This article was published in 2019, in Magazine 144.
Members of the Eddington and Girton Safer Cycling and Walking group describe their work over the past few years.
Getting children and their carers to cycle or walk to and from school was always part of the plan for the new University of Cambridge Primary School (UCPS).
The school is in Eddington, one of the newest neighbourhoods in Cambridge, at the north-western end of the city between Madingley Road and Huntingdon Road, and adjoining Girton to the north. It is designed and delivered by the University of Cambridge, driven by an ambitious vision to establish an example of sustainable living in the UK. A central element of the development is to build a neighbourhood around a range of local amenities, one which is connected to the wider community rather than simply being another residential area. In practice, this is more difficult than anticipated and there are several unresolved issues which threaten the likelihood of children walking and cycling to school.
Missing links to Girton
In September 2015, UCPS opened as a Free School far earlier than expected. When the Eddington community was in its planning phase, it was envisaged that the school would open half way through the first phase of the development and that the majority of pupils would originate from within the new development. Prompted by uncertainty around the future of the government’s Free School initiative, the university accelerated the school’s opening, making UCPS the first building on site to open. This change in plan meant that when UCPS opened, it was a half-completed building and all of its Key Stage 1 pupils came from neighbouring areas rather than the new development itself.
At the time access to the school was, of course, less than ideal: children had to reach UCPS via a building site which is now Eddington Avenue. However, it quickly became clear that there were serious flaws in the planned provision of infrastructure for the site that wouldn’t be overcome by the completion of building work. Even though the 2009 North West Cambridge Area Action Plan (which established the transport policies for the Eddington Area) was clear that a key policy was to ‘[link] the development with the surrounding walking and cycling network and orbital routes including links to nearby villages and open countryside, there was an unfortunate omission: links to all neighbouring areas were considered explicitly, except for those to Girton. Because the school opened early, when none of the Eddington residential buildings had been completed, the majority of children attending UCPS originated from south Girton and Girton village, with others coming from further afield.
A grassroots group for safer cycling and walking
Given the long distances many families had to travel, most children arrived at school by car. This immediately made the vision of sustainable travel to and from the school difficult to realise. Nonetheless, there was a strong commitment from local families to walk or cycle to school. Led by the late Sir David MacKay, a group of parents quickly formed a grassroots campaign to highlight the problems for safe cycling and walking between Eddington and Girton. Regrettably, the story of their work to achieve more, better and safer cycling in the area casts doubt over the likelihood of Cambridge increasing the proportion of children cycling to and from school.
The group which formed with the opening of UCPS is now known as the Eddington and Girton Safer Cycling Campaign. It works for all members of the community who wish to travel between the two areas. Foreseeing many reasons why people would want to do so – including access to school, shops and other amenities – we campaigned locally through the Girton Parish News, parish council, and county and district councils. We spoke at UCPS, at a Discussion of the Regent House of the University, and with the development team for Eddington. We organised a petition, spoke with our MP and, finally, called a meeting with all responsible parties in late 2015.
A satisfactory solution would be challenging but is essential for the safety of cyclists and pedestrians in the are
It quickly became clear that fixing the present infrastructure around Eddington with the urgency necessary for safe, sustainable travel would be difficult. There were fundamental constraints with regards to costs, practicalities, resources and motivation. Whilst there was plenty of goodwill from those with whom we tried to engage, there was also a lack of time and energy to pursue our ambition, given the pressures of spiralling costs and delays to the development on the part of the university. There was also a lack of impetus from the councils in charge, as the development had already been granted planning permission. Owing to the additional difficulty of Eddington spanning both the authorities of City and South Cambridgeshire Councils, the reluctance of each to act decisively and collaboratively has hampered progress.
In 2018, the university’s now defunct Cycling and Walking Working Sub-Group solicited suggestions for what the university should do to improve cycling and walking. One member of staff at UCPS reported a near-fatal experience using one of the school’s main cycle access points. Dubbed by locals as ‘the kill zone’, the cycle lane at the junction of Eddington Avenue and Huntingdon Road is dangerously designed. The reverse ‘S’ curve shape of the kerb means that even if the front of a lorry passes you safely, its rear section will endanger you. Axel Zeitler reported this at the time of the group’s 2015 campaign and Daniel Thomas from the CWSG saw the issue as high priority. All agreed that the situation is highly likely to cause the death of a local resident and, given its proximity to the school, that children in particular are at high risk.
Since 2018, we have met with district, city, and county councillors; members of the North West Cambridge Development (NWCD) team; and county officers. To help illustrate our concerns, we have made a short film. Recently, we were granted a series of joint meetings with the Eddington Travel Safety Group, NWCD, the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Strategy and Planning, county officers and councillors. We persuaded the university/NWCD to acknowledge that there was a real problem which was not going to go away and would only increase in urgency. They said they could not do anything as the county council was unlikely to give permission for changes. We then got the county council to agree that in principle measures to improve safety would be possible if funding could be secured. Upgrading the whole section of Huntingdon Road from Eddington Avenue to Girton Corner to gold-standard protected cycling and walking infrastructure would cost in the region of £3 million. Partial improvements might be made for less, and some minor improvements to the existing crossing of Huntingdon Road at Bunkers Lane (straightening it out and narrowing the carriageway) are already planned as part of an upcoming update to the existing crossing. We intend to submit proposals for GCP Tranche 2 and Combined Authority funding. In addition, there is now an active Speedwatch group in Eddington that we are helping to run.
From our point of view, a satisfactory solution would be challenging but is essential for the safety of cyclists and pedestrians in the area. It would need to include: a fully protected junction at Girton Corner; protected cycle lanes and widened pavements between Girton Corner and Eddington Avenue; a signalised crossing at Thornton Road; Thornton Road being closed to through traffic; and protected infrastructure on Girton Road/Cambridge Road up to the northern edge of Girton.
There are far too many stakeholders we have been engaging with over the past four years to acknowledge them all but we would like to thank in particular Cllr Cheney Payne (city council) and Cllr Lynda Harford (county council) for their ongoing support for our concerns and their help in addressing the problems outlined in this article.
Axel Zeitler, Sally-Anne Gannon, Daniel Thomas and Hannah Joyce
Find out more and get involved by following the group on Facebook at tinyurl.com/eddingtonandgirton