Controversial Rhubarb Bridge scheme approved despite warning pedestrians could be killed
A controversial scheme to replace Rhubarb Bridge was given the go ahead despite warnings it could lead to pedestrians being killed.
Peterborough City Council approved a project to knock down the foot and cycle bridge and replace it with pedestrian crossings at the busy A47/A15 roundabout even though a safety audit just four months earlier had revealed significant concerns.
The review by Skanska warned the council it should expect four collisions a year involving pedestrians if the scheme went ahead, including one every two years which was fatal or serious.
Yet despite the warnings the council ploughed ahead with the £5.5 million scheme near Brotherhood Shopping Park, only to do a U-turn after a huge public backlash over the plans.
Instead, it has now decided to repair the bridge, although it has insisted on keeping the pedestrian crossings in place at the busy slip roads much to the anger of campaigners who are fearful they will result in casualties.
Council cabinet member Cllr Peter Hiller, who signed off the project, has consistently rejected the accusation and once stated that at a similar crossing at Bourges Boulevard - separating Bridge Street and Lower Bridge Street - nobody had been “ploughed into” from his memory.
The safety audit has only been revealed due to a Freedom of Information request. The council told the Peterborough Telegraph the scheme had been designed to be safe.
The Save Rhubarb Bridge Campaign, which formed after plans to demolish the bridge were announced, said: “This safety audit identifies serious risk to life posed by installing pedestrian crossings at Rhubarb Bridge. There is no doubt this should have been made public during the initial consultation to look at options for the scheme.
“But more importantly, it should have led Peterborough City Council to the clear conclusion not to install permanent pedestrian crossings.
“The safety audit is clear, there could be up to four collisions per year due to the pedestrian crossings at Rhubarb Bridge. Even if these estimated figures prove to be on the high side, even one accident is too many. We desperately hope this doesn’t happen, but if it does the council can’t say they haven’t been forewarned.”
The campaign added that the crossings were a “waste of money” and that it believed by installing them “the council is biding its time and will look to remove the bridge in the future, leaving local people at risk”.
It said trust in the council “has been damaged” with Rhubarb Bridge in “much better” condition than originally stated. It also described the authority’s original costings to replace the bridge as “hugely overinflated”.
The council had originally stated that the bridge was at the end of its life and would cost up to £30 million to replace - money it does not have due to a large deficit following government cuts to its funding.
However, a new survey commissioned in the face of a public backlash to remove Rhubarb revealed that the bridge could be repaired to keep it operational for another 10 years with money earmarked for its demolition instead used to carry out the works.
This is not the first time that the council has been accused of hiding safety risks associated with the pedestrian crossings.
In November 2017 the PT revealed how another report published earlier that year by Skanska had stated replacing Rhubarb Bridge with pedestrian crossings was less safe than keeping a bridge in place.
That report was also only revealed through a Freedom of Information request.
Skanska, which is undertaking the works at Rhubarb Bridge, carried out its first safety audit in September 2016 which highlighted 11 risks, the first being to pedestrians.
The audit said: “The proposal to remove the existing elevated footway/cycleways and provide at grade Toucan crossings will expose NMUs (non motorised users) to the increased risk of collisions with vehicles when travelling across the junction.” It said that “approach speeds (were) likely to be high”.
Skanska added that data from London for “light controlled crossings” suggested there would be four injury collisions a year if Rhubarb Bridge was knocked down and replaced by pedestrian crossings.
This included one fatal or serious collision every two years.
It also noted that there could be an “increased risk of high speed nose to tail collisions” due to vehicles having to stop at the crossings which would be placed across slip roads.
Further risks included pedestrians trying to cross the slip roads away from the crossings, and crashes on the roundabout itself, although the council said those risks have been mitigated against.
Moreover, the report said in the previous five years there had not been a single recorded collision involving a pedestrian at the busy junction, while one of the recommendations was to retain or replace Rhubarb Bridge.
However, despite the fatality warning, four months after the report was published the council revealed it was pushing ahead with the scheme - which included adding in extra lanes for motorists at the roundabout.
It was only after a large campaign that council leader Cllr John Holdich announced in December 2017 he would “guarantee” Rhubarb Bridge was either repaired or replaced.
But he also revealed that the pedestrian crossings would still be installed, much to the dismay of campaigners worrying about the safety risks.
A second safety audit was published by Skanska in May 2017 which highlighted 15 risks, although there were no figures for likely collisions involving pedestrians.
The council said it had either implemented all the recommendations in the report when completing the final design for the scheme or had proposed “suitable alternative mitigation measures”.
Works at Rhubarb Bridge began 12 months ago - they were halted in November due to Christmas shopping but are set to resume shortly and finish this winter.
A council spokesperson said: “The safety audits in question were published shortly before the decision was made to save Rhubarb Bridge. Since then we have found a way of saving the bridge so pedestrians and cyclists will in fact have more options than at present.
“People who want to cross Lincoln Road will now have the option of using either Rhubarb Bridge or the street level pedestrian crossings, which we know will be popular those with mobility issues who will find it more difficult to use the bridge.
“This means far less people will be using the pedestrian crossings than considered in the safety audits.”
Asked why the decision made to go ahead with the original scheme which would have seen the bridge demolished and not replaced, despite the risks to pedestrians which were highlighted in the safety audit, the council spokesperson said: “The council is facing significant budget pressures and cannot afford to build a new bridge. At the time of these safety audits the pedestrian crossings were considered to be the most economically viable option.
“In any case, the crossings proposed were designed to be safe through traffic signal control.”
Asked about the risk to pedestrians which were highlighted in the report, the spokesperson said Skanska had used control data collected from Transport for London pedestrian crossings, adding that this was a “significantly different demographic and transport model” to Peterborough.
She added: “Many different factors influence collisions and the council believes the full weight of causal factors cannot be adequately conveyed in a very basic calculation as presented in the audit report.
“This is a prediction - actual collision monitoring is undertaken during the Stage 4 Road Safety Audit process which takes place 12 and 36 months after the project has completed.”
Asked why the safety audits were never made public during the public consultation into the scheme, the spokesperson said: “We do not publish Road Safety Audit reports as these are technical and detailed specialist documents. However, they are used to guide designs to ensure they are as safe as possible, which has happened in this case.”
Asked if the council was being fully transparent, the spokesperson replied: “The council is not ‘hiding’ or withholding any information. When third parties have asked for information on road safety audits then this has been provided. Audits are a tool to aid safe design which has happened in this case.”
Responding to the council’s comments, the Campaign to Save Rhubarb Bridge said: “The Peterborough Cycle Forum did ask to see a stage one safety audit as soon as they knew the scheme was being designed, but it took an FOI (Freedom of Information) request to bring it to light.”
It added that there are “loads of videos of cars at Rhubarb jumping red lights and that the council “never had a replacement bridge fully costed so we’re not sure how they can assert they couldn’t afford it”.