Warning pedestrians could be killed near Rhubarb Bridge dismissed by council

Serious safety concerns raised by the contractors who worked on the controversial scheme to install pedestrian crossings near Rhubarb Bridge were dismissed by Peterborough City Council.

Monday, 1st June 2020, 8:57 am

Skanska has issued repeated warnings to Peterborough City Council that putting in signalised pedestrian crossings across the slip roads at the A47/A15 junction near Brotherhood Shopping Park could see multiple collisions every year, including ones which may be serious or fatal.

The contractors has “strongly” urged the council not to progress with the crossings but to instead focus only on repairing Rhubarb Bridge, which is regularly used by pedestrians and cyclists.

The firm emphatically re-iterated its previous serious warnings in its latest safety report which was produced after the council publicly declared that it would retain the bridge, but also proceed with the crossings as well.

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Works by the Rhubarb Bridge footpath

It said keeping the crossings would see “an increase in potentially high severity collisions,” and that “it is again strongly recommended that the at-grade crossing element of the scheme is NOT delivered”.

However, those concerns were rejected by the council which has also criticised Skanska’s work, despite the firm being its official highways partner.

The authority has also suggested that the contractors were ‘confused’ by what the finished scheme would look like when compiling its assessment.

In its official response to the safety audit the council - which has insisted that the crossings are safe - said pedestrians and cyclists felt ‘intimidated’ by using Rhubarb Bridge due to previous incidents of serious crime at the location - including robbery - and that it was not accessible for vulnerable residents.

The speed limit by the roundabout has also been reduced from 40mph to 30mph to reduce the risk of serious injury.

A council spokesperson said: “We are giving all pedestrians the ability to choose how they wish to cross this road.”

However, a spokesperson for the Save Rhubarb Bridge campaign group said it will “take injury or death” before the council listens to concerns that the crossings are unsafe.

Criticisms of the controversial scheme have raged since 2017 when the Conservative-run council announced it was planning to knock down Rhubarb Bridge - which was described as being ‘at the end of its life’ - to replace it with pedestrian (at-grade) crossings and an extra lane of traffic.

At the time the council said replacing the popular foot and cycle bridge would cost up to £30 million, money it does not have.

The authority later did a U-turn with leader Cllr John Holdich personally promising in December 2017 that the council would save the bridge, with a later assessment revealing that it could be repaired.

Those repairs have now been carried out but campaigners have been dismayed that the council has also progressed with the crossings despite fears of a risk to the people crossing the busy slip roads.

Those safety concerns have been raised on multiple occasions by Skanska which has stated that there could an average of one fatal or serious collision every two years at the busy junction.

The contractors has issued three safety audits into the £5.5 million scheme which have also warned of an increased risk of vehicles colliding due to a build-up of traffic.

The latest safety audit, which was only made public after a request from the Peterborough Telegraph, was submitted to the council in October 2018 - more than a fortnight after the council’s Cabinet had given the green light for Rhubarb Bridge to be repaired.

It stated: “Given that the major defects (at Rhubarb Bridge) will be addressed prior to the delivery of the at-grade crossings, it is unclear why the at-grade crossing element of the scheme is proceeding.”

It added that “mixing NMU (non-motorised users, i.e. pedestrians and cyclists) and high volume traffic flows will result in an increase in potentially high severity collisions,” and that “it is again strongly recommended that the at-grade crossing element of the scheme is NOT delivered”.

The contractor also pointed out the lack of recorded personal injury collisions at the roundabout in previous years.

However, in its response to the audit, the council criticised Skanska for using data from Transport for London to assess the risks of using the crossings - instead of data from other Peterborough roads where crossings are in place - and for not highlighting the dangers of using the bridge.

It said that the contractor’s recommendation to not install the crossings failed to present a “sufficiently balanced view”.

Commenting on the latest safety audit, a council spokesperson insisted that it had been written before the council had decided to retain Rhubarb Bridge.

However, they also claimed that Skanska may have been ‘confused’ as the contractors had admitted in its safety report that it was unsure what the final scheme would look like.

The spokesperson said: “The Stage Two Safety Audit was completed when it was proposed that the bridge would be replaced with pedestrian crossings only and the auditor’s comments are based on that proposal. Clearly, the scheme has changed in that the bridge has been repaired to supplement the new pedestrian crossings.

“The bridge, in itself, is not compliant with the Equality Act 2010 and so pedestrian crossings have always had to be a part of this scheme to allow some disabled and older people to cross. In addition, we know that some people would not feel safe to use the bridge at night for fear of crime and the pedestrian crossings offer them an alternative crossing point.

“The bridge is now repaired and strengthened and, having installed CCTV and the pedestrian crossings, we are giving all pedestrians the ability to choose how they wish to cross this road.

“In addition, the new roundabout design and interlinked traffic light systems will improve the flow of traffic around this key junction of the city, improving journey times for motorists.”

The Save Rhubarb Bridge campaign group said the crossings should only be used when repairs are being made to the bridge.

A spokesperson said: “We’ve been against the at-grade-crossings at Rhubarb Bridge from the start. They don’t make sense for traffic flow or the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.

“Yet again, the most recent independent safety audit warned the council of the risks to life. It’s shocking that the council ignored this advice when they made decisions about Rhubarb Bridge. It’s also a dereliction of duty that they hid the warnings from the public.

