Get on your bike to beat the Laira Bridge jam
As drivers across the city face weeks of traffic jams whilst works are carried out on Laira Bridge, The Herald set a challenge to find the quickest way to beat the queues.
RUSH hour gridlock has been bracing the city for the past ten days since road works began on Laira Bridge.
Problems arose for commuters at the beginning of the month after Plymouth City Council had announced the second phase of improvements on the city's Eastern Corridor, would begin on September 3.
Only last year the city faced traffic hell with road works at Gdynia Way and Cattedown, not forgetting the lengthy gas replacement works across the Barbican.
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And now traffic is regularly seen backed up along the main routes particularly at peak times around Cattedown, Plymstock, the City Centre, Mutley and Greenbank.
As a result a team from The Herald were tasked with making the trip from the City Centre to Pomphlett roundabout in the evening rush hour.
With chief sports writer Bill Richards driving the route, reporter Sophie Taylor taking CityBus' number five, Herald deputy editor Clare Jardine, running the route and defence reporter Rebecca Ricks, opting for pedal power they covered most bases.
The team set off at 5.20pm to see for themselves how bad – or not as it may be – the problem was.
As many readers had predicted on thisisplymouth.co.uk, the bike came in first in 10 minutes 14 seconds, the runner second in 20 minutes 26 seconds, the bus third in 22 minutes and the car bringing up the rear in just short of 30 minutes.
The work is set to last 11 weeks and includes changes to the junction of Finnigan Road and Laira Bridge Road with the aim of improving traffic flow over Laira Bridge. It is also set to provide better crossing facilities for pedestrians and cyclists.
The council said the junction suffers from queuing traffic, particularly at peak times, there were no pedestrian signals and only narrow refuge islands.
Maintenance work is also being carried out over the bridge to prevent "prolonged" disruption.
When the improvements were announced, Councillor Mark Coker, cabinet member for transport, said: "It's important that we improve traffic flow over and around Laira Bridge and reduce delays experienced by drivers. This is a vital artery into the city and we're committed to making improvements that help motorists get around. The work on the bridge has to be done now or its condition will deteriorate further, which will require even more repair work at greater expense. It makes sense to co-ordinate the junction improvements with the bridge maintenance so there is a single set of works and future disruption is kept to a minimum."
LAST: Car crawl
IT’S called Sod’s Law isn’t it when, on the very day the ‘commute from hell’ is put to the test, the drive home turns out not half as bad as it regularly is, writes Bill Richards.
I’m talking about the Laira Bridge challenge, when myself and three colleagues set out from the city centre in peak rush hour to see who would reach Pomphlett Roundabout first.
The point of the exercise was to highlight the impact the “improvements” to Laira Bridge was having on those of us who live in Plymstock and who use the route either for work or pleasure.
After suffering the travails of the Gdynia Way re-development for what seemed like an eternity, not so long ago, the Laira Bridge gridlock was an inspired touch of torture by the traffic gods. So, a race then, to cover the two and a bit miles from the Civic Centre: no, not really.
It wasn’t me, in the car, who took the chequered flag – although I reached Morrisons supermarket in well under half the time it had taken me, two days’ earlier.
My co-challengers and Herald reporters, Becky Ricks on two wheels, Clare Jardine who ran and Sophie Taylor who took the bus had all completed the task and were waiting for myself and navigator-cum-tweeter, Sarah Collins.
We left at 5.20pm and although Exeter Street and Embankment Road were the usual crawl, at least the traffic was moving.
Maybe, the powers what be have tweaked the traffic light sequences a little, I don’t know, but instead of the hour and 10 minutes it took me on Monday along the very same route (at 6.30pm), Sarah and I were home and dry by 5.45pm.
If that continues to be the timescale while Laira Bridge is down to one-lane in either direction until November, then it’ll be something of a result.
I write more in hope than expectation, though.
THIRD: Bus blues
USING public transport is not something I have done for quite a while – years in fact, writes Sophie Taylor.
So when I was asked to take the bus as part of The Herald’s Laira Bridge Roadworks challenge I felt like I had drawn the short straw.
As I joined a long queue on Royal Parade waiting to board the Number 5 to Billacombe Road, in Plymstock, I was sure I was already going to come in last.
