This article was published in 2019, in Magazine 142.
What’s it like to live in a new development in Cambridge? Have the promises of people-friendly streets and secure cycle parking lived up to the reality? We asked five residents to share their experiences.
In 2016 my family were fortunate enough to move into a new home on the site of the old Cambridge City Football Ground. A selling point for us was a central location from which both my wife and I could cycle to work. The site has a long planning history, with applications in 2006, 2011 and 2012 before the current incarnation (marketed as ‘Mitcham’s Park’ and now known as Lilywhite Drive) was approved in 2014. The applications were scrutinised by Camcycle members and the past discussion (on Cyclescape thread 1273) today makes interesting reading for a current resident.
One of the first things visitors to our new home notice are the cycle sheds conveniently located outside the front door. The cycle parking for two- and three-bedroom houses is within brick structures with a living roof protruding from between pairs of terraced houses. Sets of double doors lead to areas for storing cycles and wheelie bins. Cycles are secured via a wall attachment, and there is just enough space to store our cargo bike. It’s great to be able to park cycles securely under cover, and to be on the (dry!) saddle within seconds of leaving the house. This arrangement also provides some greenery and serves as useful storage space for residents who do not cycle.
The cycle parking is somewhat of a novelty for visitors, especially those from elsewhere in the country, who usually comment on how ‘Cambridge’ it is. Providing secure and convenient places to store cycles is a simple measure to promote cycling, yet even in many parts of Cambridge residents are faced with cycles cluttering hallways, gardens or pavements – something Camcycle’s street cycle parking project is seeking to address. In new builds, high quality cycle parking is more common, thanks to years of campaigning and responding to planning applications by diligent Camcycle volunteers.
The cycle parking isn’t perfect though. The doors on the cycle sheds are quite low and you need to bend down to get inside and unlock a bike; I have banged my head a few times! Although the cycle sheds are meant to house three standard adult bicycles, this involves positioning one up against the other, which invariably leads to pedals stuck in spokes, cables tangled in handlebars, and lots of huffing and puffing if you want to extract the bicycle at the back. Really then, it is possible to store only two bicycles conveniently, which for a family home is slightly limited, particularly for those living car-free. Although our short two-wheeled cargo bike fits in the shed, it does take a bit of manoeuvring and there is unlikely to be enough room for longer two-wheeled or three-wheeled cargo bikes. A walk around the block reveals that several of my neighbours lock their bicycles to the handles of the cycle stores, presumably because the interior is insufficient for their needs. For residents in flats, some bicycles can be seen on private balconies, which suggests security in the ground floor communal cycle stores is a concern. Unfortunately, some of the cycle sheds for the terraced houses suffer from leaking roofs.
Lack of permeability with surrounding streets
The development is served by a single access route: a private road surrounding the Westbrook Centre that leads to Milton Road. On the Cyclescape discussion, Camcycle members noted the lack of permeability of the site with one commenting that ‘destinations which, as the crow flies, are only a few hundred yards, turn into a major expedition’. I can literally hear the tennis balls bouncing at Chesterton Sports Centre, yet it would be a 15-minute walk if I wanted to play a set. Camcycle objected to expansion of Chesterton Community College on the grounds of a lack of consideration of resident access to the Sports Centre from Lilywhite Drive (Cyclescape 3483), but unfortunately this concern was overlooked.
To a certain extent, the lack of permeability was beyond the control of the developers of Lilywhite Drive. They did allow for potential future pedestrian access to Greens Road, and there are possible links between Westbrook Drive and Gilbert Road, Corona Road and Victoria Road. Unfortunately, it remains uncertain when, if ever, these links will be realised. The junction between Westbrook Drive and Milton Road therefore remains, for the foreseeable future, the only access point to these 106 new homes. The new residential use demands that this junction should be as cycling- and walking-friendly as possible: a fact that the Greater Cambridge Partnership Milton Road project team seem finally to be beginning to understand.
Much of the development follows a shared-space model where the streets lack pavements and people walking, cycling and driving are expected to negotiate priority. I am undecided as to how well this works. On the one hand, traffic levels in the development are pleasantly low so that people walking and cycling can usually enjoy their right to use the full street width, and it is great to see that children are able to play out on the street. On the other hand, when motor vehicles do enter the development, drivers do not always moderate their speed appropriately, and the lack of physical separation can feel intimidating at times. Some separate pavements and paths do exist, including a useful short cut between terraced houses and across the main square. Perhaps the separate pavements cause confusion for visiting drivers, who expect the segregation to continue throughout the street.
