Saturday 4 May 2013

A study of Cambridge

The image of the car as a 'perfect and irreplaceable' mode of transport is no longer valid. In practice a car does not fulfil all of our needs. A fairly large number of urban households do not have a car and, even if they do, not everybody within the household necessarily has direct access to it.

When viewed from the collective standpoint, the problems engendered by the thoughtless use of private cars are very serious. Cars are partly responsible for the misuse of urban space, consume enormous resources and are a burden on the environment. Cars constitute not only a threat to our historic heritage but they are also, above all, a health hazard. The cost of road accidents - both in human and economic terms - is coming down, but remains exorbitant, and is not readily acknowledged.

Catholic Church junction

An intrinsic feature of towns and cities is that they provide people with an unparalleled range of choices and possibilities, including a wide array of cultural, commercial, educational, service, social and political infrastructures and facilities. However, in order that the common interest be served, these need to be made accessible to as many different people as possible.

Sidney Street

It was once thought that the car would fulfil this requirement of accessibility. However, as things have turned out, the car’s success has had a boomerang effect. Millions of hours are now wasted in traffic jams. If our towns and cities are to be reclaimed and made more people-friendly, if more active travel is to be encouraged, a reduction in car use is necessary. Survey after survey has established beyond doubt that the majority of people recognise this.

Technical improvements have made modern bicycles efficient and convenient to use, and even if the bicycle is not regarded as the only solution to the traffic and environmental problems experienced in the built-up area, it represents a solution which fits in perfectly with any general policy that seeks to re-enhance the urban environment and improve the quality of life therein. Moreover, it requires comparatively not very much money to finance it.

As the Get Britain Cycling report makes clear: "Suitable road surfaces, arrangements at junctions, and interactions with other traffic are often about planning rather than cost."

* * *

The Get Britain Cycling report points out that in this country, cycle infrastructure is often added as something of an afterthought, and even when it is not, it tends to be installed piecemeal. A review of cycling in Horsham made the following telling observation: "Experience from many areas in the UK has shown that only a small number of schemes can be progressed at any one time for practical reasons, in particular financial restrictions."

I understand that this is how it is, but I do not regard this as any reason at all why the development of a meaningful cycling environment should not be approached holistically. We just need to think in terms of a network, and draw up our plans accordingly. This done, as Cycling: the way ahead explains, the network can then be "introduced" on the basis of such a plan (preliminary plan).

Thus: "All the installation measures which [do not require the public to be consulted (i.e. 'soft' measures)] may be applied without major risk of error or loss. Given their low cost, the small amount of extra work which they entail and the possibilities of corrections in the case of error, such measures may be adopted automatically."

The bottom line is that more highly-engineered changes to the cycling environment are best undertaken within the framework provided by a functioning cycle network. Such a network would also make conditions for cycling safer than they were before, if only just a little bit. To quote Cycling: the way ahead again, even if the impact of such measures is not massive, "it will be real."

* * *

Of all the cities in the UK, Cambridge is one of only a very few which has something like a functioning cycle network (pretty much). In the rest of this blog, I will attempt to show the extent to which this is the case.

The map below shows all of the east-west (red-coloured) routes which feature in my proposed design for a cycling network in Cambridge. (The sections marked in lilac can be ignored for the time being, since it might be some considerable time yet before they get to be developed.)

View Cambridge (ready now) - red in a larger map

Those bits which are marked in blue are thought not to be 'functional'. Before I examine the non-functioning parts in more detail, a quick word about the signing strategy itself. It is an established fact that colour-coding makes route planning easier, but of course, some people are blind to colour. Naturally, this map needs to be readable by as many different people as possible, and something else other than the colours is therefore needed to distinguish one route from the next.

Thus, each route is given a number, which is prefixed by a letter (to identify the colour). In this instance, routes are coded R1, R2, R3, and so on, working from top to bottom.

