Cyclists get short shrift in Reading bridge plans

Reading cyclists say they were “ganged up on” by local politicians over a new cycle and foot bridge which they say will be too narrow, while creating conflict between users.

The shared use bridge over the Thames, due to be finished in summer 2015 is the first of its kind in Reading, forming part of the town’s new cycling strategy launched this week.

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However, after a debate on Wednesday night, Reading Cycling Campaign complained they weren’t given enough time to voice concerns over the bridge’s design, which they say is too narrow to accommodate current cycling levels and will become crowded as cycling numbers grow.

Adrian Lawson, Reading Cycle Campaign’s chair, said: “111 respondents to the consultation were concerned about the possible conflict between cyclists and pedestrians and we didn’t get an adequate chance to express those. All objections got 1.15 minutes each whereas transport engineers [speaking for the scheme] got five minutes each and one councillor spoke for 10 minutes; they had 45 minutes in total.”

Disabled groups argued the bridge’s ramp was too long for wheelchair users, while concerns were voiced the path will be submerged in winter.

One local councillor, Melanie Eastwood, called the process a “sham” and “undemocratic” in the local paper, saying residents’ concerns weren’t being heard.

The council replied: “Campaigners at the Planning Applications Committee were given exactly the same opportunity to speak and put their points across as any other group would be making representations on any planning application. Members of the public and any other group would quite rightly have an issue if the rules were somehow changed for this particular planning application.”

“Approval for the shared use bridge also came in the week the Council launched a new Cycling Strategy for the town, which again includes a whole package of benefits for current cyclists and is aimed at encouraging more people to consider cycling as an option in the future.”

Reading’s cycling strategy, titled ‘Bridging gaps, overcoming barriers and promoting safer cycling’ will include more cycle parking, a bike hub and installing more advanced stop lines – as long as lane capacity isn’t reduced – along with cycle training for schools.

The council wants 2,300 extra cycle journeys per day by April 2015 and to double cycling to work within five years.

Lawson said: “People who come through Reading have to come across one of the [two existing] bridges. Most people live and finish their journeys within four miles. All those people could choose cycling as a viable alternative so that is why they need to provide a proper crossing for cyclists.

Because those [existing] bridges are congested they’re hideous to cycle over so we support the idea of a bridge, they just need to design it right.”

RCC has counted 350 cyclists in an hour during the morning peak on the other two bridges. The new 5m wide bridge, which narrows for a central mast and tapers at both ends, has capacity for 68 cyclists per hour.

Sustrans South East Regional Director, Simon Pratt, said: “The reality is that we can do all the modelling you like but if a shared bridge becomes busy it becomes slow to progress across. What we need to take into account is what is the width of the approach path if the approach path is only 3m wide and the bridge is 6m [you’re going to get conflict].”

“The last thing anyone wants is a lot of money to be spent on a bridge and it becomes so busy that in five years you have to build another one.”