PLANS have been published to re-allocate road space in parts of Reading to make walking and cycling easier and safer.
With social distancing measures likely to remain in place for some considerable time in response to the Covid 19 pandemic, the Council has moved to design a series of schemes to create more space for pedestrians and cyclists, which recognises the severe restrictions on the capacity of local public transport.
This follows the very recent Government guidance of 9th May in which the Secretary of State said: “The Government therefore expects local authorities to make significant changes to their road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians. Such changes will help embed altered behaviours and demonstrate the positive effects of active travel”
The guidance also says: “Measures should be taken as swiftly as possible, and in any event within weeks, given the urgent need to change travel habits before the restart takes full effect.”
Figures show a significant drop in car use in Reading during the lockdown. Traffic has fallen to around 35% of usual levels and there has been an increase in walking and cycling, particularly in local communities. Roadside monitoring locations on the Oxford Road and on Caversham Road show between a 32-39% reduction in Nitrogen Dioxide in recent weeks.
Reading Borough Council is moving swiftly to introduce a series of schemes – both temporary and possibly permanent in the long term – which sit alongside the Council’s existing commitment of supporting the recovery of the local economy, tackling the climate emergency by creating a net zero carbon Reading by 2030 and the new Local Transport Strategy, which prioritises tackling poor air quality and congestion. The proposed schemes will also benefit the health and wellbeing of local residents by making it easier for them to walk or cycle when getting around town.
Reading’s proposals will be considered at a Policy Committee meeting on Monday (May 18th) . If agreed, a number of schemes will be introduced at pace over the coming weeks. They are:
- Gosbrook Road and Westfield Road: Due to narrowness of pavements, make Gosbrook Road (Westfield Road to Prospect Street) one way and Westfield Road one way (southbound) from Henley Road junction to Gosbrook Road, to increase capacity for walking and cycling. Target of approx June 22nd for introduction. Potential for permanent arrangement with consultation.
- Sidmouth Street: One way (northbound) for all traffic and introduce a new contra-flow cycle lane in the current southbound lane to increase space for pedestrians and cycle lanes. This will improve links to the Royal Berkshire Hospital and existing cycle facilities on London Road. Target of approx June 29th for introduction. Potential for permanent arrangement with consultation.
- Reading Bridge: Remove inbound lane and existing hatching to create both northbound and southbound cycle lanes. Target for introduction in coming weeks. Possible permanent arrangement.
In addition to the major new schemes above, the Council is proposing bringing forward implementation of a number of permanent smaller schemes which have already been earmarked in the Council’s current Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan. These are:
- Oxford Road: Delivery of new cycle and bus lanes, previously consulted on as part of the Oxford Road corridor study.
- Whitley Street Local Centre: Remove one traffic lane outbound and reallocate it to cyclists, alongside other improvements for pedestrians.
- Southampton Street / Silver Street: Introduce cycle lanes through removal of existing road hatching. Plans already developed through the University & Hospital area study
- Redlands Road: Introduce southbound cycle lane (uphill) and cycle priority measures at Christchurch Green junction.
The full details of all the proposed schemes can be found in Monday’s Policy Committee Report https://democracy.reading.gov.uk/documents/s12753/Reading%20Active%20Travel.pdf
Councillor Tony Page, Reading’s Lead Councillor for Strategic Environment, Planning and Transport, said:
“While the long term effect of the pandemic is yet unknown, we do know that in the short term people’s travel behaviours have of course changed. It is important we move to accommodate that and make it easier and safer for people to walk and cycle as they continue to socially distance.
“These proposals are a combination of major new schemes and initiatives which were already in development, that we now think are appropriate to bring forward. Once implemented we would of course monitor their success carefully. It is very likely schemes will need some adjustment over time before we can then consider making them permanent.
“Looking further forward, car use is down in Reading, whilst air quality is up. It is possible these trends will remain, with more people opting to work from home. The coronavirus pandemic, alongside the Climate Emergency, has increased the focus on sustainable travel everywhere. This sits alongside our priorities of supporting the economic recovery of Reading, to create a new zero carbon Reading by 2030 as part of our commitment to tackling the climate emergency, and the Council’s new Local Transport Plan, currently being consulted on, and which includes both improving air quality and cutting congestion as key themes.”
Councillor Page added: “Whilst I warmly welcome the Secretary of State’s Guidance, and his personal enthusiasm, I very much regret the failure of the Department for Transport to announce any details of how ambitious local authorities such as Reading can submit funding bids. There’s little value in constantly repeating that money has been allocated to support cycling and walking schemes when we cannot bid for it. The Council’s resources are already heavily stretched by the current health emergency and we have only very limited ability to fund from our own resources the schemes identified in this report.”
The Government’s new statutory guidance on the reallocation of road space is particularly focused on areas with high levels of public transport use. It is therefore particularly relevant to Reading, which has the third highest bus usage in the UK outside of London.
In order to ensure that the proposed schemes can be delivered without delay, the Council is recommending using its approved Capital Programme funding for transport projects to initially fund them. As part of its guidance, the Government has indicated schemes could be funded from its new £250 million Active Travel Fund, but a bidding process for this pot of money has yet to be confirmed. It is the Council’s intention to use capital funding to get the schemes quickly implemented, and then claim back the money through the Government’s Active Travel Fund, once the bidding process is open and the Government provides clarity on the process for local authorities.
Initial proposals going to Policy Committee on May 18 represent the first tranche of schemes, with further initiatives planned for the future.
Notes To Editor:
The Draft Local Transport Strategy and consultation form is available at www.reading.gov.uk/transport2036. The closing date for comments is Sunday 30th August
People can also comment on the Reading Climate Change Partnership’s new Reading Climate Emergency Strategy at www.reading.gov.uk/climateconsultation. Consultation runs until 31st May 2020.