Try Something New: New Ideas for Safer Streets

This article was published in 2019, in Magazine 143.

Base map from OpenStreetMap licensed CC by SA
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If it was more difficult to travel by car between different areas of the city, we could make it easier to get about on foot or by cycle. Daniel Thomas presents 10 ideas to close off the rat runs.

Safe cycling requires fully protected cycleways separated from motor vehicles and pedestrians, or 20mph streets with low traffic. Implementing fully protected cycleways is expensive and requires adequate highway width. A rather cheaper approach is to create 20mph no-through-roads as this cuts down motor-traffic volume and speed, creating a safe environment for cycling.

The Belgian city of Ghent introduced six circulation zones in 2017 with motor vehicle traffic between them only possible via the ring road. In a year, the impacts of the plan were a 25% increase in bicycle users, 8% increase in public transport ridership, 12% decrease in car traffic during the rush hour, 29% fewer cars on the most important routes within the ring road and 58% in the residential streets. Ghent was copying the strategy used by Groningen in the Netherlands in the 1970s where they introduced four circulation zones in the city centre and now have much higher levels of cycling (e.g 60% of work journeys) than in Cambridge (43% of work journeys within the city and 29% for Cambridge residents).

Cambridge is a rather different city, being about half the size of both Ghent and Groningen, but by removing through traffic on minor roads through filtered permeability we can work towards similar impacts. Filtered permeability is where only some kinds of vehicles (such as cycles or buses) are allowed through while other kinds of vehicles are banned. Many streets in Cambridge are already filtered. There are many ways this can be done such as bus lanes or gates, school streets, bollards, planting, signs, or fire gates. By systematically closing rat runs across the city we can increase safety, decrease air pollution, and cheaply achieve a substantial mode shift towards sustainable travel. This would then create the foundation for even more significant interventions after the success of these closures had been demonstrated.

1. Thornton Road

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This is a rat run from Girton Road to Huntingdon Road and a narrow residential street with many children trying to get to school. A point closure at the Huntingdon Road end might allow space for a signalised crossing of Huntingdon Road where it is desperately needed.

2. Storey’s Way

Storey’s Way Residents Association is looking to implement some sort of modal filter on Storey’s Way, potentially a rising bollard (preventing through traffic is popular but some residents like the flexibility of being able to drive out of either end of the road).

3. Silver Street

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A bus gate on the narrowest part of Silver Street permitting only buses (no taxis) and cycles (and buses only in one direction at a time) would allow the pavement to be widened and make the road much safer.

4. Grange Road

A modal filter on Grange Road just south of the junction with Sidgwick Avenue, with Sidgwick Avenue being made one-way into town (with cycling contraflow) and Grange Road being made one-way southbound from West Road, would reduce traffic levels to the extent that Grange Road could be a cycle street on the sections where it is too narrow for proper segregated lanes. It would also mean that one lane could be removed from each arm of the Sidgwick Avenue/Queen’s Road/Silver Street/Newnham Road junction, creating space for a fully protected junction.

5. Tenison Road

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Tenison Road is narrow and is used by rat-running taxis heading to the station. A modal filter at the junction with Great Northern Road would remove this traffic and improve traffic flow on Great Northern Road.

6. Northfield Avenue

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A bus gate outside King’s Hedges Primary School on Northfield Avenue just south of Apollo Way would remove through traffic and improve safety.

7. Campkin Road

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A school street outside the Grove Primary School on Campkin Road between Northfield Avenue and Hawkins Road would substantially improve safety for children of the Grove Primary School and North Cambridge Academy and also reduce delays for the number 1 bus.

8. Carlton Way

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A school street on Carlton Way outside Arbury Primary School between Perse Way and Brimley Road and on Hall Farm Road as far as Topham Way would substantially improve safety for children of both Arbury Primary School, Arbury Pre-School, and Chesterton Community College. It would also prevent the popular number 1 bus being delayed by the queues resulting from Carlton Way being narrowed by parent parking.

9. Tennis Court Road

This street is one-way northbound between Lensfield Road and Fitzwilliam Street and is used by rat-running cars trying to reach the Grand Arcade car park while skipping the queue on Trumpington Street. It is also a major cycle route for undergraduates with hundreds of students using it in a ten-minute period between lectures. Making it one-way in the opposite direction would still allow all access but remove all rat-running.

10. Mill Road

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Bus gates on Mill Road at the bridge would transform the road and make it a much nicer place to travel through on foot or by cycle.