County council approves bold plan to help more people cycle and walk safely during the pandemic recovery

The Cambridgeshire County Council Highways and Transport Committee has just approved a county-wide initiative to test experimental schemes that make more space for walking and cycling, to help people stay healthy and safe as economic activity resumes during the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the course of the next four weeks, you will begin to see some major changes in roadways as space is reallocated in favour of active transport modes as well as outdoor shopping on high streets. The Department for Transport has issued both instructions and funding to councils to do this, in order to achieve a ‘green restart’ even while public transport capacity is severely cut. The timeline has been necessarily foreshortened, which unfortunately has meant much less time for preliminary consultation than anyone would have liked. However, the nature of experimental traffic schemes is that they can be tested and consulted while in place, and adjusted as necessary in order to ensure they have the best effect.

We express our gratitude to the council officers and councillors who worked very hard to gather ideas from many different stakeholders in order to come up with the current plan in the short period of time they were given. They have broadly arranged the proposals as a network of safe active travel routes that will help people replace public transport and car journeys, as much as possible, whether it be from home or the Park & Ride sites. The input that members of the public submitted via our Spaces to Breathe campaign was considered and in many cases incorporated into the overall set of schemes. We received nearly 200 suggestions via our online form and extra feedback from the 500 people who signed our open letter calling for decision-makers to take action. Thank you to everyone who submitted ideas and comments.

People living and working in the villages, towns and cities in Cambridgeshire will benefit from more space to spread out as they walk and cycle, safer streets for families to travel through and spend time in, better air quality to help people breathe and an opportunity for communities to come together and help each other while maintaining the safe distances required.

However, we still need your help!

First, we ask for patience while the officers work out the details, design the experiments, and put them into place. They will be consulting with emergency and essential service providers to ensure that the interventions do not disrupt those vital activities. Local knowledge from councillors and members of the public will be valuable for getting the details right. Once the schemes are in place, they will take a week or two to bed in, while people get used to them.

Protected cycle laneSecond, let your councillors know that you support road space reallocation. Some of the experiments may unavoidably cause some disruption. However, it would be disastrous to go back to the same old problems that we had before, with air pollution, grinding congestion and families afraid to let their children cycle to school because of road danger. Things are going to have to change, but that means habits are going to have to change too. There is going to be a vocal minority of people who don’t want that or don’t believe that. They have every right to their opinion, but you also have the right to yours. Councillors are listening and they are trying to navigate the currents and tides of the crisis just like everyone else. Write to your county and city councillors and let them know that you support the work that they are doing to make space for walking and cycling, to improve air quality and to enable social distancing. They will appreciate it.

Here’s a description of some of the changes being planned:

A road with planters meant to filter out motor traffic
Existing modal filter on Highworth Avenue

Modal filters (sometimes called point closures) are a type of road feature used to limit through-journeys along a street by a select category of motorised transport modes, while not impeding others. They offer an effective form of road space reallocation that works well on smaller streets. They maintain full access to properties via motorised vehicle, while removing motorised through traffic from a street. Then, the street becomes a quiet and safe place for people to spread out and walk with social-distancing, for families to cycle together and for residents to enjoy cleaner air. Modal filters can be designed in many different ways, and they can accommodate bus routes and emergency service response vehicles as needed. The only downside is that a few car journeys become slightly less convenient, but that seems to be a small price to pay for removing dangerous rat-running or even eliminating a stinking queue of cars waiting outside your home every day.

  • There are proposals for modal filters on: Arbury Road, Coldhams Lane, Grange Road, Luard Road, Milton Road (Mitcham’s Corner), Nightingale Avenue, Ely Road (Milton), St Neots Road (Hardwick), Town Bridge (Huntingdon), Quayside (St Ives) and numerous other potential sites in villages across the county.
A woman and a child cycling safely on a road lane that is protected by cones.
Pop-up protected cycle lane in Kingston (photo by John Street Dales)

Pop-up protected cycle lanes or pavements are feasible where carriageways are a bit wider or have parking bays that can be removed. Part of the carriageway is cordoned off using some form of barriers or cones, and then it is marked as a cycle lane or a wider pavement. Temporary ramps can be introduced to overcome kerbs. This pop-up space makes it easier for people to socially distance and offers protected routes that are suitable for all ages and abilities along busy roads.

  • There are proposals for pop-up lanes or widened pavements on: Bene’t Street, Bridge Street, East Road, Elizabeth Way Bridge, Madingley Road A1303 (Coton), Newmarket Road, Regent Street, Station Road, Barton Road A603 over M11 bridge (Barton), Station Road (Ely), Back Hill (Ely), Forehill (Ely), Post Street (Godmanchester), Castle Moat Road / Riverside Road (Huntingdon), Brampton Road (Huntingdon), Market Hill (St Ives), High Street (Ramsey) and at several dangerous and overly-wide roundabouts in the Cambridge area.
Children safely going to school on a street temporarily closed to motor traffic
A school street (photo by Playing Out)

Every school in Cambridgeshire will be offered a ‘school streets‘ programme, which allows the school staff to close roads in front of school gates during drop-off and pick-up times in order to create safe conditions for children as they enter or exit school. This fixes one of the big dangers to children as they go to or from school on foot or bike: parents who jostle their cars in front of the school gate without being mindful of other people.

