Cyclists to replace buses on congested A26 route

    Mixed reactions to the news that the notorious stretch of A26 through Southborough is to switch the use of the bus lane into a route for cyclists.

    As well as forcing buses into the densely congested half-mile stretch, Kent County Council’s (KCC) and Tunbridge Wells Borough Council’s (TWBC) plans will also impose a 20mph speed limit between Pennington Road and Holden Park Road.

    Mandatory cycle lanes will be introduced in both directions. This means vehicles cannot drive or park in the lane, which is marked by a solid line. This restriction will apply 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

    Planning documents from the KCC state: “Due to the volume of traffic much of the route is a designated Air Quality Management Area. A solution is therefore, required to encourage more cycling use along the route which would contribute towards congestion relief, improvements in air quality and health.”

    However, the plans have raised concerns for some local businesses, who argue that the state of traffic on the road alongside Southborough Common has already hindered their trade.

    Shannon Russell, Assistant Manager at the Hand and Sceptre, described the proposal as ‘very silly’, adding: “We have already had one of our breakfast clubs cancel because it takes them too long to get here. If congestion gets worse, that could have a negative effect on our business.”

    Noting that it already takes her more than ten minutes to get through the short stretch of road, she said: “It’s surprising they are changing it to a cycle lane when there are not many cyclists round here. If they made it another lane for motorists I think that would be much better.”

    Department of Transport figures from 2014 do show that 0.5 per cent of daily traffic on the A26 is from bicycles, in comparison to 85.7 per cent from cars – an imbalance that the KCC, in conjunction with the borough council, are wishing to address through cycling-promoting measures, such as these.

    Concerns have also been raised on behalf of bus users. Cllr Diane Hill, who represents Southborough and High Brooms at the borough council, said: “A lot of people use the services and it is going to be much worse for them if they are stuck in congestion. I’m not sure it is a good idea to get rid of the bus lane.”

    Nonetheless, Cllr David Elliot, who represents Southborough North at Town Hall and is a cyclist himself, is less convinced of the impact on traffic. He said: “I don’t think it will make much difference [for motorists]. It’s a really difficult issue. We are trying to encourage cycle use and make the road safe but obviously the road is already really busy.”

    Speed-limit pressure group, 20s Plenty for Tunbridge Wells, welcomed the proposals. Spokesman Tom Swarbrigg said: “This half mile stretch of road has suffered dozens of crashes in recent years, including one fatality and four serious injuries in the past five years and cyclists regularly report near-misses.

    “As well as increasing cycling and walking, wide-area 20mph speed limits reduce road casualties, improve air quality and increase levels of cycling and walking.”

    He went on to call for 20mph zones in ‘all built-up streets in Tunbridge Wells’.

    Public consultation on the raft of changes, which also include enhancements to the cycle lane on the A26 all the way to Brook Street, Tonbridge, are open until Sunday, December 18. A consultation event will be held on November 28 at Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys, between 5pm and 8pm.

    Subject to funding it is hoped that the proposals will be implemented during the 2017/18 financial year.

    • For details of all the proposed changes, see: www.kent.gov.uk/a26cycleroute