WoBC Summer Report 2021

As Summer approaches and social restrictions continue to be lifted it seems like there is some light at the end of the tunnel that was a long and devastating Winter.

It is nice to see more people out and about but compared to last year there do not seem to be as many cyclists and walkers as this time last year, which may well have something to do with the return to the status quo of car traffic on the roads.

I’m pleased to say that in the last 12 months that I have been in contact with WoBC, the executive officer for transport Cllr Pauline Jorgensen and her officers have been very accommodating and approachable in setting up meetings and talking through plans and ideas for cycling in the borough.

To their credit they have discussed adopting LTN 1/20 guidelines (although I’m not sure this has been finalised) for future travel schemes and have been good at listening to the concerns of cyclists around the borough.

In addition, they have recognised the climate emergency and are taking tentative steps to monitor and reduce air pollution and indicated they are understandably keen to reduce traffic congestion.

All the above are great and exactly what I and many others want to hear from a council that is listening to its residents’ concerns on pollution, climate change, congestion, road safety etc…

Unfortunately, when it comes to actions, there is still very little to back up the words. Wokingham is currently about to build the largest piece of road infrastructure that it has built for many years – the South distributor road (SDR).

This will take people from East Wokingham, through Montague Park

and the South of the borough to the Molly Millars Lane area near the town centre where it will end in an enlarged roundabout (The Western Gateway roundabout) in place of the current Molly Millars roundabout.

This road is being built to service the approx 1500 homes that are to be built in South Wokingham but will also act as an important transport route for the South of the borough.

This sort of road is a once in a generation, probably in a lifetime, project, and an opportunity to create a really good transport link for cars, bikes and walkers by designing it properly from the beginning.

This is future proof of the increase in walking and cycling the Council are so keen to say they are trying to achieve.

Unfortunately, what is said about improving active travel and getting people out of their cars is not matched by the actions when it comes to doing anything more than making empty statements which sound good.

The original plans had a 3m shared use path on each side of the road and in addition included several changes to the current Molly Millars/Finchampstead Road roundabout which would have made it much larger (and therefore more dangerous) and slower to cross for pedestrians and cyclists.

The changes to the roundabout had very little provision for cyclists and pedestrians and would have almost certainly acted as an impediment over what is there already, which combined with the inevitable increase in traffic for a large new road, will undoubtedly put a lot of people off cycling in particular.

The shared use path alongside the SDR is also far from ideal, considering there is clearly space to build a 2m cycle path and a 2m walking path on each side of the road, which would have been much better than the fudge which is the 3m shared use path on either side.

Unfortunately, at a planning meeting (on 18 May) WoBC, despite objections from many residents and several political groups, decided to go ahead with the plans as they are.

Their rationale was that these plans had been drawn up several years ago and changing them would not be easy and therefore could not be done.

Sadly, I think this sums up a lot of political will towards anything challenging the status quo. There are many great words and big promises and opportunistic photo shoots in the right places but when it comes to the crunch and decisive action is required that all disappears.

The voting through of the current SDR and Western Gateway design is a HUGE opportunity  that has been missed and one that WoBC should feel ashamed about, especially with everything they’ve said about reducing pollution, tackling climate change etc.

The road design will not encourage people to walk or cycle and the design of the newer larger Western Gateway roundabout will undoubtedly put many off.

However, despite this, WoBC will continue to tell everyone how keen they are to reduce traffic congestion and get people walking and cycling and tackle the climate emergency…

Saying all that and to try to finish on a positive, it did feel in meeting there was a groundswell of opinion and possibly the start of a change in the way WoBC looks at active travel provision, and hopefully in a later summer I will be able to write about the excellent dedicated cycle and footways in Wokingham I enjoy using.

Sadly, it won’t be anytime soon.

Alex Cran
WoBC Campaigner for RCC

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