Traffic signals will be reviewed in order to give more time and be more responsive to people walking and cycling. There are many clear-cut cases, such as Maids Causeway at Fair Street, Queens Road at Burrell’s Walk, Gonville Place at Gresham Road and Newmarket Road at Abbey Street, but let us know where you think there are more opportunities for this!

Frequently Asked Questions

Will I be able to drive my car wherever I need to go?

Yes, you will be able to drive your car wherever you need to go, however you might have to change your route in some cases. Be sure to follow road signs as you go. If it is an option, we always encourage people to consider walking or cycling for shorter journeys, and you should find that it is much safer and more pleasant to do so after these changes have gone in.

What about the needs of people with disabilities?

HandcyclistThe council has a duty under the Equality Act always to make reasonable accommodation to ensure that people with disabilities do not experience any disadvantage compared to able-bodied persons, and that will continue to remain true. We are confident that council officers will take care during the detailed design to ensure that blue badge parking spaces are maintained and that access to them is fully available. Furthermore, the design of temporary cycling and walking ‘pop-up’ schemes must be fully accessible to people of all abilities. ‘Three-quarters of disabled cyclists use their cycle as a mobility aid with the same proportion finding cycling easier than walking.’ It’s very important to us that these schemes will also enable more people to walk or cycle, especially people who use handcycles, tricycles, various types of cycles adapted for disability, or mobility scooters, and that people with partial sight can safely navigate the temporary changes.

Where is all the car traffic going to go?

Car journeys will largely take place on main roads, and ideally should use residential side streets only for access to properties. Decades of experience have shown that removing rat-runs and road space for cars leads to a reduction in car usage in those areas. This will also result in a reduction of pollution and an increase in active travel. Evidence from Waltham Forest in London shows that cycling and especially walking journeys increased substantially after car traffic was removed from residential streets. The public health benefits are enormous and  needed now more than ever during the pandemic, with a disease that appears to spread more readily in polluted air.

What about people who have no choice but to drive because they were forced out of Cambridge by high housing prices?

People will still be able to drive to where they need to go, however they may have to change their route in some cases. The proposals are integrating with the Park & Ride sites to offer ‘park and cycle’ alternatives to public transport, as well as connecting towns and villages within cycling distance of jobs and schools all over the county, not just in Cambridge.

We are in the midst of a crisis and if too many people switch to driving their car, then nobody will get anywhere because everyone will be stuck in congestion. Furthermore, many people simply cannot drive or cannot afford to drive, and they deserve to have safe and healthy transport options too. There’s not enough space on public transport. Therefore the council is asking everyone to do their part and work together to help each other and ensure that there remains enough space on public transport and the roads for those who have no other option.

If you are able to cycle or walk, please use those healthy modes of transport as much as you can. If you are interested in cycling, but worried about road danger, the council is going to be installing changes in roads over the course of the summer in order to make it safer for you to cycle.

What is a modal filter and what is a bus gate?

A set of planters in a road that prevents motorised through traffic from rat-running.
Temporary modal filter on Old Ford Road (photo by @bowbetter)

Modal filters are a type of road feature used to limit through-journeys along a street by a select category of motorised transport modes, while not impeding others. They are usually used to prevent private motorised traffic from rat-running down streets that should otherwise be calm, while still allowing motorised vehicular access to all properties along the street. A street that is protected from excessive motor traffic by a modal filter becomes a safe place for active travel and social distancing, usually at very low cost and with no other changes needed.

Modal filters can be designed in many different ways depending on the needs of the street and the community. Many of the temporary ones are being created with simple wooden planters. Other types have a set of bollards or gates that can be unlocked to allow emergency vehicles to pass through.

A short stretch of bus lane on Bridge Street
The bus gate on Bridge Street (source)

A bus gate is a type of modal filter that stops rat-running while still permitting buses, emergency vehicles and, in some cases, taxis to pass through it. For example, Cambridge city centre is protected by several bus gates, including ones on Bridge Street, Regent Street and Emmanuel Road. They used to have rising bollards, but those now have been replaced by what is, in essence, a very short length of bus lane that is guarded by a traffic enforcement camera. You can still drive to many locations in the city centre, but the bus gates prevent rat-running through the city centre.

What is an experimental scheme?

The county council may issue what is called an ‘experimental traffic regulation order‘ (ETRO) in order to test out ideas about road changes in the real world. This is a type of ‘traffic regulation order’, which is the formal way to change some rules about roads, such as the placement of yellow lines, parking bays and limitations on certain types of traffic. The council must announce the plans for an ETRO in public places and newspapers (digital or paper) seven days before installing the changes. Then they must commence a consultation period that lasts up to six months, gathering comments from the public about the scheme. At the end of the consultation, the council may choose to extend the experiment another year, but by then they must consider the evidence and public input received in order to make a decision about whether or not to keep the scheme.

I would like to cycle but I don’t have one / cannot afford one. Can you help?

If you are looking to buy a bike, please check out our webpage about bike shops currently open. If you are a key worker, please get in touch: there are shops holding bike donations to help you.

Is it safe to cycle during the pandemic?

Yes, it is an outdoor activity that allows easy social distancing and helps you get your daily physical activity that can help keep you healthy, as well. See our webpage about cycling and coronavirus.