The generous car parking provision seems to be at odds with the council’s aspiration to reduce car use
A rather large proportion of the site is dedicated to car parking. Every house has driveway parking, and larger 4- and 5- bedroom houses also have a garage. The entire ground floor of a block of flats is a car park, and various car parking for both visitors and residents is scattered throughout the rest of the development. I understand that many of my neighbours need or want to own one or more cars; however the generous provision does seem to be at odds with the council’s aspiration to reduce car use and promote sustainable transport, not to mention an inefficient use of space in a city with a housing shortage. Once the car parking is there, it is often difficult to use for anything else; as much as I’d like to move my house a few metres forward (sacrificing the driveway parking to gain a larger garden), this of course isn’t possible. Even building a shed for additional cycle parking on the driveway would require planning permission. The car storage space is therefore wasted for car-free families like ours, who end up paying for something they don’t need. Developers, the council, and objecting neighbours who are worried about overspill parking should appreciate that while some can’t live without a parking space, not every family needs or wants car parking and not every home needs to have it, even for family homes like ours.
A private access road built for motor vehicles
The access road is poor for people walking and cycling, something noted in the Cyclescape discussion on the 2012 planning application (Cyclescape 492). At several points the pavements are interrupted by lay-bys, service bays and entrances to car parks. The high kerbs are particularly difficult to navigate on wheels, something that became apparent after becoming parents and walking a pram for the first time. The road surface has crumbled under the weight of construction traffic and has several speed bumps that inconvenience people cycling but do very little to slow down motor vehicles. As the access road is in private hands, it is not clear whom to approach to fix these problems.
In the Cyclescape discussions and comments on the planning applications, Camcycle volunteers and members of the public predicted many of the problems with the development. Clearly, local insight and scrutiny are a valuable part of the planning process. Overall, despite the problems noted it is a home that I enjoy living in. I hope some of the issues can be fixed over the coming years, particularly the lack of permeability and access to the development. I am grateful to members of the public and volunteers from Camcycle for responding to the planning applications for the site, despite never having any expectation of living there or directly benefiting from the improvements they fought for.
- Covered secure cycle parking
- Low levels of motor traffic
Could be better
- Permeability with surrounding streets
- Access route for people walking and cycling
- Cycle parking that allows independent access to bicycles
- The option of a family home without car parking
We are a family of five, including three children under the age of seven, and we live in the Vie development in East Chesterton. Cycling is our primary means of transport, we don’t own a car, and we are lucky to have good cycling infrastructure – the Riverside bridge – on our doorstep. Our home in the Vie development has a lockable shed joined to the house and able to hold three adult bikes, three children’s bikes, and a bicycle trailer for two. This is important because while the on-site public cycle parking provision is decent, it’s not secure. The Vie’s design and location makes it a convenient cut-through for cycle and foot traffic, a public through-way which means that bicycles left outside are vulnerable to theft and vandalism. Most, if not all, residents have access to covered and secure cycle parking.
The Vie development is a designated Home Zone which is intended to favour the needs of residents, pedestrians and cyclists over cars. Car parking provision on site has improved with the implementation of zoned guest parking, and this has happily cut down on the number of cars occupying the central area of the development.
The Vie’s location has offered our kids space to run, scoot, cycle and play
The Vie’s location adjacent to public land on the River Cam, including Logan’s Meadow, and the common areas in the development have offered our kids space to run, scoot, cycle and play. What’s more, it’s a generally safe space to teach them about road safety, about navigating and interacting with cars, and learning to share space with all the traffic moving in and out of the area. We’ve had little trouble with speeding cars: most drivers become mindful when presented with small children cycling about.
Common features of a Home Zone
- Community involvement in the design
- Level carriageways/shared space
- A clear gateway/boundary
- Space for children to play and residents to socialise
- Speed restrictions for motor traffic
- Quality lighting to increase feelings of safety and security
The B family
Marmalade Lane is a 42-home cohousing community in Orchard Park, North Cambridge. Individual flats and houses are clustered around a Common House with additional facilities for socialising and shared use. The development emphasises community and green living, and supporting cycling is part of that ethos.
With twin babies and no car, secure cycle parking and a cycle-friendly environment were very important to us in our new home.
