Disability campaigners respond to Biggleswade transport hub plans

Below is Bedfordshire Rail Access Network’s written response following a meeting with Central Bedfordshire Council regarding the current plans for the bus station, which will form part of the Biggleswade transport interchange. You can find the full details of the plans here: Case Documents – Central Bedfordshire Council The documents take a little time to load.

“Firstly, thank you for being proactive and getting in touch with us. It is vital that the experience of people with disabilities is both listened to and acted upon at every stage of the process for transport projects like the Biggleswade Transport Interchange.

A frequent and accessible transport system, with seamless connections between different transport modes is vital, both to reduce social isolation in our surrounding villages, reduce our reliance on the car and meet the challenge of achieving net zero carbon emissions. We fully support the principles behind the scheme.

We also understand the limitations on the project due to space constraints in the area, namely the Network Rail boundary to the East, the current station forecourt to the North, and Station Road to the West.

The proposed site of the bus interchange, looking South, with the rail tracks on the left and Station Road on the right

However, we have a number of concerns which are listed below which need to be addressed before we can offer our full support to the scheme.

• We cannot support what are termed ‘informal crossings’ which are present in the current plans as the principles on which they are based do not take into account the ‘lived experience’ of visually impaired people.

• We discussed the guiding principles of shared space and informal crossings and we disagree that this has been a success in other areas. Again, while research in this area may provide statistics around the absence of injuries, this must not be seen in purely safety terms. To use the crossing safely, a visually impaired person has to endure long waiting periods before crossing the road, and then cannot be sure that the crossing is actually clear of cars. The safety statistics might look fine, but the actual, daily experience of visually impaired people using the crossings is in itself poor.

• To encourage a modal shift away from the car, transport hubs must safe as well as accessible. We were advised at the meeting that the bus interchange will not be staffed. While we acknowledge that both the rail and bus network in this area are run by private companies it is disappointing that this is regarded as a somewhat unconventional request. A staffed transport hub will provide numerous benefits to customers and encourage greater use. An unstaffed hub will also increase the impression that this hub is little more than a large bus stop.

• Having seen the plans and the artistic impressions, and while acknowledging the constraints of space previously mentioned, the bus interchange does have the look of a ‘glorified bus stop’. The plans indicate a solitary shelter, which looks like scant protection for bus users against wind and rain. Again, the lack of covered areas will dissuade people from using the hub and will present a far from welcoming feel to the area. We ask that a cantilever design is considered for additional shelters on the Eastern boundary of the bus interchange and in the area of the real time information hub.

• There is a height difference between the general level of the proposed bus station and that of the station forecourt. However, in the artistic impressions this gradient does not appear. We took a look at the area today and estimate the height difference is in the region of three to four feet. We would be grateful if you could advise how this will be resolved and provide evidence of the gradient of the slope.

• Finally, could you please provide further information about wheelchair access to the various platforms, particularly the island platform? The uncontrolled crossing, and presumably the ramp from the hub roadway, seems to arrive at about the same location as the bus’s passenger door would be loading/unloading. Apart from the congestion problems, this would appear to make the ramp very short and very steep. Also, can there be a ramp at both ends of the island platform, so as to avoid the perennial problem of wheelchair/pushchair users of having to go ‘the long way round and back’, when arriving from say, Saffron Road.

The location of the proposed bus station for the Biggleswade Transport Interchange

Once again we are supportive of the scheme, appreciate you getting in touch with us and acknowledge that some issues are beyond your control. However, we believe the current proposals do not provide the necessary infrastructure, both for people with visual impairments and the wider community. You will of course be aware that working within the regulations and recommendations in itself doesn’t necessarily provide a good experience for users.

This is a great opportunity to make this hub truly useful to the needs of the wider Biggleswade community. We are realistic and understand compromises have to be made, but the views of disabled people must be acted upon, not just seen as a tick-box exercise.

We look forward to continuing to work with you to get the best outcome for all. As requested we have not shared any plans, but as discussed on the phone, will be sharing our concerns when the application is in the public domain.”

Kind regards

Julian Vaughan
Fiona Carey
Paul Day
Natalie Doig

Bedfordshire Rail Access Network

25th March 2021

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