This article was published in 2020, in Magazine 146.
Last year, we explained the three processes that are underway which will have huge implications for walking, cycling and urban design in the Greater Cambridge area. We’re calling for a commitment to investment in cycling – for now, for the future and for everyone who wants to ride.
City Deal Tranche 2
Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP)
Meetings of the Greater Cambridge Partnership recommenced in January, following the hiatus over the period of the General Election. Camcycle aims to attend and ask questions at every GCP meeting this year, as there are currently multiple issues of relevance to cycling in the region. Below we highlight a few that we’ve spoken on so far this year.
GCP officers have gathered a huge amount of evidence on ways to reduce congestion, improve air quality and provide better public transport. This includes public feedback from the Choices for Better Journeys consultation and the GCP Citizens’ Assembly. The latter called for the Partnership’s leaders to be bold, brave and take decisive action; at the time of writing we do not know what the Executive Board will conclude, but there was strong support at the Joint Assembly for a programme of access restrictions (see box below for some inspiration!) and an acceptance of the need for a demand management scheme such as a congestion or pollution charge. We called for the GCP to take these steps and welcomed plans for smaller measures such as improved cycle parking and subsidised e-bikes.
Initial design work to develop the 12 Greenways routes is now complete and the Executive Board are asked to approve an outline budget for the Waterbeach and Fulbourn Greenways. We welcomed this, but would like to see faster progress and a guarantee that local expertise on the project will be maintained.
Despite strong local opposition, the GCP seem intent on keeping the proposed alignment for the Cambourne to Cambridge Busway, which will mean up to 30 buses an hour being routed along one of the city’s busiest cycle routes. We have stayed neutral on the Busway proposal, but are gravely concerned about cycling safety along Adams Road. We’ll continue to campaign against this route.
‘With political will, radical change is possible’ – The Story of Ghent
Ghent (population 262,000; Cambridge 199,000) introduced a zoning scheme in the city centre in 2017. There is a car-free zone in the historic centre, surrounded by six zones which can be accessed by cars from the inner ring road only, with no direct movement from zone to zone. Nothing has changed for cyclists and public transport and if you need to get a car to somewhere in the inner city, you can, but it is harder to move around.
The scheme was modelled on Groningen and Utrecht with the difference that those cities had changed incrementally. Ghent did it in one go. Thirty months of planning, consultation and preparation were fraught with passion and disagreement – the Deputy Mayor even received death threats. But when it went live the doom-sayers were disappointed and it is hailed as a great success.
Cycle use before the plan was 22%. It is now 35% and growing. Streets have been landscaped and vehicle entry is monitored by number plate recognition cameras. The main canal through the centre has been restored, having been previously filled in to make a car park.
The city leaders draw the lesson that if there is the political will, well-planned radical change is not only possible but will be welcomed! Be brave, my friends!
Local Transport Plan
Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority (CPCA)
Following a public consultation last year, to which we submitted a six-page response, the Local Transport Plan was adopted in January at a meeting of the CPCA Board. Several questioners raised criticisms of the plan, with Helen Boothman from the Great Ouse Valley Trust reported as saying: ‘Evidence from the Campaign to Protect Rural England and others demonstrates clearly that new roads do not deliver congestion relief, but instead damage the landscape and do nothing to boost the local economy of an area. We simply can’t afford to continue addressing 21st century transport issues with 20th century solutions. Any future approach to transport planning should catalyse a green economy that does not cost the earth environmentally or financially. Where are the travel options which are low or zero carbon, mitigating air pollution and promoting environmental resilience? And will the CPCA build in some flexibility to a transport plan to allow for integration with other plans?’
Cllr Lewis Herbert, leader of Cambridge City Council, said: ‘I recall when the authority was set up three years ago we had an ambition that almost all the people in the county would be able to get to and from work within half an hour by public transport, no matter where they lived in Cambridgeshire. I appreciate the challenges that approach makes upon our planners, especially with this being so rural a county, but I do think that we need to re-state that ambition.’
