What do plans for North East Cambridge mean for walking and cycling?

We’ve been through the plans for North East Cambridge to help you respond to the current consultation and prepared a short guide to help you reply to the 10 big questions. Our first blogpost tells you more about how to submit your comments – please make sure you have your say by Monday 5 October.

The very first sentence of the 296-page draft Area Action Plan for North East Cambridge, an area of development around Cambridge North station and the current site of the water treatment works, boasts that it is ‘just a 15 minute cycle ride from the city centre’. The plan’s vision is for an ‘inclusive, walkable, low-carbon new city district’. Planners frequently refer to a design for the area which makes walking and cycling the easy and natural choice, important for tackling climate change and improving health and wellbeing. So, is this vision likely to become a reality, what will it mean for surrounding areas and how should you respond to the consultation if you care about active travel?

Cycling and walking: the highlights
Street hierarchy for North East Cambridge showing the main cycling and walking routes in yellow

1) Key walking and cycling routes are being considered from the outset, not squeezed alongside a motor-dominated design or ignored altogether

This is important because if routes are clear, easy-to-use, safe and direct, people are more likely to use them. The new cycle infrastructure guidance from the government follows the core design principles from the Netherlands: networks and routes should be coherent, direct, safe, comfortable and attractive. It says “Cycle networks should be planned and designed to allow people to reach their day to day destinations easily, along routes that connect, are simple to navigate and are of a consistently high quality. Cycle routes should be at least as direct – and preferably more direct – than those available for private motor vehicles.”

The plans for North East Cambridge show clear, direct routes which link up with existing communities (e.g. there is a direct, traffic-free route all the way from Nuffield Road to Milton Country Park) supported by a secondary network of streets where walking and cycling is given priority over driving. The routes link up with the main shopping and community areas of the site and the three planned primary schools which have all been positioned away from main roads.


2) Street designs prioritise walking, cycling and community life

We know that street design is an important way to encourage more people to walk and cycle with safety concerns consistently being the top reason why people don’t cycle or cycle less often than they would like to. Providing separate infrastructure for people walking, cycling and using motor vehicles is important on main roads and, on residential streets, reducing numbers and speeds of motor vehicles is essential.

Street designs from Europe shown during the webinar on Walking, Cycling and Reducing Car Use by Greater Cambridge Shared Planning

Taking inspiration from streets in the Netherlands and other European countries, planners propose road layouts that encourage people to spend time outside, socialise with others in the community and choose walking and cycling for the majority of their journeys. All streets will have design speeds below 20mph. Primary streets will have 4m footways and a minimum of 2.5m segregated cycleways and people using these will have priority over vehicular traffic in the main carriageway at all times. Secondary streets will be designed more like ‘Woonerf’ or cycle streets, with space for residents to play and socialise. Apart from disabled parking and drop-off/delivery areas, all other cars will be stored away from the streets in dedicated ‘car barns’.

Proposed design for a primary street
Proposed design for a secondary street

3) The mixed-use nature of the development will support its goals to make cycling and walking easy and convenient

The government says that it wants ‘walking and cycling to be a normal part of everyday life, and the natural choices for shorter journeys such as going to school, college or work, travelling to the station, and for simple enjoyment’. This requires thoughtful land-use (such as that seen in the Netherlands) as well as dedicated cycling facilities, with mixed-use areas rather than separate zones for living and working. If your school, shop, doctor and workplace are within a 15-minute walk or cycle ride, you’re more likely not to drive to reach them. All car parking except for blue badge holders and deliveries will be in large car barns away from the main streets which will also discourage car use. Mixed-use areas (and buildings) also make areas feel more social and safe to travel through: office-only zones can feel unsafe at night and some residential-only areas can feel too isolated during the day.

A design vision for a new ‘local centre’ around Cowley Road including a school, green space, shops, housing and café
Cycling and walking: the issues
Shared-use path proposed for St John’s Innovation Park

1) Is it realistic to expect the dream to come to reality?

The bright graphics of the plan document show people of all ages and abilities walking, cycling and spending time outdoors, but they rely on several different developers to deliver them.

Trinity College, the landowners of the Science Park, have already rejected plans to integrate housing into the space and St John’s College, owners of St John’s Innovation Park near the Jane Coston bridge to Milton, released plans recently which include more car parking than envisaged for their area and some terrible walking and cycling facilities. Camcycle supports Cambridge Past, Present and Future’s recommendation to establish a locally-controlled body that would oversee all development and ensure that that the vision for the area can be properly realised.


2) More changes are needed to walking and cycling links to surrounding communities

Existing schemes such as the Chisholm Trail, Milton Road and Waterbeach Greenway are unlikely to be sufficient for the volume of journeys generated by a new area where 75% of journeys are anticipated to be by foot, cycle or public transport.

Many changes are needed to active travel routes around Cambridge Regional College – this awkward chicane at the guided busway crossing is just one small example

More improvements are needed to routes in surrounding areas such as Milton, Chesterton and King’s Hedges. For example, an alternative road route out from Chesterton Fen (perhaps in the location earmarked for a walking and cycling bridge over the railway) could make Fen Road a more pleasant route for people cycling and walking towards Riverside and the city centre and reduce traffic on the towpath. Improvements are also needed to the Jane Coston bridge and streets around it to enable more people to cycle to and from Milton. Improvements to the road junction and active travel routes around Cambridge Regional College could make this a more pleasant place to walk and cycle and reduce the speed of motor traffic in this residential area.

3) Are the plans really ambitious enough for a zero-carbon future?

The transport sector is the UK’s largest contributor to carbon emissions and it will be a challenge to achieve a modal shift in north Cambridge from a situation where 71% of trips are made by car to one where 75% of trips are made by walking, cycling or public transport (as mentioned in the plans). We already know that local authorities are failing to reach even modest targets to reduce carbon emissions from transport.

This development needs to be carbon-negative, with vast reductions in motor traffic achieved in the surrounding areas before anything is built to free up a carbon budget for construction. Plans need to be realistic about the lifestyle required by those who live in the site – car sharing and clubs should be the norm over car ownership with active travel infrastructure and good public transport services in place before anyone moves in. At the moment there is too much parking and too many jobs in relation to homes, which means large numbers of employees will be travelling into the site from a distance, many by car.

The Science Park remains dominated by business space

We encourage you to share your views on North East Cambridge by submitting comments on the consultation – the deadline is Monday 5 October. We’ve prepared some responses to help you answer the 10 big questions on the area’s vision – read and download it here. You can register online and paste content into the comments box in as little as 5 minutes but do add your own individual perspective too, if you have time.

Next week, we’ll be publishing another blogpost with our full response on all the individual policies for those who would like to respond in more detail.