Back in 2013, we published a report Fixing the Link in partnership with Abellio, who operate the Greater Anglia rail franchise. The study looked at the opportunities to improve linkages for walking between railway stations and the towns they serve, based on the experience in the Netherlands where Abellio’s parent company (NS) is based. Three years on, we were back in Colchester, to see how Fixing the Link is working in practice.
Colchester's elephants lead the way
The report looked at three stations, Ely, Ipswich and Colchester, and rated their links based on liveliness, human scale, legibility (the ease with which you can find the route) and safety & comfort.
Colchester Borough Council responded to the challenge, and working in partnership with Abellio, Essex County Council, Colchester in Bloom and others, has developed a wayfinding scheme to provide a clear and easy to follow trail for pedestrians between the station and the city centre.
We took part in the launch of the scheme in March 2016, walking the route to see how things have changed for the better.
One of the key findings of our report was that signage at Colchester station was poor: "The score on legibility is poor. Within the station there are no signs indicating which of the two exits is best for the town centre and information outside the station is also hard to find." Now on arrival, passengers are greeted with clear signs that show the direction and walking time to reach the town and can be followed all the way to its historic centre.
Colchester has adopted a bright yellow colour, which proved highly visible even on the rainy day of our visit, and an elephant logo, drawing on the town’s Roman history. A large elephant sign – already becoming a local landmark – welcomes visitors, and it was here the route was launched with the Mayor of Colchester cutting the ribbon.
Leaving the station, pedestrians have to cross two major roads (A134 and A133) with multiple junctions and roundabouts before reaching the edge of the centre, with the best route far from clear. Fixing the Link cannot address the long-term problems of noise and pollution but it has made this unpromising route easier to navigate. Bright yellow banners signpost the way, and attractive new planting softens the setting alongside the ring road, maintained by members of Colchester in Bloom.
The banners provide a useful countdown for pedestrians in both directions, indicating the average minutes to walk from station to the town centre. The elephant design is repeated on the pavement plaques that highlight local history along the route, including, appropriately for this project, the Railway Mission and Colchester’s Dutch Quarter.
The Fixing the Link approach is about more than signs: the aim is to create a positive environment around the route. Shop fronts on North Station Road are being cleaned up, period buildings on the riverside are being restored and the renovated Victoria Inn has been named Colchester and North East Essex CAMRA Pub of the Year 2016.
The route continues up historic North Hill to the High Street, where two more elephant signs mark arrival at the centre. After a visit to Colchester Castle, we made the return trip to the station – an easy walk to follow with the new signs, and one that is evidently well-used.
Fixing the Link is one part of a wider sustainable transport strategy for Colchester, which also has bicycle parking at the station, a Park & Ride scheme, and electronic countdowns at bus stops.
Colchester has been a success thanks to strong partnership working between Abellio and the local authorities. Abellio has plans to fix the link at more stations: Colchester Borough Council has set a good example for others to follow.
Fixing the Link update: Ely
There are hire bikes available and new signs pointing to the town centre, but more work needs to be done to improve the very poor pedestrian access to the station.
Fixing the Link update: Ipswich
Walking routes to town have been improved by replacing pedestrian underpasses with pelican crossings and a new zebra crossing. There are nicely-designed maps along the way too.
- Read our report, Fixing the Link.