Opinion: Robin Heydon

This article was published in 2019, in Magazine 142.

Robin Heydon
Image as described adjacent

The CAM project plus cycle-friendly development could liberate Cambridge

The Cambridge Area Metro intrigues me. It could be transformative for the whole region, and the city.

Effectively, it could create a cross of tunnels from north to south and from east to west. It could link the station to the historic centre and out to west Cambridge. It could also link out to existing and potentially new growth areas: St Neots, Haverhill, Mildenhall, and Alconbury. It could allow for a bunch of other new settlements along these routes focused around the metro as the primary means of transport.

This all sounds good, except I’m afraid that it will all be destroyed by car-centric development rather than people-first development. Milton Keynes, on the main motorway between London and Birmingham, was built around the motorcar, with 70mph dual carriageways surrounding small neighbourhoods. If you like roundabouts and the inability of half the people to travel around independently, then Milton Keynes is great.

Other places have followed public-transport growth strategies. Copenhagen has the ‘hand’ model, with high-quality public transport lines along the fingers, with green space in the middle. All housing and development was concentrated around stops on this network, with cycle-friendly and walkable neighbourhoods around.

Similarly with the suburb of Houten in the Netherlands, on the railway south
of Utrecht, they expanded a village of a few hundred houses to tens of thousands, but there is no traffic congestion. They even raised the railway line up, so that it was easier to cycle underneath, and could easily design in lots of cycle parking spaces.

Image: Greater Cambridge Partnership
Image as described adjacent

Houten is also special in that they followed the perimeter roadway model of development. The main road is around the outside, with effectively a bunch of cul-de-sacs branching off. The only way to drive anywhere is to go out to this main road, around to the entrance to the area you want to get to, and then back in. They also built an extensive network of cycleways and pathways that link these neighbourhoods with the central station. Houten now has the highest cycling levels anywhere in the world.

People talk about Copenhagen and Amsterdam having high cycling levels, but compared with Houten, they are dominated by car traffic and traffic congestion. Driving is also very easy in Houten. The ring road has a relatively high speed limit and is connected directly to the strategic road network. It is just not easy to drive trivially short distances quickly.

If the Cambridge Area Metro included Houten-style planning for all the developments that it will serve, we could have the highest productivity in the world from all those people cycling from their house to the metro and then whizzing to their jobs in an autonomous electric vehicle. We could have the lowest carbon footprint and best air quality. And we could transform the city of Cambridge from a car-dominated place to a place that is sized for people.

At our November monthly meeting, James Palmer agreed to allow Camcycle to show him how Houten works, and explore how it came about. Perhaps we’ll also get him on a bike to cycle from an industrial estate to a town centre railway station. On the way we can see how so many people are liberated to move around their town without being forced into a car, such as children who can cycle independently to school or to visit

Robin Heydon is Chair of Camcycle. This article was first published on 26 November in the Cambridge News and online at cambridge-news.co.uk, where you can read his Camcycle column each week.

James Palmer, Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, was the guest speaker at our monthly meeting in November 2018. Find out more about the metro by watching the live video at facebook.com/CambridgeCyclingCampaign