The Kennet Mouth Bridge – Calming Troubled Waters

bridgeMRT

The East Reading MRT is a proposed bus, cycle and pedestrian link across the mouth of the Kennet to link Thames Valley Park directly to Reading Station.  I’ve covered the topic before, but this week there are further exhibitions to coincide with the submission of a planning application.  I called by earlier to find out the latest.  Opinions were mixed, but it’s fair to say that opponents were more numerous than supporters.  There was a make-shift protest stall outside the event trying to garner signatures for a petition against the scheme.  I stopped to talk to them too about their concerns.

What’s clear to me is that Reading is the heart of a sizeable and growing urban area.  The population is increasing and that will place further pressure on roads and public transport.  We have two options:

  1. Do nothing.  The growing population will further burden the road network, but the slog of a visit to the town centre will become increasingly off-putting for many.  A soulless sprawl of out-of-town leisure and office blocks will spring up around the M4 junctions to provide alternative facilities.
  2. Invest in further public transport infrastructure, allowing existing and new residents to access work and leisure facilities in town without clogging up the roads.  RG1 retains and expands its role as the regional centre.

It’s a stark choice, and it really is that simple.  Clearly the latter provides the right vision for Reading.

I did ask one of the opponents what he’d suggest.  The response was that there should be a railway station built at Thames Valley Park instead, and he was unimpressed that it hadn’t been fully costed.  However, it’s clear to me that this option has some real challenges, aside from the cost.  Whilst a railway station has been built at Winnersh Triangle, and another is planned at Green Park, both are very different to the situation at Thames Valley Park.  The former two are on less major rail lines whereas the TVP site sits on the mainline to Paddington.  Platforms on the fast lines are completely out of the question, and even the slow tracks are congested.  Any additional stop would penalise journey times from Reading to London on Crossrail, and a compromise service pattern would mean at most two trains per hour in each direction serving the new station.  That is not going to provide a major incentive for the local population to ditch their cars and switch to public transport.

As I’ve argued before on these pages, it’s the combination of frequency and journey times that provides the real lure towards public transport.  That’s where the Kennet mouth proposal comes into its own.  The peak-time bus journey time forecast along the new route from Sutton’s Roundabout to the station is between just five and six minutes.  The comparative current journey, again peak time, takes between 12 and 18 minutes.  Rather than hang around at the station, the bus would be timetabled for a return journey beginning at least seven minutes earlier.  So we get an increase in frequency of services with the same number of buses and drivers, i.e. at (roughly) the same cost.  The virtuous circle completes as higher frequency and faster journey times provide a more compelling offer, driving up usage and revenue, which can be re-invested in lower fares yet further increasing patronage.

busMRT
let’s get that pylon down

It frustrates me that people are slow to realise the opportunity that this new link provides.  In addition to Thames Valley Park commuters, the link will benefit bus services from further out.  Most Woodley services will divert onto the new link, as will buses from Winnersh park and ride and a proposed similar facility at Coppid Beech.  I could easily see a Lower Earley express service added, looping around the Eastern Rushey Way area before heading up to Winnersh and two stops to the station.  The bus route map and timetable for the eastern half of the wider Reading area would be completely re-imagined and vastly improved.

What disappoints me the most is that people are spending their energy opposing this link, and criticising the bridge, rather than campaigning to make it the best it could be.   Bridges are very often the most impressive and striking, or quaint and charming structures in a city.  Our new proposed span avoids those adjectives.  The council have missed a trick not to add hanging baskets to the artist’s impression.  With a little effort, the new bridge could surely look like a similarly modern link in Valencia (below).

puente-de-las-flores-890x395_c
modern bridge, Valencia, Spain

Buried within the presentation boards were some nice landscaping proposals, including a welcome local debut for the old flowerbed inside a wooden boat feature.  More could be done, and this is where the local community could and should focus its efforts.  Let’s ensure this scheme enhances the riverside, and that risks such as dark and threatening areas beneath the bridge are properly addressed.  And why are we not pressing for the pylons to come down with cables hidden away within the new bridge structure instead?

It’s incredibly unusual in a large town to have a “dead end” sector like Napier Road so close to the centre.  Linking across Kennet mouth provides a unique opportunity to fuse a new artery into the heart of the town.  From some quarters there are calls for it to be used for cars.  Whilst that might alleviate London Road, it would add stationary queues of traffic to our riverside.  The public transport link – funded from central government – is the right compromise, providing game-changing improvements to speed and frequency, and potentially paving the way for further investments in the future, such as a tram line.  If the efforts of locals now focus on getting the best from the scheme, it could also be a feature to be proud of in its own right.

