What is the most famous ancient belief that’s subsequently been disproved? A flat earth? Heat coming from caloric? The existence of aether? The earth as the centre of the universe? The guy who sculpted the Forbury Lion killed himself? Well, it turns out we have a new candidate to top them all: a third Reading bridge would increase traffic in South Oxfordshire. This long-standing principle has been central to opposition to the new crossing from the north bank for decades, but according to a new report it’s been sensationally disproved.
Credit to GetReading for unearthing this newly-released report on the “Strategic Outline Business Case” for a third Thames Bridge. The 67-page document has appeared on Wokingham Council’s website. It describes the different options that have been considered and simulated using a complex computer model. Three options were considered: (1) a two-lane bridge, i.e. one lane each direction, (2) the same two-lane bridge but with tolls, and (3) a four-lane bridge split between all-traffic and bus lanes.
Option (1) is deemed to provide by far the most benefit relative to its costs. GetReading leads with the finding that the toll option would provide the least benefit based on too many people being put off using the bridge by the toll. This is certainly a really interesting result from the data modelling. But perhaps they failed to read on to page 45, because this is where the big news lurks:
“The roads in South Oxfordshire crossed by the screenline shown in Figure 4-1 are predicted to carry less traffic across all options apart from the evening peak movement in Option 2”
So the preferred scheme – option one, a basic bridge for cars – would reduce the volume of traffic crossing the red line on the map above. Now, I actually put forward a case for why this might happen in my blog last year, where I speculated that Caversham residents (such as myself) might use the new bridge for quick access to the motorway network (I would!) to reach the midlands rather than meandering up to the M40 through South Oxfordshire. The report’s authors seem surprised by their results:
“The reduction may be due to longer distance traffic diverting away from the area”
They go on:
“Despite the overall reduction in traffic along the South Oxfordshire screenline, some roads forming the screenline are forecast to show a reduction in traffic whereas others show an increase… In absolute terms the differences are relatively low and range between -71 vehicles (B481 between A4130 and Rotherhithe Street, AM peak, Option 3, Southbound) and 34 vehicles (A4074 Red Lane between B471 and Icknield Rd, PM peak, Option 1, Eastbound).”
Then a win for Henley:
“The variations in traffic flows on South Oxfordshire roads are more noticeable in areas located closer to the New Crossing. The scheme is forecast to result in a reduction in traffic on the routes to, from and through Henley-on-Thames, particularly along the A4155 just south of the railway station reaching their highest in AM in Option 1 (-152 vehicles in the northbound direction and -128 vehicles in the southbound direction).”
And nothing doing in Sonning Common:
“The impact of the New Crossing on roads in Sonning Common is mixed with some routes are forecast to show an increase in traffic and with others to show a reduction in traffic. The changes vary across different options and time peaks… To provide an indication of the level of changes, AM Option 1 flow changes around Sonning Common are forecast to range between -17 and 60 vehicles and PM Option 1 flows changes range between -27 and 41 vehicles.”
“There is no evidence to suggest that the New Crossing may attract longer distance strategic movements from M40 and M4 to South Oxfordshire highway network.”
GetReading finishes with a “this thing ain’t over”-style quote from Oxfordshire’s leader. And it isn’t. The report also provides a cost estimate – £110 million. That’s going to take more work to secure, and apparently there isn’t even yet the funding in place to continue to work up the design for the scheme. Then there’s Oxfordshire remaining complaint – the fear of ensuing development north of the river. But clearly this report takes us a small but important step towards delivering a bridge that could benefit so many people. Today’s school children learn of the work of Copernicus disproving the Earth’s place at the centre of the universe, and now tomorrow’s can learn of the fine work of “WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff” in debunking the most long-standing local folklore.
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