The R1 route shows a section of route at the Elizabeth Way / Chesterton Road roundabout which is marked as not functional.

Chesterton Road

In truth, the problem is more north-south than east-west, as we shall see, but even so, the east-west route incorporates one feature which I find most irksome, and which I would like now to share with you.

A lady on a Christiana trike waits at a toucan crossing after negotiating
her way through one set of barriers.

A mass of non-descript shrubbery before the tree on the left adds very little
to the streetscape and yet takes up valuable space.

Meanwhile cyclists and pedestrians are forced to squeeze through
a tiny gap.

"The worst enemies of the bicycle in urban areas," Cycling: the way ahead suggests, "are not cars, but longheld prejudices." I have absolutely no idea what purpose these barriers are intended to serve, but it seems to me that all they actually do is reinforce the worst ideas that people have of cycling and cyclists.

The R2 route passes through a major roundabout which is marked as not functional.

Newmarket Road

We'll look at this roundabout again later on, but for the moment, a few photos ...

Approaching the roundabout from the east.

The roundabout looms into view.

Heading towards the city centre.

Coming back the other way. Note that even though the traffic is quite
light, the lady cyclist still prefers to use the pavement.

Approaching the roundabout.

Turn left here to head east out of the city.

At the very eastern edge of the R3 route is a tiny section which is marked as non-functional. As the photos below show, there is a fairly narrow path, bordered on each side by a load of useless shrubs. The obligatory barriers have been installed, but no dropped kerb at either end.

Cyclists' tyre-tracks are clearly visible in this photo.

The path should be at least as wide as the gap between the trees.

View Cambridge (ready now) - orange in a larger map

In the case of the orange-coloured routes, there is just one section which has been identified as 'non-functioning', the Coldham's Lane / Barnwell Road / Brooks Road roundabout.

Heading south on Coldhams Lane, approaching the roundabout at the
junction with Barnwell Road / Brooks Road.

The route we are looking at here goes straight on. If we wanted to do the same, which would be the best way for us to continue our journey? Clockwise or anti-clockwise?

We'll try clockwise first.

Continuing around the roundabout (note the traffic island in the centre
of picture, and the shared-use path to the left).

There is a dropped kerb on that traffic island, but nothing to connect it
to the shared use path.

Relying entirely on the goodwill of the motorist, this is a big junction
to try and get across. An accident waiting to happen?

Let's see if our prospects are any better going anti-clockwise ...

A fairly narrow footpath, a verge and a cycle lane+ could be joined
together and converted into a decent shared-use path.

There are dropped kerbs in place to connect the shared-use path with the
traffic island.

Cyclists need to pass around the back of that bus-stop on the right.

An alternative layout ought to be possible here (otherwise I don't
know what to suggest).

More useless shrubbery.

Cambridge Cycling Campaign say: "The obvious solution at this location is to create two roundabouts, one inside the other. The inside roundabout would be for motorised vehicles. The outside roundabout would be for cyclists (and include paths usable by pedestrians). [...] The points where the cyclists and motorised vehicles meet would either need to be signalised, or provide priority to the bicycles."

There is one piece of high quality cycle infrastructure already in place, and that is a two-way cycle track which runs the length of Barnwell Road.

The two-way cycle track on Barnwell Road, near the top end, at the
junction with Rayson Way.
It is fairly certain that any north-south cycle traffic would use this cycle track, which means cyclists would approach the roundabout in question on the northern side of the road. After studying the lie of the land, I concluded that it may not be absolutely necessary to enable cycle traffic to go all the way around the roundabout, as per the Cambridge Cycling Campaign recommendation.

In the long-term, it might be possible to have a two-way cycle track on the southern side of Coldhams Lane, which would link up nicely with the cycle bridge further up (the one over the railway line).

Could a two-cycle track be installed on the left-hand side of this road?

Even without this, if only the highlighted sections were engineered, I think this junction could be made to function at a very reasonable level.