The plans are to be shown again: Thursday 13th July, Reading Town Hall, 2pm to 7pm.

Your comments are very welcome, and can be left below (without registration!).

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The Kennet Mouth Bridge – Calming Troubled Waters

36 thoughts on “The Kennet Mouth Bridge – Calming Troubled Waters

  1. Alan Green says:

    Maybe the bridge should cross the Thames, not the Kennet, and join onto the north end of the new Thames bridge that Oxford County Council keep blocking,

    Or if they do go with the Kennet bridge then forget buses. Put in a tram with a single track section on the bridge from TVP to at least the station, if not beyond.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Alan. If you browse my previous posts you’ll see I’m also something of a tram fan. I even drew out an entire local network proposal (and quite enjoyed doing it!).
      I’m hoping having the dedicated route might be the very first step towards a tram line. Although it might be a battery powered tram/bus hybrid by the time it happens.

      Like

  2. james Woolfenden says:

    This is a horror story of an idea. An will ruin part of Readings Riverside. A tram is way better idea than yet another road.

    Like

  3. Reading resident says:

    We need trams or a monorail. These plans look and sound awful. Also why not put a train station on the line that runs alongside Palmer park?

    Like

    1. Thanks for your thoughts.
      With regard to the idea of a station by Palmer Park, I think it would just be too close to Reading (and Earley) stations. A fast bus taking only five minutes, running every few minutes would be a great service – more compelling than a half hourly train.

      Like

  4. Mels says:

    it will have a huge detrimental impact on a lovely green space and nature reserve, of which we have precious few of in Reading. I’m all for trying to reduce the amount of traffic, but the last figures I saw quoted 277 car spaces. How long will it take before those cars are replaced on the road? It’s pathetic. We need to be talking about getting people out of the cars by the thousands not the hundreds.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mels. I think there’s some confusion that the busway is to built solely, or even primarily, for the new park and ride. I think that’s only a very small part of the picture. The main benefit is more attractive bus services from the wider area (TVP, Woodley, Earley, Winnersh, Bracknell), I.e. faster and more frequent services. It’s that which should provide the incentive for the sort of “modal shift” that we need, which as you rightly say, needs to be in thousands not hundreds.

      Like

  5. East Reading Guy says:

    I totally agree something needs to be done but…… this isn’t the answer

    What’s needed is a road that will take cars etc. away from the East end / Cemetery Junction area as just removing a few buses will not make that much difference

    Your suggestion of running the Woodley buses that way is a no-no as they stop between the A3290 and the Town Centre so what about all those people who use them to get to RBH and around the general East Reading area or vice-versa
    My partner and her friends often go to Woodley from near CJ – how would they do that if you took the buses away on those routes?

    Its the same with most other buses – the Winnersh PnR and the TVP bus also have stops between there and the TC so if you divert those along this route, more buses would have to be added to cover those stops so a waste of time for the gain of a few minutes for a few people

    And that certainly won’t alleviate traffic along the A4 – but a road for all would!

    Like

    1. This is the quandary – a new all-vehicle road might have the biggest (short term at least) improvement to traffic on London Rd, but it creates a negative impact on the riverside. I think the bus/cycle link largely mitigates that impact and the benefit to public transport is being underestimated by many, in my view.

      On the Woodley buses, I’ve seen this concern on reading-forum too. I hope we’re in a world of increasing and improving bus services. I think you could run a new Woodley express every 10-12 minutes (at peak) taking the bulk of demand and offering improved journey times, whilst retaining some via Cemetery Junction services, maybe even retaining existing frequency on that route. I don’t have figures, but I would guess the town centre/station is the final destination for 80%+ of passengers coming from Woodley.

      Many thanks for taking the time to comment.

      Like

  6. JOHN FARMER says:

    PM may lived at sonning and I am sure she would have likes a real 3rd Reading bridge across the Thames.this proposal is a east Reading problem

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Just commenting on an early point in your post; I agree that a rail station at TVP doesn’t look feasible, but it would be worth investigating fully before dismissing it. Maybe National Rail know more than we do. I think the protester had a point.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Dan. Yes, fair point. It’s just not the no-brainer that some have suggested it to be.
      I think 6 minutes on the bus, with one bus every 5 minutes comfortably beats 4 minutes on the train with only half-hourly frequency.

