A FIVE-DAY trial has begun to encourage more people to walk or cycle across Abingdon Bridge in a bid to 'turn an issue into an opportunity'.

Stonework to the eastern side of the northern arch of the bridge – which carries the A415 across the River Thames – became displaced in May, reducing the its strength.

Temporary traffic lights were installed by Oxfordshire County Council to enable vehicles up to 44 tonnes to continue to use the bridge safely by avoiding the weakened area.

But there were angry complaints by local people over regular delays on surrounding roads exacerbated by the lights.

Now, from next Monday to Friday, the temporary signals will be moved further apart to either end of Abingdon Bridge – near Thames Street in the north and the Rye Farm car park in the south – to create a dedicated space for ‘active travel’, particularly cyclists and pedestrians, over the bridge.

Councillor Tim Bearder, said: “We are trying to see if we can turn an issue into an opportunity by allowing cyclists and pedestrians more room on Abingdon Bridge while it is partially closed for urgent maintenance.

“During this week-long trial, we’ll keep a close eye on the effect these changes have on traffic in the town and, if it works, we will make them permanent for the duration of the repairs and possibly beyond.

“It is important that we try to positively embrace challenges and look at ways we can best use the road space to support sustainable active forms of transport wherever possible.”

Due to the delays caused by the traffic lights, it is hoped that more visitors to Abingdon will use the car parks in advance of the bridge, or even choose to cycle.

During the trial, the northern lane of the carriageway will be used exclusively by cyclists and pedestrians.

There is currently no dedicated cycling provision along Bridge Street.

The county council has asked for patience from drivers and bus passengers during this trial period as traffic signals will need to stay on red for slightly longer because of the increased distance between the two sets of lights.

Highways officers will monitor the situation and adjust the timing of the lights, if required, to minimise delays.

Work has still not started on the bridge and the county council has said it could be several months before work can start on repairing it and possibly more than a year before it is completed.

The complex nature of repairs on the historic bridge, which was built in the 15th century, and uncertainty over the availability of subcontractors with the specialist skills required, factors in the amount of time the work will take.