A two-way cycle track / shared-use path would need to be installed
along here if the need for cyclists to cross in front of the traffic entering
the roundabout from Barnwell Road is to be negated.

Moving on, there are, I believe, just two sections of route which are non-functioning amongst the light green-coloured routes.

The first section, in the north-east of the city, is a link from Garry Drive to the busway cycle path on the other side of the fence.

To the left of this van, the fence has been pushed down, presumably where
people have clambered across.

The second section, in the south-west of the city, is a link from Barton Road up to Gough Way.

This mud track is marked on the official cycle route map as a local route.

The highlighted sections (in this and subsequent maps) show where Cambridge's first on-road segregated cycle tracks are planned to go.

With the exception of a new bridge to be built over the River Cam (as part of the Science Park railway station project), the only non-functioning section amongst the dark green-coloured routes is, as far as I can tell,  the Coldham's Lane / Barnwell Road / Brooks Road roundabout we looked at just a short while ago.

View Cambridge (ready now) - dark blue in a larger map

Route DB1 shows a tiny section of route which is marked as non-functional. The idea is to connect the busway cycle track with this crossing of the A14.

A crossing underneath the A14.

From the point above, this track probably affords the best opportunity
to link up with the busway cycle track.

Route DB2 shows two sections which are marked as non-functional. The first is on Milton Road, but in truth this route could divert onto Cowley Road without diminishing it in any way. However, the official cycle route map shows a route which continues on Milton Road, and I have sought to code as much of the officially-sanctioned network as possible.

Heading south-west.

Heading north-east.

The big roundabout at the junction of Newmarket Road / Elizabeth Way / East Road is also incorporated into Route DB2.

Looking towards the roundabout from East Road.

Looking west, towards the city centre.

Looking back the other way.

Joining Elizabeth Way, northbound.

Heading south on Elizabeth Way. The lady cyclist is using the pavement
quite legally, by the way. On the other side of the road, two male
cyclists are evidently comfortable using the carriageway.

Route DB3 shows a section which is not functional. This bit is to be developed as part of the Science Park railway station project, and will not, therefore, be considered here.

Route DB4 incorporates the Coldham's Lane / Barnwell Road / Brooks Road roundabout, which we have previously considered in some depth.

On the western side of the roundabout, looking north to south.
Could a two-way cycle track be installed along here?

Amongst the light blue-coloured routes, there are three sections which are regarded as non-functional.

View Cambridge (ready now) - light blue in a larger map

The first is the roundabout at the junction of Chesterton Road and Elizabeth Way.

A lady cyclist heading north on Elizabeth Way is dwarfed by a
double-decker bus.

Where has this lady come from? And where is she going to? Unless it is
from Chesterton Road, and to the Cambridge Nursing Centre, she is going
the wrong way. As I have said before, in order to "optimise their journey",
people need to know the best way to get from A to B.

Whatever the problems at this roundabout, a lack of space certainly
is not one of them.

The second non-functioning section is the roundabout at the junction of Newmarket Road and Elizabeth Way. We have seen this roundabout twice before, firstly when looking at the red-coloured routes, and secondly when looking at the dark blue-coloured routes.

As I have previously indicated, I try to incorporate as many of the officially-approved routes as possible. In the case of the route we're about to look at, however, I think the authorities need to have a rethink.

The dark blue route is an officially-approved route, and the light blue route
is a proposed route

One blogger wrote at the beginning of this year, "I'm far from the only person who currently uses Devonshire Road - station car park - south busway as my commute." If that's the way some people prefer to go, it obviously needs looking at. But actually the main problem with the officially-approved route is that, whichever the direction of travel, it directs cyclists to use the pavement on the north side of Newmarket Road.

Cyclists are directed to use the pavement on the 
north side of Newmarket Road.

As the next couple of photos show, the pavement is very narrow at the point where the toucan crossing has been installed.

