighbours over rat-running. None of them liked the rat-running but none of them wanted the road to be closed off at any point because when they drove out of their driveway, sometimes they went left and sometimes they went right.

        The only think that other people complained about was learner drivers. And they did this again and again.

        I actually quite liked the learner drivers. They were the only traffic calming we had and there were few things quite so gratifying as walking back from school with my children and finding some fool in a “hot-hatch” who’d been forced to come to a dead-stop from whatever velocity he’d been driving at previously in order that a learner driver could attempt to perform a three point turn.

        However this revealed something as well. Even the worst drivers seemed remarkably patient with learners. However, if we took our kids on bikes on the same road they would pass aggressively, too close and too fast, toot their horn or shout abuse. And we didn’t cause them nearly the delay that the learner driver did. Odd, isn’t it. I think it comes down to a common cause. They’re both drivers. The experienced driver could remember being a learner and remember it being difficult. They probably had not experienced what it was like to be on a bicycle while someone used their car as a weapon.

  5. Hester (@hesterkw)

    Does closing rat-runs actually increase congestion on main roads? I was under the impression that by increasing the traffic coming in from minor junctions you are often slowing down the traffic on those main routes for maneuvering and increasing the complexity of the junctions, which in turn increases collisions and brings traffic to complete standstill.

    Of course the journey may well be quicker for the individual rat-runner, but it doesn’t improve the system, which should be the interest of the council.

    But I don’t know where I came across this idea, so happy to be pointed at some literature on the matter.

  6. Pingback: Bike paths along main roads are key | The Alternative Department for Transport

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