Why has the bridge been closed to private motorised through-traffic?
The government has made it clear in statutory guidance that local authorities are expected “to make significant changes to their road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians. Such changes will help embed altered behaviours and demonstrate the positive effects of active travel.” (Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps, May 2020)
In response to the government’s instructions, the County Council has introduced the temporary closure to private motorised through-traffic on Mill Road bridge to facilitate social distancing and encourage walking and cycling. The County Council’s Statement of Reasons explains that:
“Preventing through traffic and prioritising bus movements will enhance safety by making it easier for cyclists and pedestrians to maintain at least a 2 metre separation whilst they conduct their business as well as minimising the threat of other vehicular traffic.”
Is Mill Road “closed”?
Mill Road is most definitely open. All shops, businesses, and residences remain fully accessible 24/7 to all forms of transport.
Why are changes necessary if Cambridge has a low rate of COVID-19 transmission?
We’re fortunate that so far Cambridge has avoided major breakouts of COVID-19: however, the pandemic is not yet over, and it is important that we remain vigilant and maintain safe spaces for residents including the many university students who are now returning to Cambridge.
The government’s guidance for these schemes is also about more than the short-term need to create space for physical distancing. Enabling more walking and cycling will help our community to be fitter and more resilient. Grant Shapps says: “Indications are that there is a significant link between COVID-19 recovery and fitness. Active travel can help us become more resilient.”
Are these schemes just temporary, or will they lead to more permanent change on Mill Road?
The primary focus of these changes is the emergency COVID-19 response. However, the government has also made it clear that these schemes are “a once in a generation opportunity to deliver a lasting transformative change in how we make short journeys in our towns and cities”. We’re pleased the council is taking this opportunity to trial and consult on something for Mill Road which could be so much safer and more attractive without a steady stream (or traffic jam) of polluting through-traffic.
What involvement did Camcycle have in the implementation of the current scheme?
Before the announcement that Mill Road would be a COVID-19 scheme we made representations to councillors and officers calling for a bus gate solution and we encouraged others to do so too.
Camcycle was not included in the process to select Mill Road as a COVID-19 scheme nor were we involved in the design. Despite our campaigning efforts, the selection of Mill Road and the choice to install a bus gate surprised us when it happened.
Does Camcycle agree with the layout of the current buildouts?
We believe the Mill Road scheme requires significant and urgent changes. The layout of the barriers is poor, and they are also very ugly. The signage is misleading and other changes to make the street more attractive and safe are missing.
We have consistently called for changes in the implementation. Our recommendations include:
- Better signage at each end of Mill Road, making it clear the street is open for business with full access to all properties. The use of “Road ahead closed” signs is particularly inappropriate and misleading. Some new signs have been installed more recently, however we still believe more encouraging promotional signage could be added.
- Informal signs like “Amazing shops this way ->” on the inner ring road.
- Increased cycle parking all along the street (on the roadway, not the pavement). Moving existing cycle parking off the pavement wherever possible.
- Without motor traffic using up all the roadspace, there is now parking space for shoppers who need to travel by car including short-stay car parking for shoppers.
- Marked delivery bays.
- Disabled car parking in safe locations.
- Improvements to access for those with disabilities or travelling by bus.
- Temporary bollards and enforcement to prevent pavement parking.
- Use of proper plastic disabled ramps, not shoddily-added bits of tarmac.
- Outside seating areas to provide space for customers of local food businesses in a safer way than indoor serving.
- Tree planters next to the pavement widenings.
Would a one-way system work instead of the bridge change?
We believe there would be considerable safety and accessibility issues with a one-way scheme. A one-way scheme would make it impossible to provide a comprehensive bus service for all potential trips to Mill Road.
What about cycle lanes instead?
Mill Road is not wide enough for safe cycle lanes in addition to through-traffic motor lanes.
Is Mill Road be the only place getting attention?
Mill Road is one of several locations of temporary, experimental schemes that have been installed including modal filters on Carlyle Road and Nightingale Avenue. Additional schemes are proposed for Cambridgeshire and will be seen in the coming weeks and months.
