The crossroads from hell is threatening to bring Christmas chaos back to Preston city centre.
Despite two years trying to uncork the biggest bottleneck in town - Fishergate’s notorious “shared space” intersection with Corporation Street and Butler Street - the Post can reveal many drivers are still:
* Abusing the bus lane restrictions - almost 2,000 have been “fined” in just one week - totalling almost £60,000;
* Ignoring a new “give way” order to allow traffic a smoother exit from the Fishergate Centre and railway station car parks;
* Disobeying the “no right turn” signs at the top of Butler Street.
* And continuing to have a worrying blindspot for the infamous Fishergate bollards which are meant to mark “safe” pedestrian crossing points.
More than 100 people a day are still doing this, despite the signs.
We sent different reporters to watch the busy junction on three separate intervals over the past week and they all came back with the same story: At best it’s confusing, at worst it’s a mess.
And as the city’s main shopping street gets increasingly busy in the final week before Christmas, there are fears it may only get worse.
County Council bosses, who have come under withering fire since the controversial £3.4m “shared space” project was unveiled in 2014, had hoped their latest jam-busting message would finally get through to motorists this winter, especially with a replacement bus service for rail passengers adding to traffic.
The authority, which issued 30,000 fixed penalty tickets last winter - and then had to offer everyone a refund when the bus lane warning signs were ruled to be unfair - has carried out a massive publicity campaign and installed new signs to warn motorists they are entering a no-go zone.
County Hall chiefs are adamant the disappointing figure of 2,000 drivers caught in the first week following a month-long period of grace is actually an improvement.
A spokesman revealed last week’s total was down on the previous four weeks since the cameras were switched back on. And that meant the warnings were being heeded this time, although clearly not by everyone.
Some of those caught were drivers who ignored the “no right turn” signs at the top of Butler Street and used the monitored bus lane up Fishergate to take a short-cut into Corporation Street.
Despite the restriction having remained in place for more than a year now, County Hall admits it is still being abused on average by more than 100 motorists a day.
Phil Barrett, LCC director of community services, said: “People should not be turning right at the top of Butler Street illegally. This also increases the time it takes for other people to get out.
“More than 100 people a day are still doing this, despite the signs.”
Our reporters found the experimental “give way” restriction, introduced recently to force Fishergate and Corporation Street traffic to make way for Butler Street vehicles - particularly the rail replacement bus fleet on its tight timetable - is being observed by only a fraction of drivers.
The county council says it will monitor the new layout before making a decision about making it a permanent feature.
CAUGHT ON CAMERA
Bus lane fines returned with a bang last week after County Hall lifted the month-long grace period and started sending out fixed penalty notices.
A staggering 1,924 tickets were sent out in the first week alone, despite a massive campaign to warn the public.
While it was only around a quarter of the 8,000 issued in the first seven days a year ago, it still represents a huge number of drivers who either don’t know - or don’t care - about the ban on vehicles using that section of Fishergate between 11am and 6pm, seven days a week.
Motorists will have to cough up £30 if they pay within 14 days, with the amount doubling after that. And already the bus lane cameras have boosted LCC’s coffers by between £57,000 and £115,000, in addition to the 21,000 unclaimed refunds last winter.
“This figure shows a reduction since the enforcement restarted, which suggests that the advertising, enhanced signing and warning notices are working,” said Daniel Herbert, highway group manager for LCC.
“But the level of misuse means we need these additional measures to make sure that people do the right thing.
“The aim of the bus lanes is to improve the experience for people coming into the city centre by reducing congestion at known hotspots, and improving the overall experience for drivers and pedestrians.”
The fines total includes more than 100 a day caught on camera ignoring the “no right turn” restrictions at the top of Butler Street.
GIVE WAY - NO WAY
The “give way” experiment on Fishergate near to its junction with Butler Street is the latest throw of the dice by County Hall to solve the congestion problem.
But, in a shared space zone with a “no priority for anyone” ethos, the new broken lines across the carriageway and a temporary pavement sign appear to be going largely unnoticed by drivers coming down Fishergate or joining from Corporation Street.
All three Post staff observing the junction at different times reported a vast majority of motorists were crossing the lines without slowing down.
And many vehicles coming up Butler Street, including the rail replacement buses, seemed unaware they suddenly have right of way, causing confusion and hesitation on both sides.
One shopkeeper who looks out onto the junction said: “There haven’t been any accidents - so far. But at the moment many drivers in Fishergate are still behaving like they’ve got right of way.”
Daniel Herbert, highway network manager for LCC, said: “The ‘give way’ on Fishergate was recently brought in to help vehicles turning left out of Butler Street. It has been introduced on a trial basis and will be reviewed in a few months to see how effective it is.
“People travelling along Fishergate from the top of Corporation Street need to give way at the junction with Butler Street. Signs make it clear that there is a new road layout in place and road markings show the ‘give way.’
“We know that many people are abiding by this new layout and ask everyone to drive appropriately and carefully in the city centre, and be aware of changes which may have taken place since you last visited.”
After finally abandoning the ‘no priority’ rule to install a “give way” restriction, County Hall has now been forced to reverse its de-cluttering policy in Fishergate to guard against a terror attack.
Reinforced planters, made of wood and steel and filled with concrete, have been dotted along the pavements to make it difficult for vehicles to target pedestrians in a similar way to deadly attacks in London and across Europe.
The planters have appeared this week and will be left in place until more permanent structures can be constructed next year.
The move comes just 18 months after LCC won a national award for “decluttering” Fishergate with its shared space scheme.
A LOAD OF BOLLARDS?
Some things might change at the Fishergate junction, but others remain set in stone.
Yet only months after LCC replaced four of the six notorious concrete traffic markers at the crossroads, the most famous of the lot has become an accident statistic yet again.
Fishergate Bollard has been knocked down so many times that he has his own Twitter account with 2,350 followers.
And, not content with knocking him off his pedestal, another driver came a cropper last week on the stone plinth itself while he was in for repair.
LCC, who have been picking up the pieces for three years since the shared space scheme was first opened three years ago, still say they have no plans to abandon the bollards as a bad idea.
A spokesperson for the county council added: “The bollard will be put back in again, as these are important safety features for the crossing points.”