Following the recent opening of a major new road, the Eastern Gateway in South Wokingham town, Wokingham Borough Council is highlighting its many initiatives to tackle congestion.
By embracing the latest technology, which it explains further in a new video, the authority is taking every available step to keep the traffic on the roads moving and reduce the amount of time that motorists spend idling in queues or circling for a parking place.
Alongside this, it is making significant investments in enabling and promoting active, sustainable forms of transport like walking, cycling and using public transport.
These measures combined will help the council both improve air quality and honour its pledge to do all it can to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2030.
Stepping in when queues start building
The council’s new intelligent transport systems include smart traffic lights which can change signal timings based on how busy it gets, either on an automatic program or with the intervention of its highways team.
These are being rolled out at about 120 junctions and more than 50 of the busiest are already covered, so motorists should soon notice fewer delays.
The new lights include video cameras and electronic sensors which record the flow of passing traffic. Officers can manage heavy flows by varying how often the lights change between green and red from a virtual control room.
They can watch a live video feed and intervene during busy periods like the return to school after the summer holidays. Additionally, footage will provide useful evidence to support proposals like new speed limits, junction layouts or parking arrangements.
This cutting-edge technology has only previously been used in cities and bigger towns so the council is proud to be adopting it. It is also grateful to the Department for Transport, which provided £250,000 in funding.
A wide range of high-tech options
Dozens of push-button pedestrian crossings are now being replaced with newer ones triggered by sensors to avoid stopping traffic any longer than necessary.
The council is also working to set up variable electronic signs in the places where need is greatest, and these can be programmed to display messages like warnings about upcoming delays, explaining what’s causing disruption, suggesting alternative routes and indicating average journey times.
The authority has installed sensors at two car parks in Wokingham town, the Carnival multi-storey and Denmark Street, to provide live updates on available spaces and it plans to expand this. It will feed live traffic updates onto an app and carry out road improvements where this will make a difference.
Creating more opportunities to get active
The council is developing a network of greenways, which are traffic-free multi-user routes funded by developers building housing at its major developments in Shinfield Parish, the former Arborfield Garrison and North and South Wokingham. These would support cycling, skateboarding, scooting and rollerblading, as well as horse riding on some sections.
It is also building dedicated cycleways, segregated from motor traffic, including the shared route between east Woodley, Dinton Pastures, Loddon Bridge and Winnersh Triangle.
This project, which is now well under way, offers cyclists and pedestrians an alternative to the busy Bader Way and will be followed by others, subject to public consultation and funding from sources including the Government’s Active Travel Fund.
The greenways will connect the major developments and surrounding villages. The first from Arborfield to Finchampstead is complete, as is the initial phase of the second which will eventually stretch from Cantley Park in Wokingham town to Arborfield Cross and should finish in 2022.
The network includes the Loddon Long Distance Path from Swallowfield to Twyford via Shinfield, Earley and Woodley, which links to other routes at either end.
Promoting fun and healthy alternatives
The My Journey Wokingham team runs initiatives throughout the year to get children and adults travelling more actively.
It works with residents, schools and businesses to encourage walking, cycling and scooting and offers courses to spark interest among all residents, regardless of their level of experience. These include balance bike sessions for very young children, cycling classes and regular free bike checks.
The team stages schemes like Beat The Street, in which participants earn points based on mileage covered, and Love to Ride Wokingham’s Winter Wheelers cycling game.
The council is also working with bus operators on its bus service improvement plan to improve journey times, increase passenger numbers and encourage firms to adopt greener fleets.
Increasing capacity to meet growing demand
To offset the impact of proposed new housing, the authority is set to invest £250 million in major new roads over the 2010-2026 period and has invested more than £40 million in major highways projects over the 2020/21 and 2021/22 financial years alone.
Its strategic approach to building communities allows it to secure funding from developers as well as about £30 million in grants from the Department for Transport and Thames Valley Berkshire Local Enterprise Partnership, among others.
Recent successes include the Observer Way relief road at Arborfield Cross, which has a cycleway along its length as well as a “green” bridge for foot, cycle and horse traffic with additional measures to help wildlife cross.
This initiative, and the research behind it, won an award from the Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA) for its positive impact on biodiversity.
Other schemes include the widening of Barkham Bridge and the Winnersh Relief Road, both of which opened last year, while the extension of Nine Mile Ride on the Arborfield major development and the North Wokingham Distributor Road are almost complete.
Work has also started on the South Wokingham Distributor Road, which will link the Montague Park development with planned new homes to the west via a new bridge over the railway with a wide footway and cycle path.
The new Eastern Gateway is the latest phase of this, following the construction of William Heelas Way in Montague Park, and work will continue as new housing schemes progress.
Joined-up thinking on repairs and maintenance
Although they can cause frustrating delays, roadworks may be needed for a variety of reasons. These are mostly carried out by other companies like utility providers and not the council, but it operates a permit scheme to minimise disruption.
Every application is checked for time frames and the type of traffic management needed, such as temporary lights or road closures, and its highways team will always insist on the least disruptive option.
If a road has recently been resurfaced, they will only allow it to be dug up again if a home or business needs to be supplied with utilities like electricity, gas, water or telecoms services, or if emergency works are required.
Where possible, the council times its own road works to coincide with others to minimise the need for closures. Residents can also stay up to date by subscribing to the council's regular Traffic and Travel email newsletter.
Keeping people moving while protecting the environment
All these measures will improve air quality, reduce delays and make travel times easier to predict. Businesses will also benefit as traffic jams can block access to premises, so making town and village centres more accessible will encourage footfall.
Cllr Pauline Jorgensen, executive member for highways and transport, said: “Although we’re expanding our road network to serve new housing, we still have to make the best use of existing capacity.
“We realise congestion is a nuisance for residents and businesses alike and has an adverse impact, both through the delays it causes and subsequent loss of footfall as well as the health effects of air pollution.
“We’re determined to address this by making residents’ journeys smarter through technology and warning road users about anything which might affect them. By keeping people informed, it will reduce frustration.
“These investments, along with substantial improvements to more active and sustainable forms of transport, represent major steps in keeping our borough moving and making it a cleaner, greener place to live.
“Whether you’re driving to work, visiting friends and family or heading off on a leisure trip, we’re taking every step to get you there as fast as we can.”
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