U-turn expected over ‘baffling’ road changes

U-turn expected over 'baffling' road changes
Controversial changes to the main road into Tonbridge

A new cycle lane is being introduced on Quarry Hill Road, which has resulted in the former dual carriageway being reduced to just one lane.

The changes, that began to be introduced just as children across Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge went back to school, have led to jams during morning and afternoon rush hour, with traffic backed up Quarry Hill Road, through Southborough and into St John’s Road in Tunbridge Wells.

The roundabout by Tonbridge Police Station has also been snarled up with traffic in the morning and evening.

The cycle lane changes are being implemented by Kent County Council [KCC] as part of the UK government’s ‘active travel fund’ that aims to encourage more walking and cycling in UK towns and cities in the wake of the Covid pandemic.

But as all active travel schemes have to be ‘shovel ready’ and implemented by mid-September, no consultation has taken place.

The first people in Tonbridge knew of the proposed changes was when a bay for a bus was moved to the outside lane of the dual carriageway– a change described as ‘baffling’ by some Tonbridge residents.

The cycle lane, which comes into effect next week along with the town wide 20mph limit, stretches all the way back to the border with Tunbridge Wells.

The dual carriageway on the A26 where it connects to the A21 has been reduced to a single lane – which means any cyclists on the lane will have to cross in front of traffic turning left to accelerate to 70mph as they head to the A21 – a change that has been described as ‘lethal’.

Now two county councillors for Tonbridge have told council officers they have until next week to prove these changes are working otherwise they must be scrapped.

Cllr Michael Payne, who is also Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport at KCC, said: “I have spoken with Kent Highways officers expressing my serious concerns about the layout of the works.

“I have set a deadline of September 21 for the trial to be shown to be working. If not, it can be removed, and the carriageway returned to its original condition by the end of the month. 

“I have been clear throughout that any scheme chosen by highways officers for the Government’s Emergency Active Travel Fund should stand on its own merits, with the support of the communities involved, if it is to have any chance of being successful.

“Furthermore, whilst such trials are intended to test facilities for cyclists and pedestrians, they should not disadvantage other road users, including public transport, at this difficult time.”

His Conservative colleague, Cllr Richard Long, added: “Like many I was concerned at the layout of the scheme. Michael and I have made it very clear that this does not enhance transport options in the south of Tonbridge, where congestion remains an issue. 

“Officers have apologised for the communication failures arising from the setting out of the construction works and since then more cones and traffic management will be placed on site.”

KCC say the scheme was implemented as borough councillors for Judd and Vauxhall wards in Tonbridge, as well as cycling lobby groups, have long campaigned for enhanced cycle paths along the stretch of road.

But Judd ward councillor for the Green Party, Mark Hood, said the scheme was not what they asked for and he fears the party ‘will get the blame’ for the ‘disastrous scheme’.

He told the Times: “We advocated putting both lanes on the east side to create an entirely off-road alternative which I believe is also the preferred option for Tonbridge Bicycle Users Group and Tunbridge Wells Bicycle Users Group, enabling young or inexperienced cyclists to travel between our towns in safety.

“We are also very worried about the impact these changes are going to have on the three roundabouts along this stretch of road which are all at or close to capacity and on the waiting times for traffic at Waterloo Road, Barden Road and Brook Street at peak periods.

“Our biggest concern though is where the cars accelerating to 70 mph will cut across the cycle lane to the A21. No parent would trust their child to cycle down there. It is lethal.”

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