A vision for a cycling city

Presentation to the Greater Cambridge Partnership Citizens’ Assembly on Sunday 12 September 2019 by Camcycle’s Executive Director, Roxanne De Beaux

Roxanne from Camcycle speaking at the Citizens' AssemblyImagine if children could cycle to school. What would the traffic be like? Imagine if people could cycle to work. What might the traffic be like? We have an opportunity here to reduce congestion for everybody. Cycling benefits everyone, even if they don’t ride a bike.

There is a misconception that cycling is for the fit and the lycra-clad. But if you observe people in Cambridge, you’ll realise that that just isn’t true. Cycling is actually one of the most accessible and affordable forms of transport for the young, the old and the mobility-impaired. But to get these people cycling, you need the right kind of infrastructure.

Cycling is also an excellent companion for public transport. It makes train stations and travel hubs more accessible and viable. Cycling will reduce congestion which will allow buses to flow more freely. Not only that, but cycling will keep us physically and mentally healthy. Fewer cars mean cleaner air. Cycling-friendly streets are places to stop and linger. You can hear each other speak, you can breathe the air and, it turns out, you’ll spend more money in local shops as well. With less car parking available for the growing organisations in Cambridge, more staff are being encouraged to cycle. Until recently, we’ve seen car traffic remain fairly steady despite the growth we’ve had in Cambridge and that’s cycling, I think, that is absorbing that growth. We also see things like last-mile cycle logistics that are absorbing the increasing impact of deliveries from all our online shopping. It’s also faster and cheaper.

Increasing inclusive cycling for transport will require prioritisation and investment. Cycling cannot be an optional add-on to our ‘roads for cars’ schemes. We need to stop compromising cycling when difficult decisions need to be made. It needs to be part of our overall strategy and planned at the absolute top level. We need to be thinking about a cycling city.

So, what is it we need? Well, cycling infrastructure needs to be safe and separated from cars and from people walking. We must build a network with primary routes that are direct, attractive and efficient. We should be talking about maintaining flow, not encouraging speed. Think about the Greenways projects. Secondary routes need to provide those connecting sections that get you to your house. These can be created by reducing traffic on local streets. Think about things like strategic bollards that let people cycle and walk, but don’t let the cars through. However, a cycle route is only as good as its weakest link. If you’ve got one spot that’s really scary, you’re not going to do the rest of it. We need to think about junctions. We need to be bold and make our junctions consistently safer, with priority over side roads, sensible signals and safe and visible geometry. We should be looking to the Netherlands and examples such as Dutch roundabouts, which are safer for people walking, cycling and driving.

More people cycling means fewer people driving. Fewer people driving means more people can cycle. But if we free up capacity on our road network, we need to be aware that that might just get filled back up again by more people driving. That’s where demand management will be really important. We need to be looking at things like congestion charging.

We have this amazing opportunity and we need to make the most of it with the Greater Cambridge Partnership funding. Building a cycling city is probably the most effective transport option the GCP could pursue to realise their goal of shared prosperity and improved quality for life. Not everybody needs to cycle and we’re not asking you to. But for everyone that does cycle, everyone else will benefit. So, let’s look to the Netherlands as our benchmark, but also build on the cycling success we already have. The future doesn’t have to be about new technology. Maybe the answer – cycling – has been with us in Cambridge all along.