Taking a seat alongside a rather nice-smelling young man the bus finally pulled out onto Royal Parade towards Exeter Street. Cars were literally bumper-to-bumper and the bus lanes were even jam-packed. It was rush-hour at its best.
Around five minutes into the journey, still not having moved very far, the pleasant smells of cologne were swiftly replaced by the not-so-pleasant scent of dog food and tuna sandwiches and I was beginning to feel like I could walk to the finish line quicker.
As I gazed out the window, while the bus travelled painfully slowly up Exeter Street, I was greeted by a sea of angry faces – commuters who having just finished work were now tasked with an infuriating journey home.
Cattedown Roundabout became our next challenge but as the traffic lights changed in our favour the bus driver put his foot down and we were suddenly on Laira Bridge Road, then over the bridge, in a shot. It was the first time the driver had been able to hit around 30mph and I was sure I was back in the game.
Finally reaching the finish line after 22 minutes, at 5.42pm, I was sure I had at least beaten the runner.
But as I turned the corner into Morrisons car park I felt a pang of disappointment as both the cyclist and the runner greeted me with cheery smiles. But at least I had beaten the car!
SECOND: On the front foot
I HAVE nothing but respect for people who commute to work on foot, writes Clare Jardine.
You see them in all weathers, laden down with backpacks full of their day clothes as they dodge impatient drivers and traffic fumes.
Not only are they burning calories and keeping fit, but their running journey to work is both environmentally-friendly and costs them nothing.
Living 12 miles from our Derriford HQ, it makes sense for me to drive to work.
But I do enjoy running, and while not much of a sprinter, often run 10 miles or further at the weekends simply for pleasure.
I am certainly not the fastest runner in the Herald newsroom.
But perhaps I was chosen to do the Laira Bridge challenge on foot to give the other contestants a fighting chance.
Setting off from outside the Civic Centre, I eased along Royal Parade, passing cyclist Rebecca Ricks, the one and only time, as she got caught out by traffic at St Andrew’s Cross roundabout.
The first half of Exeter Street is easy. But as Plymouth Half Marathon regulars know, you need to save a bit of energy to get up the hill at the top.
So far every traffic light was with me – unlike the poor drivers who were queuing all the way up Exeter Street.
My Tufty Club training urged me to take the road bridge rather than play with the traffic at Cattedown Roundabout.
But then it was straight on past the shops and I was soon in Laira Bridge Road.
As I reached the actual bridge, I had to take an annoying detour around the barriers blocking access to Finnegan Road.
I was feeling the pressure as the traffic started speeding up and seemed to be flowing freely.
I peered nervously at the drivers expecting a jeering Bill Richards to pass me at any moment.
Then I was overtaken by another runner!
The shame got to me and I picked up my pace.
The lights of Morrisons came quickly into view as my watch hit 18 minutes. Could I cross the line inside 20 minutes?
I hit the roundabout bang on 20 and stopped my watch at 20.12.06 as I encountered beaming race winner Rebecca Ricks at the entrance to the superstore.
Gold for Becky, but silver for me – I’m happy with that.
FIRST: Pedal power
HANDS down two wheels are better than four, writes Rebecca Ricks.
Not only is it good for the heart and better for the purse it is clearly a much quicker mode of transport for rush hour chaos.
Needless to say before we had even started I was quietly very confident I would be first to arrive in Plymstock.
Armed with some already aching legs after a morning work out, my bike AKA my new best friend and some less-than fetching Lycra I was off.
A quick dash up Royal Parade, weaving between dozens of backed up cars I was swiftly around Charles Cross roundabout and headed for the Exeter Street mayhem.
Darting into the bus lane – a dream for cyclists – I followed five or six others who clearly had the same two-wheeled idea.
After an easy coast down to the lights it was right and ready for Laira Bridge.
As I rode up towards the bridge I faced my first close-ish call with a scary looking cement mixer.
Not one for a fight I quickly backed down and skirted around dozens of traffic cones quietly choking on the horrendous fumes.
At this point cars, vans and lorries were desperate to get past the last traffic light hurdle before a free run into Plymstock.
Skirting around the roundabout I was at Plymstock in no more than 10 minutes and 14 seconds – and I am by no means a competitive cyclist.
Factoring in time for changing and a shower it could work out longer than a less energetic trip in the car. But if this was my commuting route – I would bike it everyday.