Transport chiefs urge patience over ‘chock-a-block’ traffic at Old Street and Highbury Corner junctions during overhaul

Traffic at Old Street roundabout. Picture: Joshua Thurston

Traffic at Old Street roundabout. Picture: Joshua Thurston - Credit: Archant

Works to overhaul Highbury Corner and Old Street roundabout have angered motorists due to “chock-a-block traffic” – but transport bosses have urged the public to sit tight while the vital projects are finished and finessed.

Traffic at Old Street roundabout. Picture: Joshua Thurston

Traffic at Old Street roundabout. Picture: Joshua Thurston - Credit: Archant

Transport for London (TfL) and Islington Council are asking for patience while they complete roadworks and adapt to managing a two-way traffic flow at both gyratories.

Top brass at TfL and the town hall agree the "priority is to keep pedestrians and cyclists protected" - and short-term disruption is seen as a worthwhile sacrifice for safer streets.

After a decade of delays and a year of construction work, the notorious Highbury Corner was opened to two-way traffic on Easter Monday, but "teething problems" include queuing traffic in St Paul's Road and Canonbury Road - and the excess pollution this creates.

Abdualli, a 21-year-old courier who didn't give his last name, told the Gazette last week: "You can see how many horns are going off now. Everything's messed up - it's not really a system. We're stuck in traffic all the time. It's definitely hitting my pocket as a courier - time is money and we don't get paid by the hour, we get paid by the job, so we lose out.

Traffic works at Old Street roundabout. Picture: Joshua Thurston

Traffic works at Old Street roundabout. Picture: Joshua Thurston - Credit: Archant

"It's probably costing me £10 a day. When it was a roundabout with literally no traffic lights you'd just go straight ahead - now you've got three traffic lights to wait at." He said it ends up "forcing" drivers down other roads, and that he's seen motorcyclists mount the pavement to avoid traffic.

Mason Jeakins, 19, who works at Tesco in Highbury Corner, said: "It's safer but it's just causing more traffic. There's more traffic in Canonbury now because everyone's trying to miss the roundabout. There's so much traffic when there's an Arsenal game."

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But charity worker Emma Williams, 50, said: "I used to cycle here, so I kind of like the idea that there's designated cycle lanes, because it used to be quite hair-raising as a cyclist."

Islington's sole opposition councillor Caroline Russell (Green, Highbury East), who has been collating complaints about the revamped junction, told the Gazette: "The scheme isn't yet finished, but residents are worried about air pollution from queuing traffic on St Paul's and Canonbury Roads.

Traffic at Old Street roundabout. Picture: Joshua Thurston

Traffic at Old Street roundabout. Picture: Joshua Thurston - Credit: Archant

"The cars caught in blocked traffic can't always see when pedestrians have green [lights], so move forward dangerously."

But she added: "It's a safety scheme and the bike lanes offer real protection from lorries. I've seen children cycling along to school - that's fantastic. Once it's finished I'll be checking with TfL that pedestrians have a fair deal and don't have to wait forever for a green signal to cross."

"Smart signals", or intelligent traffic lights, are due to be installed by TfL on September 6, so Cllr Russell is reserving judgement until she sees if this improves traffic flow.

The former roundabout - which had been clockwise since 1958 - was opened to anticlockwise traffic for the first time in 60 years in April, with one segment pedestrianised.

Segregated cycle lanes, road markings and signs have all been introduced to make it safer for bike-riders and pedestrians. The arboretum is also due to be opened up as a communal green space.

People are concerned about the pedestrian crossing in Canonbury Road, near where a child leaving school was hit by a van in May. Cllr Russell, also the Green Party transport spokesperson, is advocating the town hall widens the pavement on Canonbury Road and extends its new protected cycle lanes to the school gates to safeguard kids.

A few clicks south, TfL, Islington Council and Hackney Council are collaborating on a colossal project to pedestrianise part of the deadly Old Street junction, with work set for completion next year. TfL changed the road layout at Silicon Roundabout in May, opening part of to two-way traffic (meaning it no longer fits the name).

It's closed the south-eastern junction until November while a new entrance and subway is built in Cowper Street and a 24-inch water pump is diverted.

Two-way traffic is now open on the rest of the lethal junction, where cyclist Sarah Doone lost a leg after being run over by a cement truck in August.

"It was always going to be havoc," said Cllr Phil Graham (Lab, Bunhill). "I think the timings on the lights are all wrong."

His fellow Bunhill councillor Troy Gallagher told the Gazette: "The revamp and development is much needed as it has been a hazardous junction and one of the worst for cyclists and pedestrians.

"But I do wonder if TfL have thought this through properly and I'm not entirely sure they have listened to residents' concerns on term of what should be done to reduce accidents around there."

He claims to have received 56 calls in a day from angry constituents complaining about the traffic and delays to their journeys.

Cllr Gallagher said fumes are a health hazard, and that, during the first few days after works started, drivers were "sliding into each other" because they hadn't realised they were going "the wrong way". He claims there weren't enough signs advertising the work or staff at hand to help with the "fluidity" of the traffic.

Nick Fairholme, TfL's director of project and programme delivery, said: "We'd like to thank local residents and businesses for their patience while we transform the dangerous Old Street roundabout into a space where people can walk, cycle and travel safely.

"The switch to two-way traffic has been an important milestone for the scheme and some road closures and changes to travel have been required for work to progress safely. Our teams have been closely monitoring the area since the switch was implemented. We have adjusted the traffic light timings to ensure traffic flows through the area effectively. We have also altered signage and road markings to make the routes through the junction clearer for all road users, especially cyclists."

"I'd like to encourage everybody in the area to take extra care as people get used to the new road layout, and we'll continue to work in partnership with Islington and Hackney Councils to make sure disruption is kept to a minimum as the transformation of Old Street continues."

Cllr Claudia Webbe, executive member for environment and transport, said: "Together with the Mayor of London and TfL our transformations at Highbury Corner and Old Street are dynamic and bold and will create huge change that will last for generations to come.

"We are unashamedly prioritising people over vehicles. We want children at both these locations to be safe when travelling to school.

"Whilst the work is ongoing to remove these dangerous gyratories, we will continue to work very closely with TfL to minimise disruption to all road users including drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and those on public transport.

"We are committed with TfL to closely monitor, the impacts on traffic, air quality and accidents, both during and after implementation. We are also committed to championing changes were necessary.

"We are determined to enable improvements at school locations to keep children safe and limit the impact of air pollution. We are listening carefully to the voices of parents, children, teachers and governors to find a solution that addresses the needs of Canonbury School - as we are doing, and have successfully done, with other schools."