Solution to Tonbridge's bus stop traffic jams? Put it back where it was before...
by Andy Tong | 10th October 2018
The most controversial issue with the High Street upgrade is set to be put right – by going back to the way it was before.
The bus stop outside Caffè Nero has become infamous for the way it holds up northbound traffic, causing jams that back up over the Vale Road roundabout and up past the railway station.
The improvements to the pavement led to the bus stop being situated in the road rather than in a layby, thus blocking the northbound carriageway.
After two and a half years of public complaints, Kent County Council’s [KCC] Highways department are now set to amend the design and build a new layby.
It will be placed close to where the old one used to be before the upgrade – and it will allow two-thirds of the bus to pull into the pavement area, allowing traffic to flow past more easily – which was how it was before the upgrade.
Richard Long, one of KCC’s two representatives in the town along with Michael Payne, told the Times: “Cllr Payne and I received a lot of comments from people who were not happy about the northbound carriageway.
“We have spent the last year and a half trying to persuade officers that it is possible to do something about it.
“I have seen plans that it may be possible to have a two-thirds bus layby.”
The High Street was partially closed for nine months up to May 2016 while the pavements were widened in a scheme that cost £2.65million, paid for the South East Local Enterprise Partnership.
Cllr Long recalled: “About three years ago the county council and borough council received a large sum of money to improve the High Street.
'We did spot that this was going to be a problem in the original plan'
“The two councils put their heads together and came up with the plans, and in many respects it has been a great improvement. But one bit didn’t work – the layby for the bus had disappeared.”
With the priority being to improve the experience of pedestrians, the emphasis was on the pavements and kerbs.
The works were done using stricter regulations. “The engineers had to follow the new rules for road building and get rid of the old stop because there has to be a minimum width of pavement, and you have to have a kerb,” said Cllr Long.
At a meeting of the two councils’ Joint Transportation Board, the engineers said they will now bring forward the plan for a two-thirds layby, which ‘should be enough to remove the obstacle’.
After relocating the bus stop further up the High Street from its previous location planners had thought there was enough distance to avoid traffic becoming clogged up in the feeder roads.
“We did spot that this was going to be a problem in the original plan but the officers said the stop was sufficiently far up the High Street not to be an issue,” said Cllr Long.
“Experience tells us otherwise. Now the new layby would be of a similar size and in a similar location to the original. Progress has been made.”
Cllr Long admitted: “I am unclear how they managed to find a way around the regulations. They are not black and white.
“The engineers have been extremely helpful but we have had to keep on asking.”
One of the bones of contention is the presence of a layby next to the offending bus stop – which cannot be used by buses because of public safety.
“The loading bay next to the bus stop doesn’t have a kerb and if buses pulled in, the elderly or very young people would have something of a leap to make,” explained Cllr Long.
A Tonbridge & Malling Green Party spokesperson commented: “The saga of the High Street bus stop moves to its next stage.
“If KCC had listened to our concerns at the outset they could have altered the layout on either side of the road and created extra room on the other carriageway, allowing the bus to stop entirely in a layby. But this is at least an improvement.”