The Cow Lane underpass was reopened in February to much fanfare [news.reading.gov.uk/cow-lane-two-way-19/].
The project took a bit longer to complete, but car-users rejoice. It is a new beginning. The Council’s vision is that the under-pass will become an alternative route into town which allows you to bypass Oxford Road entirely.
It has been made accessible for lorries, buses and other motor traffic and it is now 2-way. The infrastructure for cyclists was always pretty bad here and the actual underpass was downright daunting.
For a significant stretch of the road there was nowhere for cars to overtake you safely and you were bound to end up with impatient drivers behind you, which is never comfortable and sometimes dangerous.
The alternative was the pavement (walking of course). So did any of this change with the new road layout?
It’s a mixed bag. The road no longer has the bottleneck of the tunnel which caused otherwise reasonable people to behave like madmen when confronted with the prospect of getting stuck behind a cyclist for 100 metres. It really was kind of scary. Getting rid of that dynamic is a good thing.
At the same time, because the lanes are significantly wider (and of course 2-way), the tendency for motorists to overtake cyclists is much bigger, even when it is actually not safe to do so.
And it really is not safe. There is no place to go whilst under the tunnel. If you somehow fall off your bike because you get clipped by a car you are in trouble. I would definitely encourage you to cycle in the middle of the road under the tunnel to make sure you will not get overtaken.
If the above does not sound appealing, you are now allowed to cycle on the pavement. The old tunnel is a shared use facility.
Obviously for most people on bikes this will be the preferred option, but given the width of the thing, you do wonder if they could not have created a proper segregated facility. I mean look at the size of it:
It is such a shame that when the Council and Network Rail get presented with a virtually blank sheet of paper, this is the outcome. Of course it is consistent with the Council’s preference for shared use facilities, but it is still sad.
What is even more disappointing is some of the other details of the facility. Look at this barrier you are presented with when you cycle on the new shared use path towards the tunnel.
The sole purpose of these barriers is so that cars that go into the side street (Cardiff Road) don’t have the inconvenience of having to slow down to consider any crossing traffic. Then on both sides of the tunnel the path only uses part of the width available.
Here it is made even narrower with some bollards to mark a dropped kerb to facilitate what appears to be some sort of parking facility or access.
Furthermore the crossings for the side streets aren’t very friendly. Flare shaped access designed to make sure cars don’t have to slow down only forces pedestrians (and cyclists) to traverse a longer distance from kerb to kerb than is necessary.
And the fact that you have to cross the road again to join the main cycle route is also rather strange to say the least.
If you come from the south side (Reading West) you now have to cross the road twice on either side of the tunnel. I really do wonder if there was really nothing they could do to make this more straightforward.
I am nit-picking now, but the reality is that the entire layout impresses on you that your existence as a pedestrian or cyclist is only secondary to its purpose. It’s all very nineties.
So what do I think of it?
If you knew what the situation was before, and you had zero expectation in these improvements, then this is all really good. But if you consider the amount of money that has been spent, and what the engineers had to play with, the result has unfortunately become a bit underwhelming.
What do you think about this? We would love to know.
Leendert van Hoogenhuijze