There are five cycle sheds across the development so covered, secure parking is always close. The cycle sheds have extra wide doors and the parking is on Sheffield stands, and therefore is accessible for cargo and adapted cycles. In addition, every house has uncovered visitor cycle parking, as does the Common House.
Car parking is kept to one edge of the site with its own entrance, leaving the central lane pedestrianised and a safe space for children learning to cycle, and for play and socialising.
In a wider context, Orchard Park is relatively cycle-friendly. There is a shared-use cycle route through the middle of Orchard Park for access to the Community Centre, primary school and shops, but it is not clearly signed, and frequently gives way to motor vehicles. Parking on pavements and at dropped kerbs is rife in the area. The Busway runs along the south of the site, providing an off-road route as far as Histon Road, Cambridge North railway station, and northern villages.
Future work on Histon Road, Arbury Road and through the former NIAB development has the potential to make the area well-connected for children to cycle safely and independently: we will have to see how these schemes unfold!
I live in the Eddington neighbourhood built by Cambridge University between Madingley and Huntingdon roads in West Cambridge. I moved there in July 2017, when the area was mostly still closed off by works, only the Huntingdon Road entrance was passable, and most cycle paths were closed. It’s better now.
The intention was to create a neighbourhood that makes cycling, walking, car share, and bus more convenient, and private car less convenient (limited capacity, car parking £80 per month for residents). The flats are also well-insulated and have excellent windows, as part of a general push towards sustainability. The Universal bus provides good service to the city centre and the railway station, although it is slow because of the winding route. The cycle parking is excellent, standard metal loops in a secure room, but perhaps inadequate: it is often full. As cycle capacity and convenience grows, perhaps people buy more cycles than the designers planned for. Also, as people use cycles not just for recreation but all of life’s activities, it would be wise to design space for child carriers and other large equipment that can block the aisles when put in a standard cycle space. Child-seats or large baskets make it difficult even to get a narrow bike alongside.
There are some issues with the generally excellent cycle paths. I don’t understand the decision to make the cycle path around the complex yield to the car traffic at every street junction, which so frequently breaks up the ride that it doesn’t feel like a cycle path. The intersection of Eddington Avenue and Madingley Road is a problem; the designed path of cycles through circuitous mid-road protected areas is so difficult, and the length of the signal so long, that cyclists mostly ride in the road with the cars or sneak across on a red light. The neighbourhood path access is now good, although it was nearly a year before the Ridgeway path opened towards the east (left). It is a pleasant path between fields that connects Eddington to Storey’s Way. The intersection with Storey’s Way is unfortunately confused and dangerous. Solar-powered light dots help illuminate the Ridgeway path, but it is so dark at night that even with a good light my experience is that pedestrians in dark clothing seem to appear from nowhere. Overall, the forward-thinking neighbourhood design around cycling is going well, and although there’s work to be done, I’m happy to say I’ve never lived in a more cycle-friendly neighbourhood.
I moved into Cambridge from the countryside (Wicken) in 1985, and lived near the centre of the city until 2014, using bike and foot as my normal means of transport. I retired to a flat in Trumpington in 2014, just over the bridge from Addenbrooke’s towards Shelford Road. We have a reasonable (if unreliable) Citi 7 bus service passing the door and, that apart, I use the Busway path most days to cycle or walk to the station or city. My main concerns relate to the dangers associated with the Busway – all sorts of scallywags use inappropriate or illegal vehicles such as electric scooters or even occasionally motor cycles on the restricted cycleway, which can get busy and dangerous at rush hours. There are also clear contradictions about pedestrians or cyclists crossing the Busway itself. Long Road pupils cross it illegally by the Long Road bridge to get to school where there are notices prohibiting trespass, yet users cross it apparently legitimately near the Addenbrooke’s spur. What actually are the rules?
My other concern relates to the failure of the New Trumpington developers (Countryside – calling the place Great Kneighton) to implement the cycleways that they agreed to as part of their planning permission: in particular, a ‘strategic cycleway’ alongside Hobson’s Brook between Addenbrooke’s Road and the Busway. This should have been completed before the associated housing developments, but has apparently been completely forgotten. Housing provides profits, cycleways don’t. Where are our planning enforcers? Attempts to get the thing re-planned/instituted have got nowhere although the city planners accepted that this was a mistake last summer and that enforcement would be required. Local people keep pressing for action, but so far none seems to come.