Looking back, the pavement does get wider, but at other times of the day one
can easily imagine that cyclists would be put into conflict with pedestrians.

The alternative is to approach Newmarket Road not from Abbey Street, but from Occupation Road.

An alternative route between Elizabeth Way / Abbey Road and the
railway station is available via the pedestrian underpass.

The entrance to the pedestrian underpass on Occupation Road.

180° view of the Elizabeth Way underpass.
Photo credit: Hal Blackburn

The western entrance to the pedestrian underpass on Elizabeth Way.
Photo credit: Hal Blackburn

The pedestrian underpass works quite well in both directions in the case of this light blue-coloured route (LB2). For the dark blue-coloured route (DB2) it works quite well in one direction (north-south) but not so well in the other, and for the red-coloured route (R2) it doesn't work very well in either direction.

Elizabeth Way / Newmarket Road roundabout showing routes DB2 and R2.

Even so, knowing which way to go when using this "underground labyrinth" would at least help to make these routes functional, and serve as an acceptable "interim" measure until such time as a more highly-engineered solution can be delivered - which might very well be several years away yet.

There is another section of light blue-coloured route which could be improved, perhaps.

The distance between the two routes is about 400 feet, which may not sound much, but as things currently stand, if you made this journey, back and forth, 200 times a year, you would end up riding an extra 30 miles each year!

There is a road on the other side of those trees.

There is a road on the other side of those trees.

Last but not least, the circular route looks to me to be functional in its entirety.

View Cambridge (ready now) - circular in a larger map


"Going Dutch" is not about putting in a few pieces of infrastructure. It's about civilising the entire experience of cycling for everyone.

Infrastructure is not an end in itself, but that doesn't mean that its importance should be underplayed. For a high level of cycling everywhere, there must be good quality infrastructure everywhere that there are cars. This is what makes cycling accessible to everyone.

Isolated bits and pieces don't work. The network is the infrastructure.

The foregoing was adapted from David Hembrow's latest blog, and it would be nice to think that when somebody with David's knowledge of mass cycling speaks with such clarity, that would be the end of the discussion. However, as Warren Buffett has noted, "What human beings are best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact."

Cambridge could have a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network within the next twelve months, and we have considered what they would need to do in order to bring this about.

View network map of cambridge (uncoded) in a larger map

"The key word," Steffen Rasmussen told the GLA's Investigation into Cycling, "is an holistic approach and then a separation of functions." In order that this second component can be delivered, sustained investment is required.

As the London Cycling Campaign's Go Dutch advocate explained: "You can't change everything at once, and it is important to realise how the Dutch got to where they are now. They started by doing the easy things, and that is what we will have to do in the UK. Then they kept working on it and improving things, little by little."

The main feature of my proposal is the improvement of cyclists' safety, based on the implementation of 'soft' measures in the short-term, and 'hard' measures in the medium-term.

The sorts of 'soft' measures I have in mind are encapsulated in this comment from another veteran campaigner, Sam Saunders of Bristol:

"Changes of a piecemeal kind, however well-designed, can add to our problems not reduce them. Bristol offers a highly visible warning about the confusion, frustration and downright bewilderment that can arise from idiosyncratic designs and an accumulation of unfinished or unsustained plans. It would take a long essay to spell this all out, but my point is that the development of a settled culture of city transport will depend on consistency, predictability and regular physical cues. Consciously wondering what rules or possibilities are likely in a given situation, while trying to find a route or deal with an immediate problem overloads the attention span, increases anxiety and increases errors – for all. "

Junction of Milton Road and Gilbert Road

Thus: "The best guarantees for finding intelligent solutions [...] include taking into account the experience of people who cycle on a daily basis, and the imagination and subtlety of analysis of those in charge of the projects. Only by studying a cycle route network, however, will it be possible to truly grasp the situation, [...] and to act in a targeted and highly efficient fashion." (Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities)

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