      Like

  8. I think this would be ok. I’m as familiar with Kennet Mouth as anyone; the old bridge is crap and needs to go. I could live with a narrow busway sharing a new bridge.

    I agree the proposed design of the bridge is a bit uninspiring. But at least it’s not a road bridge.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Bigpod says:

    Why the need to omit cars? I always thought the plan to link TVP to the road alongside Kings Meadow was a winner. What would be the problem with that?

    Like

    1. East Reading Guy says:

      Well that was the original idea back in the 70’s (designed in the late 60’s) as part of the new M31 (now the A3290/M)
      A proposed third bridge goes back even further in time

      Back then this link road only stopped for 2 reasons
      1. WBC was against part of it
      2. The Horseshoe Bridge is a listed Brunel build, and they wanted to get rid of it

      Since then numerous suggestions have been made
      a. A tracked bus route (bit like a tram but they can drive on the road or down the track, a normal bus couldn’t use it
      b. A full vehicle road ……….again
      c. The above but a toll version
      d. A bus only route – about 3 times
      Its also why Tesco built down there as where led to believe it would be a bypass right by their front door!

      And obviously the last one has reared its head again

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi bigpod. I think the problem with an all-traffic route is the concern that the Reading Bridge roundabout wouldn’t cope causing queues right back to TVP, which would be a negative environmental impact on the riverside. The bus/bike link would be quiet and clean with a bus trundling through every couple of minutes.

      Like

    1. Maybe so ERG. But I don’t think they had the experience back then of dealing with modern volumes of traffic, or the modeling software.
      That roundabout is already pretty jammed up at peak. Imagine adding a major new flow from Napier Rd…

      Like

      1. East Reading Guy says:

        But………If you think about it, it will be the same flow of traffic that is already there after coming through CJ, along the A4 and round via Sidmouth / Queens / Watlington / Forbury and under the railway bridge

        Like

      2. True. But I’d guess the new lane of traffic coming inbound from Napier Rd would be fed from TVP/A3290 faster than it could empty out at Reading Bridge (at peak). So you’d get slow traffic along the new route so people would still use London Rd too.
        Conjecture on my part, but I really think outbound one-way would have been the only way to allow cars, because you’d have the potential output capacity at the TVP end.

        Like

  10. East Reading Guy says:

    I agree that would be a good compromise, a sort of ring road system with A4 inbound and this route out – but I still can’t see RBC relenting and having cars use it at all

    Like

  11. CJ says:

    I was for this proposal, in fact I sent a proposal to RBC for this a few years ago.

    However I have changed my mind.

    1. What Reading needs is a third bridge, a third bridge as proposed from Thames Valley Business Park to Henley Road/Caversham Park Road must be built at some point, and this would alleviate the majority of Reading’s traffic problems.

    2. The third bridge would make a MRT fairly meaningless, other than giving Tony Page and RBC’s Reading Buses a quick service, but even if a third bridge wasn’t built the capacity of the MRT car-park would make no little to Readings Traffic. But it would destroy one of the few peaceful and pretty places in East Reading.

    3. If a third bridge does get built at TVBP and this MRT gets built also, the peaceful Thames side walk is almost completely ruined with two new huge concrete bridges, rather than just one. Further on point 2. what is the point of having Brunels bridge as a listed historic site if it’s hidden from the current picturesque view from the Thames. Also the riverside walk would be ruined by an elevated road next to it. That would block the sun from the path. I did not think it would be that opposing

    4. Bracknell has almost completely been closed for the past few years as they developed the Lexicon, most people from Wokingham are going to switch to Bracknell once the Lexicon has been completed this year. Ever since Bracknell’s redevelopment I’ve noticed East Reading’s traffic has been worse at the weekends.

    5. There is an abandoned/derelict carpark at TVBP next to David Lloyd which could be used as a park and ride, and there is already a free Stewarts bus service from town to TVBP. This service is virtually empty during the day outside the business commute. A park and ride could immediately be set up if that land is not being kept for new tenants. If a MRT bridge was built it would slightly free up Reading Traffic, however most people would still prefer to go to town in their own car, especially if traffic was better. So you need to make P&R far cheaper than parking in the town to really make a difference.