Does the change make Mill Road inaccessible for those with disabilities?
There have long been issues with accessibility on Mill Road. For many years, Camcycle has been publicly calling for improvements which would benefit those with a whole range of disabilities.
The pavements are narrow and uneven and often blocked by parked cars. The road is difficult to cross with heavy traffic and few crossings and dropped kerbs.
Improving the walking and cycling experience on Mill Road is also beneficial for disabled residents and shoppers who walk, cycle, wheel and use mobility scooters – particularly if further improvements are made. Reducing traffic has made it easier to cross Mill Road and its side roads, creating more pavement space will make it easier to walk and wheel and use mobility aids. If there is less traffic it is easier for able-bodied people to step safely onto the road to make room on pavements.
Overall, we think the Mill Road bus gate offers more benefits than disadvantages. Many disabled people need to use the bus. Improving bus journeys by speeding up bus times on Mill Road will support disabled bus users. Enabling others to choose active travel rather than using the bus will free up space on the bus for disabled users and users with other mobility issues.
What about ambulance access?
Ambulances can drive through the bus gate and will have full access to all of Mill Road. Reduced traffic should improve their travel time.
How can traders survive?
The COVID-19 crisis is having a huge impact on all businesses around the country and some simply will not survive. We have to do all we can to support our local businesses and we believe that for Mill Road this means doing everything possible to get local residents to visit their local shops by making the experience safe, pleasant and accessible. Across the country, the business areas that are thriving right now are those creating outdoor space for trading.
Are residents against it?
Like any transport change, there is a mixture of views. We’ve heard from local councillors that more residents are emailing in support of the scheme rather than opposing it. Many residents dislike the air pollution and hostile traffic environment that usually exists on Mill Road and this provides an opportunity for people to see what changes could be possible on Mill Road in the future.
Is Camcycle pushing for full pedestrianisation?
We have never suggested full pedestrianisation of Mill Road and do not think this is appropriate. Car, delivery and cycle access is still required. Our Mill Road vision from 2018 sets out the types of changes we have campaigned for over the last few years.
Is this undemocratic?
The change is a consultation in itself, both in practice and in legal terms. The change is subject to the long-standing ETRO (Experimental Traffic Regulation Order) mechanism, which the government has encouraged Local Authorities to use at present to back up other measures relating to the public health emergency.
The Mill Road scheme will be reviewed after six months and can be changed and/or extended for up to an additional 12 months.
These schemes need to be implemented rapidly in order to work. If anything, other schemes in Cambridgeshire have taken far too long to be implemented in order to meet the government’s guidance from May that states “Measures should be taken as swiftly as possible, and in any event within weeks, given the urgent need to change travel habits before the restart takes full effect.”
It is undemocratic that residents and people using Mill Road have been subjected to so much air pollution and road danger for so long with no action taken by local authorities to keep us safe. When were we consulted on allowing this much through-traffic along our local high street?
What about traffic displacement?
Mill Road is not designated as a strategic road, it is classed as a residential street and was never intended for thousands of vehicles driving through every day.
We should be aiming to reduce traffic everywhere in Cambridge now in response to the pandemic and in the future to reduce air pollution, climate change and road danger. To do this, we must make our roads safe for people walking and cycling and improve public transportation so that people have real alternatives to driving.
Initially, some traffic may be displaced onto strategic roads. However, traffic evaporation is a well-observed phenomenon. This is because people change their travel behaviour in response to changed circumstances. For instance, people in Romsey can now get a bus into town that doesn’t get stuck in traffic. More people appear to be cycling now on a safer Mill Road, something that many would not consider before. People may also change other behaviours, for example shopping locally on Mill Road rather than across town because the environment is now more enjoyable.
Can’t cyclists use the bridge near the station instead?
Some people have expressed concern about cycling on the station bridge as it is enclosed and does not have good ventilation. The bridge also doesn’t suit all journeys in the area, especially for people wanting to walk and cycle to shop and spend time on Mill Road. We should be encouraging more walking and cycling along Mill Road as local people walking and cycling are more likely to spend time and money.
