CIVIC TRUST AWARDS IN WOLVERHAMPTON
Penn Road Roundabout
Note: This was written before the island became a skate park.
This traffic roundabout received an award when it was new in 1966. The citation reads: "This is an enterprising solution to the problem of a large roundabout with pedestrian subways by boldly sinking the centre to the subway level. The treatment of the area formed with lawns, flower beds, water cascades, paths and tree planting, is excellent. There are also some well designed public lavatories and other features and when the planting matures, the whole effect will be extremely good. One small criticism - the use of blue mosaic on the walls of the subway entrances was unfortunate and the main perimeter retaining wall would have been better in one material, either concrete or the precast facing blocks now used for the lower part of them."
At the time ring roads were fashionable and the problem of getting pedestrians from one side of them to the other was not one that was readily resolved. This was Wolverhampton's solution, which was innovative at the time. What they produced, here and at the Chapel Ash roundabout, was a small and attractive urban park. This general principle it still visible but the details have, over the years, changed radically. The planting has been simplified in the interests of low maintenance. The water cascade is gone and forgotten. The public lavatories have also disappeared, apparently as part of the City council's continuing policy against the public provision of such useful facilities. The remarkable thing about the lavatories here was that there were steps up to the flat roof, which was railed round, producing a kind of sun deck. So far as most people can remember the chance to sun yourself whilst lying on the roof of a public lavatory at traffic height was not much used.
This roundabout and the Chapel Ash roundabout remain a reasonable attempt to deal with a well known problem. But the problem might not be susceptible to a complete solution and these roundabouts are not much more popular than other subways. The passages suffer from graffiti - though this is reasonably well controlled - and litter. The central area provides places for muggers and rapists to lurk in an area well out of public view. The last of the Ring Road roundabouts, built many years later at the junction with the Bilston Road, was felt likely to be susceptible to similar problems, not least because it had to provide access between the city centre and the Royal Hospital and its nurses' home. The outcome was a very different design of sunken garden, with sloping retaining walls allowing for greater visibility of the garden from the outside, large visibility splays where the subways debouched into the central area and a low level planting scheme. Unfortunately this "rape proof roundabout" tuned out, almost immediately upon its opening, to be less than 100% effective. That roundabout has now itself been wrecked by the Metro building a track across it and the City councillors insisting on the track's being decorated with a useless bridge-like structure which clutters up the view of the surroundings. But it might as well be mentioned here that many lengths of the ring road have very wide central reservations which have been very nicely landscaped, some stretches having paths through them to provide pleasant little urban parks.