East Reading MRT – widening the debate

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This week I attended a public consultation on the East Reading MRT.  MRT stands for mass rapid transit.  The proposal is for a new link from the big Tesco’s on Napier Road through to Thames Valley Park, including a bridge over the Kennet.  A new park & ride scheme would be based at the eastern end.  The media have picked up some local opposition to the impact to the riverside, but I think they miss a bigger picture.

The junction, or ‘confluence’ in academic terms, between the Thames and the Kennet is Reading’s defining geographical feature.  When Saxon leader Reada paddled up the Thames in the 6th century it was this left turn that led him to find a favourable pitch, probably around St Mary’s, on slightly elevated ground between the Thames and the Kennet.  With the rivers providing water and access to transport goods, the settlement became established.  When the Danes came calling in the 9th century, they built a rampart to combine with the natural defensive boundary of the Thames and Kennet on the other two sides.

So am I suggesting we should keep Kennetmouth as Reada or the Danes might have found it?  Absolutely not, because Reading’s industrial period already changed things forever.  The waterways would have become bustling with activity as the main mode of freight transport.  That is, of course, until Brunel came along and blazed his railway line right over Kennetmouth in 1840 as part of the line from London to Bristol.  The railway revolution also saw another rail bridge across the Kennet added just a few yards further south as part of the Southern railway line from Reading to Guildford.  In 1891 the horseshoe footbridge is added.  There’s also a whirring gas pipeline over the river, and telephone cables.  Be it for defence, transport, energy, communications – the mouth of the Kennet has always made a crucial contribution to the growth and success of Reading.

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In my view, it’s quite forward-looking that the private motor car should be omitted from that list of developments and that we skip straight to a bus and cycle link for the next addition to Kennetmouth’s roll call of infrastructure.  I believe the MRT scheme will ultimately evolve into a modern tram line.  In the meantime, it will provide a fast route into town for buses from Thames Valley Park, Winnersh Triangle, Woodley, Wokingham, Bracknell and Heathrow, with around a ten minute reduction in peak journey times.

Sadly, the initial plans include one absurd aberration, which can hopefully be remedied before the designs are finalised.  They plan for the section over the Kennet to be just a single lane, with traffic lights at either side.  I asked whether this was to save money, but I was told that the design was to ensure the bridge could never be converted to be used by cars.  This is brazenly bonkers  reasoning.  Should I not plant a tree in my garden so that I’m not later tempted to break off a stick and poke my eye out?  How about we build a sensible bridge and then just don’t use it for stupid things?

I can only assume this measure is to placate the Greens, who have voiced opposition to this scheme.  The irony is that on the role of the car in the town centre, the Greens have won.  Quite rightly, the days of adding pure road capacity into town are over.  The only new roads we’ll see around here will be to bypass the town centre, short infills to relieve bottlenecks, or to serve new developments out-of-town. (Note, I would count the Third Thames bridge plan as a by-pass for suburban populations in Caversham to by-pass town, and Sonning).  For Reading town centre, I think we’ll ultimately see road capacity for cars, and car parking reduced – that is the direction of travel.  So the chance of re-purposing this new Kennetmouth crossing for private motor cars in their current form is very low – it would be a dumb move that would clog up Vastern Road and slow the already-crawling IDR to a standstill.

Initial plans have around 30 buses an hour in each direction (mostly re-routed existing services), that’s one bus a minute when you count both directions.  With buses arriving at random intervals and a long hold with both sides on red to allow a bus to traverse the crossing, I’d estimate that at least one in four buses will be subject to a short wait at the lights.  With future growth, that will get worse.  And it would hamper any tram upgrade similarly.  Even if we accept these short hold ups, it might turn out that we could use the extra lane for additional cycling capacity, if that really takes off.  Or quicker than we might imagine, we might have self-driving multi-occupancy silent electric-powered pods scuttling back and forth along the route that could be programmed to only use it if they won’t cause delays for buses.  My point is, how incredibly short-sighted to replicate the constraints of Sonning and Cow Lane on this new bridge.  To the council, build us a two-lane bridge, and replicate the success of Christchurch bridge by making it an attractive landmark in its own right.