Is this part of the agenda for long-term gentrification of the Mill Road area?
Camcycle has no position on growth and gentrification and this is certainly not something we advocate for. Walking and cycling are the two most accessible and affordable forms of transport and our objective is to make cycling safe for anyone who could choose this form of transport.
Has the Mill Road scheme caused some businesses to close?
We’ve seen misinformation about two local businesses closing due to the changes to Mill Road. This is not true. There have been plans to redevelop the bed centre for over three years and Kailash has been on the market for some time as the owners were already planning to retire.
What is an ETRO?
The government introduced emergency legislation on 23th May 2020 to make it easier for local authorities to introduce quickly “measures to reallocate road space to people walking and cycling, both to encourage active travel and to enable social distancing during restart”.
You can read the government’s guidance.
As stated, changes such as that on Mill Road require Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs). There are various types of TROs, of which one is Experimental.
“Experimental: these are used to trial schemes that may then be made permanent. Authorities must put in place monitoring arrangements, and carry out ongoing consultation once the measure is built. Although the initial implementation period can be quick, local residents and businesses should still be given an opportunity to comment on proposed changes, and the need for extra monitoring and consultation afterwards can make them a more onerous process overall. Schemes installed using experimental orders are subject to a requirement for ongoing consultation for 6 months once in place, with statutory consultees including bus operators, emergency services and freight industry representatives. This consultation allows a trial scheme to be adjusted in the light of experience and feedback, which can lead to a better scheme overall. Schemes should be monitored and evaluated to help make decisions as to whether the scheme should be made permanent, and if so in what form.”
As you can see, this very strongly matches exactly what the County Council has done.
Is the Mill Road bus gate ETRO legal?
We are aware that three members of the Traders’ Association have put out a statement on 12th December 2020 about the County Council’s use of an Experimental Traffic Regulation Order (ETRO), implying they might take legal action.
The emergency legislation noted in our FAQ above came into force on 23th May 2020, and specifically amends the legislation that the Traders’ Association have quoted.
A recent article the Cambridge Independent features a spokesperson for Cambridgeshire County Council, who says their legal team have checked this out “and believe that the order is effective and enforceable”.
We do not believe any legal challenges against the council’s ETRO would be successful. We believe the County Council has acted in good faith to follow the legislation and updated government guidance.
We comment as follows:
- The Statement of Reasons states not one but two purposes of the scheme: both to facilitate social distancing and also for “minimising the threat of other vehicular traffic”. This is clearly in line with government policy introduced this summer.
- There is a clear experimental purpose. The ETRO consists of a set of four documents. The formal Notice states clearly that “The Order will be implemented initially on an experimental basis for eighteen months” [our emphasis], and the purpose is clearly defined in the Statement of Reasons. It is in any case highly debatable whether the word “experimental” would need to be present, as this is clearly the case in the heading, namely that the TRO is an Experimental order.
- References to the Regulation 17(2)(a)(ii) of the Local Authorities’ Traffic Orders (Procedure) (England and Wales) Regulations 1996 about publishing of a notice in a newspaper are not relevant, as that regulation is currently amended by Regulation 27 of The Traffic Orders Procedure (Coronavirus) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020, which permits “such alternative arrangements as the authority considers appropriate […] such alternative publishing arrangements may include — online publication”. This has clearly taken place. The order has been well publicised and is online at cambridgeshire.gov.uk/etro. In any case, it cannot sensibly be argued that a reasonable person would have failed to have noticed that the change was happening.
- Monitoring arrangements are in place. A programme of data collection in relation to the closure of the bridge to through-traffic is underway. See GCP Joint Assembly agenda, 19th November 2020, page 30, and live data is also available openly from the Smart Cambridge
- Many changes around the country have been successfully introduced under ETROs, backed by government encouragement to do so, in the same way.
This statement does not constitute a formal legal opinion.