Demands for Highways England to explain A21 black spot
by Andy Tong | 14th August 2019
A FATHER whose daughter cycles to school in Tonbridge down the A21 has joined the voices calling for urgent action to be taken over an accident black spot.
A mysterious spate of crashes has seen cars go through the fence which divides the dual carriageway from the adjacent pedestrian and cycle path.
In the latest incident Subhash Pai, 38, from Tunbridge Wells was killed when his car skidded off the road and through the fence on the northbound carriageway at around 8am on July 27.
John Coupe has called for a crash barrier to be put in place along the section of road near Castle Hill.
His 14-year-old daughter uses the NMU [Not-Motorised User] route at least once a week to travel from Tunbridge Wells to Tonbridge Grammar School.
The civil engineer has also asked Highways England, who are responsible for the bypass, to look into the cause of the repeated crashes.
‘They said they would organise a meeting. They have been slow to sort it out’
The father of three is aware of at least eight accidents that have occurred along the same 200-metre stretch in the last nine months.
Mr Coupe told the Times: “I first became aware of the ‘black spot’ last October.
“I was driving past, and I saw a car had gone through the fence, across the cycle way and into the newly planted woodland beyond it.
“Since then I have started noting whenever another hole appears in the fence, or when there’s an area of fence that has been repaired recently.”
“As a member of Tunbridge Wells Bicycle Users Group, I’ve been raising the issue with Highways England since last Christmas,” he said.
“They said they would organise a meeting but they have been slow to sort it out.”
Fran Long, Chair of the Tonbridge Bicycle Users Group, has now secured a meeting with Peter Phillips, Route Sponsor at Highways England.
She will be joined by Tom Tugendhat, MP for Tonbridge & Malling, and the town’s representatives at Kent County Council, Richard Long and Michael Payne.
Mr Tugendhat wrote to Jim O’Sullivan, Highways England’s Chief Executive, asking for details of a survey of the NMU.
He said: “Clearly it’s important that this is resolved as soon as possible, and I understand that in May a road safety audit of the A21 NMU section took place.”
Highways England responded that they are about to undertake the final stage of the audit.
Meanwhile the original contractor has been commissioned to do some remedial work to the drainage in the area, which is currently in the process of being designed.
'the indications so far are that collisions have fallen since the improved road opened to traffic'
When asked about reasons for the accidents and ways to avoid them, Highways England issued a statement about Mr Pai.
It said: “This was a tragic accident and our thoughts are with the people affected.
“While it is too early to draw any conclusions into its causes we will co-operate fully with the investigating authorities.
“Improving safety on the A21 was a key aim of ours when we upgraded it to a dual carriageway in 2017, and early indications are that it is successfully reducing collisions. We are keeping its safety performance continually under review.”
It added: “We regularly assess all our major improvement schemes through post-opening project evaluations and road safety audits.
“It takes three years of data to draw statistically sound conclusions about safety but the indications so far are that collisions have fallen since the improved road opened to traffic.
“We have identified a section of the new A21 that can be susceptible to standing water on the carriageway after heavy rain.
“We have installed sandbags and extra signs at this location while we design and deliver any work that is needed.”
The NMU was a part of the £70million dualling of the A21 between Tonbridge and North Farm Industrial Estate, which opened two years ago.
There is a flood warning sign near the area but the road is on a slope. It is speculated that a large amount of rainwater could flow across the surface, causing ‘aqua-planing’ or loss of traction.
Mr Coupe, 53, said: “I suspect it’s something relating to the speed of cars on that stretch, going too fast for the road conditions.
“It seems to happen when there’s heavy rainfall. It may be related to drainage – that’s something they need to look at.
“But the short-term measure is to install barriers there. There’s millions of miles of them elsewhere on the road!”
Mrs Long said: “We don’t feel it’s the wrong idea to have an NMU there but we do need crash barriers. It seems extraordinary that people keep coming off there.”
Greg Clark, MP for Tunbridge Wells, said: "The recent spate of crashes at Castle Hill is of course extremely concerning.
"There is a new report by Highways England outlining their proposals to help improve safety along this stretch of the A21, particularly in wet weather.
"But I agree with the Tunbridge Wells Bicycle Users’ Group that users of the cycle path next to the road need better protection, and I will be pushing Highways England to act on this.”