The Greens have also been opposed to the park and ride element of the overall scheme.  Apart from the clear contradiction of lamenting a solution designed to take cars and fumes out of town, they have also exaggerated the quality of the green space being lost, including tweeting an image of the prettier parkland in Thames Valley Park that is unaffected by the plans.  I tried (and struggled) to access this overgrown area and was only impressed by the sheer diversity of debris strewn around the place, as my photos below show.  It looks to me like the car park will be set well back from the river, it’s shielded by greenery and it makes far better use of this inaccessible and forgotten parcel of land.

The consultation for the MRT is open now on the council website for you to have your say.  For my part, it’s a plan for extra capacity for buses and bikes, and for faster journeys, whilst tipping the balance of power away from the car.  That’s got to be good for the economy and the environment.  And as for Kennetmouth, I think it’s an entirely appropriate next chapter in the rich history of the gateway to Reading.

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East Reading MRT – widening the debate

12 thoughts on “East Reading MRT – widening the debate

  1. Reading General says:

    I still don’t quite understand why these projects are called rapid transit when diesel/gas buses are to be used. There isn’t much rapid about a one person operated bus with an internal combustion engine. Surely rapid transit is the mode not the path of it, Just call it what it is Reading council. Still it’s a start on something changing, but again it’s a transport scheme that doesn’t benefit Reading borough residents, the same as all the other ‘MRT’ ideas from the green park area. I think the study has overlooked the amount of people from the eastern suburbs who travel to the newtown/cemetery junction area and vice versa. So i think the urban stopping services currently in the form of the 13/14 should remain on the route amongst the inner housing areas. Or at least one of the routes from woodley/north earley.
    Cheers

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    1. Fair point. They seem determined not to call it “a road”! As you say though, a step towards something better, hopefully.
      I do think they should take all the buses that currently use London Road to cemetery junction onto the new link. The 17 should suffice for cemetery junction demand. And you could put one stop near Kennetmouth for Newtown residents to walk to, which would be just as practical as the current London Road stop (that badly interrupts traffic flow).

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  2. Sam says:

    That will be a very good plan. Reading traffic around cemetery junction specially during a rainy day is awful. that new road will ease off the Reading traffic.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Alex Berry says:

    I have and idea which would be an outer reading loop which would include linking the new green park station to Wokingham with new stops in Southcote ,Whitley wood and cemetery junction. add new trains and you have a low budget metro system taking people off the road and into reading town centre.

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      1. Alex Berry says:

        From the new green park station build a link to wokingham or Winnersh stations with a stop in whitley wood and lower early. This would link the two lines together. The add new stops in at southcote and cemetery junction and then you have an outer ring railway line that can take cars off the road. You could also link it to business parks and park and rides to further improve traffic flow. This would massively reduce the number of park and ride buses and car journeys. Hope this explanation makes sense.

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  4. Andy says:

    As a resident who walks my dog along this stretch of river every day I feel that you downplay the value of the land that will be lost. In addition to the area you mention, there are a number of green areas between the Kennet mouth and the proposed park and ride stop that offer green separation from the railway. I have often seen rabbits and dear on this land and am sure there is a whole plethora of other species present. The planned rout looks to encroach on this land. It is a shame that yet another natural green space is to be covered with concrete to meet the insatiable needs of a constantly growing human population…..where does it stop. I feel sorry for all the people and animals that currently enjoy this relatively safe and peaceful spot. I am sceptical that those living in the immediate area will see any benefits. I’m sure many who don’t use this stretch of river will fail to realise it’s true value. I agree that a single lane bridge is stupid. Electric vehicles only would be better.

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