    Like

    1. thanks for sharing your thoughts CJ. Lots of good points!

      re 1&2) I agree the 3rd Thames Bridge would be hugely beneficial, and I’m sure it could be good for South Oxfordshire too. But I think history has taught us not to hold our breath – we can’t just wait and wait.
      re 3) The artist’s view certainly emphasises shadows doesn’t it. And having now seen official documents showing more aesthetic designs for the bridge were discounted on cost grounds, I do agree it could look better. But if we accept we need to give a major boost to public transport then let’s focus efforts on pushing for better aesthetics – planting, screening etc.
      re 4) Agree Bracknell is impacting, but I think it will be sad if Woodley/Earley folk drive there to shop rather than taking a bus to Reading. We’re nearer after all, and we should be competing for the custom but bring those people in on public transport.
      re 5) Agreed on that TVP plot – no idea if anything’s planned. Personally, I’d rather see the office space focussed in town, with development sites in the like of TVP used for residential/leisure – but that’s another debate!

      Thank you again for your comments.

      Like

      1. East Reading Guy says:

        No there’s a contradiction

        If and I am saying if Early and Woodley buses used this route it would have 3 effects
        1. People wanting anything between Shepherds Hill and the TC would have to use ‘another’ bus / route so no real change or benefit
        2. The buses would ‘actually’ have travel further so no real gain…plus
        3. Once at the end of Napier Rd they would have to negotiate the heavy traffic (as stated being there now) all the way up into the town centre, again a circuitous route so adding more time on

        So, in effect a longer more time-consuming route whereas at present they can board a bus that travels near on uninterrupted all the way in via bus lanes, only hold up is the small stretch of A4, (if going that way) plus it drops directly at the Oracle /TC

        So where are the gains?

        It’s like the suggested ‘benefits’ on the presentation –
        They state the buses – 13, 14, 126-129, 850 would all use it – again ‘why’ as they all stop between Shepherds Hill and the TC and are used by many for the colleges / hospital etc.
        I know quite a few people East of Reading TC that use them to get to Maidenhead / High Wycombe etc. so again these routes would still have to be in use one way or another…so no change they can’t be lost

        It does’ make me wonder if an ‘actual’ survey of bus travel around this has been made….I doubt it!

        Then the ‘really’ stupid one…. a PnR at Coppid Beech? – now TBH, WhoTF would use that when going to Reading especially with other PnR’s nearer the town
        Most people in Bracknell / Wokingham etc. would just jump on the Lion to come in anyway

        The whole idea of PnR’s is to ‘drive’ to the outskirts of a town, then use them to park/get in/out cheaply / easily?

        Which shows RBC have no idea what they are talking about – it’s just another Pie in the Sky / Look What We have waste of money schemes!

        Hence my argument of a waste of time / money if just for buses

        Like

      2. I think you have a valid point about routes such as Woodley to the college. But a hybrid of express and via London Rd services could resolve that.

        At the Napier Rd western end, the plans include a short section of westbound bus lane so that the buses aren’t held up. There are already bus lanes under the railway, so the Woodley express buses should have easy passage to their existing town centre calling points around the Town Hall / Friar St area.

        I believe the Coppid Beech plan is for a big P&R site feeding both Reading and Bracknell centres. An express bus service (no stops) from there would be far faster than the Lion. But yes, I’m not sure why you’d drive to Coppid Beech but not be prepared to drive to Winnersh/TVP. I can only presume capacity, if they all prove popular, which is proving the case in Oxford.

        Like

  12. SG says:

    I’m in favour of this. As a long-term east Reading resident I’ve never understood the sensitivity around Kennetside/the horseshoe bridge which has never seemed to me to be a great beauty spot. Sending any sort of traffic via Napier Road and thereby mostly away from residential areas has got to be preferable to running everything through Cemetery Junction, which is one of the most populated parts of town. It is such an obvious missing link.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Reading General says:

