Oxford Road is due a redesign!
As many of you know, Oxford Road is a major route for cyclists into and out of the town. It is certainly not ideal: you share a relatively narrow road with cars that are either stationary due to the traffic, or go too fast for it to be pleasant, as well as an impressive number of buses.
There are cars parked on both sides on large stretches of the road. Some houses have dropped curbs to access tiny bits of off-street parking and the street is full of pedestrian islands as well as other forms of street furniture.
When you cycle here, you will likely experience a few close passes by cars only to have to wait behind them at the next traffic light. But now, all this can be improved! At least, there is an opportunity to do so.
The Council has published plans for a redesign here: http://www.reading.gov.uk/transports-schemes-and-projects
These plans are not in fact new. They are plans from 2013 on which Reading Cycle Campaign commented extensively when they were first published. The plans are not specifically aimed at improving matters for cycling and while some changes could be beneficial, there are some serious problems that need to be resolved. Luckily there is hope this will be done!
We had the pleasure of speaking to Councillor Sarah Hacker on a rainy afternoon in January about Oxford Road and the proposed plans, and there were two things that stood out from the conversation:
1.) Her reassurance these plans are certainly not final and any suggestions will be taken seriously. The fact there is a commitment to revisit the plans and change them where needed is encouraging.
2.) A 20 mph speed zone will be considered after the Cow Lane Bridge widening has been completed.
In regard to the latter, implementing either a 20 mph speed limit or a 20 mph speed zone will be a real improvement for cyclists. There are mountains of evidence that lowering speeds to 20 mph reduces accidents and also reduces the severity of accidents that do occur. Getting this approved and implemented would be a real victory for walking and cycling.
But let’s have a look at some of the problems with Oxford Road and how they are being handled in the plans:
1) The Norcot Road/Oxford Road roundabout. This is a very busy multilane roundabout and it is neither safe nor pleasant for cyclists. Revisiting this roundabout with cyclists in mind should be at the top of the agenda for the Oxford Road redesign. This is where a real change for the better could and should be made.
Unfortunately, the proposed plans manage to make things not better but worse by adding an extra right turn flare lane on the approach from Oxford Road-Reading West side onto the roundabout. If you are going straight on you are now in between two lines of cars. As if the situation is not complicated enough to navigate!
The primary objective for the roundabout changes is obviously to increase the capacity for motor vehicles, not to improve matters for other road users, which is disappointing. There are other changes made around the roundabout, but generally speaking, the plans are a missed opportunity. Back to the drawing board…
2) Entrance to Grovelands: Advanced Stop Lines will be added. In theory, you would use the bus lane at this point, and if you want to make a right turn into Grovelands Road you should be able to position yourself in advance of cars, which would mean you can make the right turn more safely. Of course, this is provided there is not a bus ahead of you. Either way, this is a slight improvement.
3) Wantage Road roundabout: several accidents have occurred here including cyclists. There are no real speed calming measures in place. Right turns into Wantage Road are often taken by people in cars without slowing down, and this means a lethal situation for pedestrians and cyclists.
The same is true for cars from Wantage Road entering Oxford Road. On top of that, right before you approach the roundabout from the town side the road narrows due to a pedestrian crossing which again invites last minute overtaking. This roundabout should be turned into a normal priority junction. There is no excuse for this situation to remain, yet strangely enough, no changes were proposed in the original plans however Sarah Hacker agreed this needed to be looked at again.
4) Mandatory left turn into Bedford Road for cars: in the approach to the left turn, the road changes into two lanes. But there is a bus lane continuing straight on Oxford Road that cyclists are allowed to use. To reach the bus lane you have to cross those two lanes, which is dangerous as motorists tend to speed up in this section.
Here there is some good news: the bus lane will be extended before the road (for cars) turns into two lanes meaning for cyclists it will be safer to cross into the bus lane (which is something we have proposed for a long time). The change is minimal but would be an improvement for cyclists.
There are a lot of other small changes being suggested. Some positive and some also ridiculous, like adding bike symbols on the side of the road to remind motorists they have to share. It just suggests you should cycle close to the gutter, which is a bad idea on such a narrow road.
Things that are not being resolved are the removal of badly positioned pedestrian islands and other road narrowings. Some drivers try to overtake you before you reach a pinch point, which makes it instantly dangerous. We would suggest putting in proper zebra crossings.
Also, road humps that have little effect on the speed of motorists, but encourage cyclists to move into the gutter to avoid the actual hump, are not removed.
We will post a full breakdown of the plans on the website over the next few weeks. But these are some of the more important proposals. I think what this little breakdown shows is how small the changes are. It is really more of a tweak than anything else.
And that is a bit of a shame. If there was the political will to remove parking spaces there is space enough for an actual protected cycle lane along the majority of the road. It would instantly make cycling a better option for going into town for thousands of people living in Reading West, Tilehurst and beyond.
And allow me to dream a bit more: the middle section of Oxford Road, which is essentially a little centre to the area and a destination in itself, deserves a bit of love. Would it not be great if here we were to drastically reduce speeds for cars and make it a pedestrian priority zone? Maybe not an improvement for cyclists, but imagine the result…
Anyway, back to reality. To summarise: there are minor improvements in the plans as well as some bad things that need to be resolved and there are several problems with the current layout that do not get tackled. We look forward to working with our local councillors to improve the plans and make Reading West a bit better.
Leendert van Hoogenhuijze, RCC Publicity Coordinator