Waterbeach New Town needs a street network to encourage active travel

This article was published in 2018, in Magazine 141.

The SPD should adopt ideas outlined by Waterbeach Cycling Campaign Images: South Cambridgeshire District Council
Image as described adjacent

Waterbeach New Town is a great opportunity to realise a world-class development with sustainable transport integrated from the beginning. However, contrary to policy TI/2, the currently proposed Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) will not achieve that goal and instead is in severe danger of repeating the same old mistakes found in many other existing developments. The main problem is that the SPD has drawn a street network that encourages people to drive, even for short trips, by making it direct to drive and easy to park cars. This will result in much more congestion, pollution and road injury – problems that could be greatly reduced with careful design from the start. This is the time to fix those problems, because once the street network is designed it will be nearly impossible to change and the choices made will affect many generations of residents and visitors to come. The SPD is an important document because, once approved, it determines how subsequent planning applications are designed and integrated into a coherent new town.

The street network provides direct routes for car travel, which means that cars will become the preferred mode of transport within the development, spreading pollution and traffic danger throughout the site. Instead, we propose a design that prevents car through-traffic inside the site, ensuring that car trips must go out and around the edge of the development. Walking and cycling routes for local trips should always be shorter and more convenient than the equivalent journey by car. We urge the use of Houten (in the Netherlands; see page 31) as a model for local transport, as well as the similar ideas outlined by the Waterbeach Cycling Campaign.

The SPD includes two measures on page 88 that would increase car capacity at junctions and along the A10, but misleadingly refers to them as measures for enabling an ‘active travel’ mode shift. These two car-capacity increasing measures do not belong in a section devoted to improving active travel.

In general the SPD proposes several good principles that we support: ‘A user hierarchy that prioritises sustainable modes of travel’, ‘Create walkable neighbourhoods’, ‘Create an environment for cycling’, and ‘Provide access to high quality public transport facilities’. However, the structure of the SPD means that ‘principles’ are weaker than ‘fixes’ and therefore we are concerned that these good principles will be dropped whenever it is convenient to do so. Therefore we recommend that all these principles instead become fixes.

The development of improved or new walking and cycling links between Waterbeach and Cambridge has a vague trigger, and furthermore, it is not clear from the SPD when the strategic walking and cycling network for the development will be built. It must be absolutely crystal clear that the walking and cycling infrastructure within the site, as well as the active travel links to surrounding villages and Cambridge, are to be completed and ready for use prior to occupation of any dwellings.

The SPD states that ‘[a]ll pedestrian and cycle routes will be direct, safe, continuous and attractive’. We support this statement, however it is missing the important aspect of social safety and personal security. Therefore we propose to expand that statement to include all of ‘direct, safe, continuous, attractive and with elements that design-out crime and enhance personal security, such as strong natural surveillance, nearby active uses and buildings that face the route’.

The ‘Land Use Budget’ is supposed to estimate at a high level how much land is used by each piece of infrastructure or property, but it fails to account for off-road walking and cycling routes. It must include entries for footpaths and cycle routes that are separate from the streets, using ample and flexible widths for rights-of-way that include sufficient space for good verges, proper landscaping, and important safety measures such as visibility splays on either side of cycle routes. We recommend that a prototypical 10-metre width be assumed for high-quality off-street cycle route corridors, including green verges. This can accommodate a template such as: a 3-metre bidirectional cycleway, a 2-metre separate footway, and the remaining 5 metres split between two verges, each capable of supporting tree planting or bridleways and providing space for visibility splays and an environment that feels safe.

The monitoring and review section does not include any ‘measurable outputs’ about active travel mode share. We believe that it is reasonable for the development to seek to achieve for short-to-medium distance trips at least a 50% share for active travel modes, and in the longer run strive to achieve 70% active travel mode share for short-to-medium distance trips.

Under ‘Strategic walking and cycling connections’ it lists many options for walking and cycling links to surrounding villages and Cambridge. It also says that ‘routes should be designed to be attractive, long-distance and largely off-road cycle routes’. We support all of these options and would go further and say that these routes are not optional; they should all be built. The SPD also needs to clarify what ‘off-road’ and ‘long-distance’ mean here in terms of cycle routes. The design of the routes must include the following attribute: ‘routes will be designed for all-year and all-weather use by ordinary cycles ridden in normal street clothing’ and an ‘annual maintenance programme will be put in place to ensure that the routes are kept well, cleared of overgrowth, and arrangements are made to clear snow and ice during the winter on strategic routes’.

The SPD should adopt ideas outlined by Waterbeach Cycling Campaign Images: South Cambridgeshire District Council
Image as described adjacent

Primary schools are shown in locations too close to primary streets, which exposes children to danger from pollution and road injury, as well as instigating anti-social driving and parking problems at the school gate caused by parents jockeying to make the school run in cars. Instead, primary schools should be placed as far as possible from streets, with a suggested 100m buffer away from any public roads, similar to Houten. There should be no parking adjacent to the school for parents, aside from a small number of blue badge spaces. Some parking bays within a 5-10 minute walk radius would allow some car drop-offs to be made while ensuring that the front of the school gate remains clean and clear, and would provide parents and kids the opportunity for a short and peaceful walk before starting their day. Instead of being near roads, primary schools should be near safe, off-road walking and cycling routes and provided with large amounts of cycle parking.

There are no standards specified for cycle parking at home and very little is specified for cycle parking in general, except that ‘there will be cycle parking’ at the railway station and local centres. South Cambridgeshire does not have a cycle parking guide at present. Therefore the SPD should specify explicitly that developments conforming to the SPD, in addition to the South Cambridgeshire Local Plan, must follow the guidance specified in the Cambridge Cycle Parking Guide for New Residential Developments or any document that supersedes the current Cycle Parking Guide. This guidance includes the dimensional requirements for the installation of secure and covered cycle parking stands as well as the proportions of cycle parking required for different types of development.

There are no standards in the SPD to ensure that the design and construction of cycleways is suitable and of high-quality. We recommend that the SPD should adopt the principles for cycle traffic laid out by (a) the textbook published by Professor John Parkin, ‘Designing for Cycle Traffic’, ICE publishing (2018) or any newer editions; (b) the Highways England policy document ‘Interim Advice Note 195/16’ or any newer revisions; and (c) for indicative advice about best practice in the Netherlands, the textbook published by CROW, ‘Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic’.

The car parks on the southern edge of the new town (one at the town centre and one at the railway station) are intended for use by current village residents. However, these car parks encourage additional car traffic through the village of Waterbeach, add pollution and danger to those streets (particularly Cody Road), and contradict the sustainable travel principles expressed elsewhere in the SPD. We recommend not building these car parks with access from the village of Waterbeach. Instead, focus on creating highly attractive sustainable travel options; all car parks should be accessed from the A10 via the new (perimeter) primary roads, to prevent any induced extra traffic in the existing village.

We support the sustainable transport vision put forward by the Waterbeach Cycling Campaign (see link below).

In order truly to fulfill the new South Cambridgeshire Local Plan and community vision, the SPD process should take a substantial step back from the current document, and instead adopt the ideas outlined by the Waterbeach Cycling Campaign, as well as the points mentioned above.

Matthew Danish

View Waterbeach Cycling Campaign’s ‘People First’ vision for the development at tinyurl.com/waterbeachnewtown

Join the discussion and get involved on Cyclescape thread 4042