“We remain strongly opposed to the road-level crossings for pedestrians and cyclists. The scheme is inherently unsafe for those walking or cycling.”

Leader of the council’s Liberal Democrat group Cllr Nick Sandford said the report made clear the dangers posed by the crossings.

He added: “We have a council that is car obsessed. It’s obsessed that if a pot of funding is available it will go for it and will disregard the consequences.”

The traffic lights at the pedestrian crossing are currently in place but have yet to be switched on as the project stopped due to the coronavirus lockdown.

The council said a decision will be made soon when road projects will resume.

Waterproofing of the footbridge and completion of landscaping are due to take place in the summer.

The £5.5 million scheme received £3.85 million of funding from the Department for Transport.

The three Skanska safety audits

. As previously reported by the Peterborough Telegraph, Skanska issued a safety audit in December 2016 - before the decision to repair the bridge had been made - which highlighted 11 risks. The contractors suggested there could 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 busy 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.

. The second safety audit was published by Skanska in May 2017 which highlighted 15 risks. Again, this was before the council had decided to retain the bridge.

. The third safety audit was issued in October 2018. Below are some of the noticeable excerpts from the report and the council’s responses:

Skanska: ”Given that the major defects (at the footbridge) will be addressed prior to the delivery of the at-grade crossings, it is unclear why the at-grade crossing element of the scheme is proceeding.

“Mixing NMU (non-motorised users, e.g. pedestrians and cyclists) and high volume traffic flows will result in an increase in potentially high severity collisions.

“It is again strongly recommended that the at-grade crossing element of the scheme is NOT delivered.”

Council: “The council believes that as the report specifically recommends the retention of the elevated walkways/cycleways then it should consider safety issues relevant to the structures.

“The council believes that factors such as fear of intimidation, the prevalence of anti-social behaviour and the inconsistent coverage of CCTV cameras all contribute to users’ negative experience of the current walking/cycling route, especially during the hours of darkness.

“The council notes that while collision control data has been used to support the recommendation, no such consideration has been given to recorded anti-social behaviour, intimidation or physical assault or robbery on the elevated walkways/cycleways.

“The council contends that the current elevated walkways, with their long access ramps and steps, are not suitable for many vulnerable users including those with disabilities, wheelchair users, the very young, mothers with buggies and the elderly.”

Skaska: Using data from Transport for London - “You may expect the removal of the segregated facilities (Rhubarb Bridge) and replacement with eight at-grade crossings to result in 4.08 injury collisions per annum, including 0.64 KSI (fatal and serious) collisions per annum.”

Council: “If comparative analysis is to be considered, the council believes that control data for the Peterborough Unitary area should have been used rather than control data for the whole of Greater London: a significantly different demographic and traffic model.”

Timeline:

. April 2016 - Plans to demolish Rhubarb Bridge and replace it with crossings were part of the Peterborough Local Transport Plan which was approved by city councillors

. December 2016 - Skanska issues its first safety audit which warns that installing pedestrian crossings and not repairing or replacing Rhubarb Bridge could see four collisions a year involving pedestrians, including one every two years which could be serious or fatal

. January 2017 - The council’s latest budget proposals include £5.5 million to replace the bridge with pedestrian crossings

. February 2017 - Sustainable transport charity Sustrans said it had “real safety concerns over the plan” and that a replacement bridge should be installed. The council said the bridge was at ‘the end of its life’ and that the crossings would “help improve accessibility for all pedestrians and cycle users”.

. February 2017 - A technical assessment from Skanska - which was only revealed later in the year after a Freedom of Information request - stated that road crossings would be less safe for pedestrians and cyclists than using Rhubarb Bridge

. March 2017 - The council’s budget, including the money to replace Rhubarb Bridge with crossings, was approved

. May 2017 - Skanska produces its second safety audit which highlights 15 potential risks from the proposed scheme

. August 2017 - Full plans to demolish Rhubarb Bridge were unveiled. The council said the bridge would cost up to £30 million to be replaced which it could not afford to do.

. August 2017 - A petition to save the bridge received 1,800 signatures in half a day. The proposals were also soon called-in (formally challenged) by opposition councillors, although the call-in was later defeated

. October 2017 - The Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority agreed to spend £250,000 on a feasibility study for a new bridge

. October 2017 - A successful petition forced a debate at Full Council where it was agreed to set up a working group on Rhubarb Bridge

. December 2017 - Council leader Cllr John Holdich promised to either repair or replace Rhubarb Bridge following a big local campaign

. September 2018 - The council agreed to spend £1 million earmarked for demolishing the bridge to instead make repairs after the combined authority-funded report revealed that the bridge was in better overall condition than originally thought and could be repaired for a significant period of time

. October 2018 - Skanska’s latest safety audit repeated earlier warnings that the crossings posed a risk to pedestrians and motorists and “strongly recommended” that they were not introduced

. January 2019 - Works on the £5.5m scheme began

. March 2020 - The road project was completed, barring a few minor works which will be carried out in the summer of 2020

. April 2020 - The council revealed it was reducing the speed limit near the A47/A15 roundabout from 40mph to 30mph. This was due to the recent works. The new speed limits are expected to come into force during the summer