    I agree with East Reading Guy on the nature of the bus services. This feels like the public transport being seen as the traffic problem and moved away from the population leaving the route free for cars, rather than an improvement of public transport. The routes provide access and have done for a long time. You could of course duplicate them with express routes but this means more buses attempting to navigate a town centre which already has too many buses and not enough stops or room anymore since the removal of the large rail station terminus. I always feel that the best approach to solve public transport problems is to address the access for people who live in the urban area first and then deal with those from further afield later, i.e improving and speeding up the current town bus services rather than park and ride or express services which don’t see a steady flow of passengers all day everyday. Building a bridge because you can is never going to be the answer to our problems, much like new bus lanes on the A33 Whitley bypass also badged as MRT will solve nothing. Both plans avoid the population and both plans will see minimal reductions in traffic. This could be another Reading Council transport plan which has no benefit to anybody who lives in the town. On a side note i still think the traffic would flow much better around Cemetery Junction if the section of A3290 was closed from Loddon Bridge to Sutton Seeds roundabout. Car Journey times would be longer but the traffic would flow better if only vehicles from Shepherd’s Hill used the short section of London Road between Sutton Seeds roundabout and Cemetery Junction. The Three Tuns cross roads may need some improvement and the Loddon Bridge roundabout could do with a real flyover rather than a fake one.
    Cheers

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks RG. I thought you might be with me on this one actually! Do you favour an all-traffic new route or no new route?
      And when you say it benefits nobody in the town, how are you defining ‘town’?! I think the plan is to benefit directly those traveling from further out, avoid too much of a direct impact on Newtown by limiting impact on riverside, whilst providing an indirect benefit to residents by promoting access and thus commercial vitality of the town centre.
      As for closing the A3290, I’d file that under not as wacky as it sounds but still a bit wacky! M4 to TVP traffic would clog up Woodley and/or St Barts Road, which would need a long phase thereby blocking London Rd and negating your intended benefit.
      As always, thank you for taking the time to read and respond to my ramblings!

      Like

  14. Reading General says:

    I’m not for building new roads as it never solves problems, however, if there must be a bridge across the Kennet mouth then i would rather it was an all traffic bypass for at least outbound traffic. The route through Cemetery Junction is a long established public transport corridor and one which between the Town Centre and Cemetery Junction has its own dedicated lanes in both directions much like a tram route would or could have. To improve the route for public transport through the short section of London Road that has become the problem would be what i would go for rather than creating more public transport corridors that bypass an existing one.The idea behind it is to serve as much as possible with one route be it bus or tram and demand is high for the dense population on either side of Cemetery Junction to have access to both the Town Centre and the suburbs. I still think the transport problem is how to move the population around the urban area instead of how to bring people in from outside.
    As for the A3290, perhaps if there was less opportunity to get there by car you could persuade the companies to move into town!! You know i would replace Thames Valley Park with housing given the opportunity as no public transport is going to stop people driving there unless you remove the car parking. Each person who begins to use any form of public transport and stops driving will be replaced by somebody else who previously didn’t have a parking space. We’re being held to ransom by an unsolvable problem………. unless……… we charge them.
    Cheers.
    Oh and by town i mean the borough

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good points. I think you’re right that some kind of workplace parking charge will eventually become the norm – we probably need a “stick” to accompany (and fund) the “carrot” of improved public transport.
      Regarding your comment “…the transport problem is how to move the population around the urban area instead of how to bring people in from outside.” I think this is where we need to acknowledge that the urban area includes Wokingham-administered suburbs. In fact the ONS includes the whole of Wokingham in with Reading as a defined urban area. I think that wider urban area benefits from faster access to the centre, on the condition that, as you rightly point out, those closer in also retain their access (or ideally see improvements too).

      Like

  15. Chris says:

    I’ve submitted my comments to the public consultation, which were that while I appreciate not allowing westbound general traffic on the new road for fear of inducing new trips into town, I cannot see why eastbound traffic is not being allowed. It would flush traffic out of town onto the A329(M) which has much more capacity, would improve air quality and the environment in Newtown, would greatly reduce journey times for traffic heading east, and would not encourage more people to drive into Reading.

    Like

    1. Outbound-only certainly seems like the strongest of the all-traffic options, for the reasons you state, and because it balances out the 2:1 in-bound provision on London Rd.
      But you say it wouldn’t attract new journeys into town. I think it still would. Take Sonning Common to the Bracknell business parks. Probably currently you’d use Sonning Bridge, but with your proposal you’d take Reading Bridge into town then the new road to the A3290 and onto Bracknell (or M4 destinations for that matter). So still not perfect.
      Thanks for sharing your views.

      Like

      1. Chris says:

        …which is why we also need the Third Bridge plus Caversham bypass to help stranded South Oxfordshire residents reach the economic heartlands of Berkshire! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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