These comments echo the concerns we had that the report had a lack of concrete recommendations for walking and cycling infrastructure, and a clear emphasis on car use through additional highway capacity. We hope to work with other campaign groups in the area to continue to monitor and respond to transport developments in the CPCA region.
Greater Cambridge Local Plan
Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council
The new Greater Cambridge Local Plan will shape how our area changes over the period to 2040, and possibly beyond. It’s a legal document that sets out the future land use and planning policies for the area, identifying the need for new homes and jobs and detailing the services and infrastructure needed to support them. It also guides where growth should happen. Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council are working together to prepare the plan and the consultation which ended on 24 February was the start of their conversation with the public.
We responded to the consultation and will continue to submit our views as the process continues. Below is a summary of some of the key areas which affect walking and cycling.
One of the biggest problems that the current Local Plan faces is that much of our living environment is dominated by roads, and roads are under the purview of the Highway Authority at the county council. Therefore, attempts to make more liveable streets are quite often squashed at the county level. Unfortunately, this utilitarian view of roads as being like water pipes or sewage lines for cars results in an overwhelming amount of public space being devoted to tarmac, car storage and high-speed car movement. The needs of people walking and cycling are squeezed to nothing, and people are left with estates that socially isolate people, have no nearby shops, jobs or amenities, lack pleasant open spaces, discourage going outside and force people to be dependent on cars to get anything done or go anywhere. This same problem was described by a recent scathing report on the failures of the home-building industry, ‘A Housing Design Audit for England’ by Matthew Carmona et al. Choice quotes include:
‘Highways authorities should take responsibility for their part in creating positive streets and places, not simply roads and infrastructure.’
‘Local planning authorities need to have the courage of their convictions and set clear local aspirations by refusing schemes that do not meet their published design standards.
‘Highways authorities should be required to take a “place first” approach when dealing with the design and adoption of highways.’
Therefore, as the new combined Local Plan takes shape, we hope the officers take heed of the recommendations of this housing design audit, and also work to find a way to bring the Highway Authority on-side with walking and cycling priority. Otherwise, the planning system will extend car dominance into the next generation and fail to respond with the urgency required to address the global climate emergency.
South Cambridgeshire has failed to produce a cycle parking guide while Cambridge has relied upon the Cycle Parking Guide for New Residential Developments since 2010, and the current Local Plan builds on that guide for both residential and non-residential. The document has become dated and needs to be reviewed and revised. Some of the issues are highlighted below.
We need a specification for the design of inclusive cycle parking, which provides space to park cargo cycles, tricycles, handcycles, tandems, recumbents, adapted cycles and any of the wide and wonderful variety of cycles that help people of all ages and abilities. That same variety makes it exceedingly hard to provide a single design solution that works for all. The Design Manual for Roads and Bridges describes cycles that could be up to 1.2m wide and 2.8m long (including trailer). Wheels for Wellbeing, a London-based charity, has a Guide to Inclusive Cycling, which suggests that a variety of securing systems be used, such as ground anchors and halfheight Sheffield stands. Yet, sometimes simply ensuring that the spaces at the ends of a row of Sheffield stands are extra-wide can be sufficient, provided that the spaces are clearly marked for larger cycles.
Then we need to quantify the number of inclusive cycle parking spaces that will be necessary in a development. Wheels for Wellbeing suggests 5% as a general rule; however, here in Cambridge it is quite possible that the need is much higher, especially given the rising popularity of cargo cycles. Sometimes the demand can be assessed on a caseby-case basis; an existing business can survey its workforce and make some reasonable projections about the future.
The use of two-tier racks needs to be more carefully controlled and specified. Many developers see them as a way to squeeze their cycle parking requirement into a smaller space; however, they can pose a lot of problems for people if not carefully designed, and even then they still are not accessible to many people (especially those with tricycles or cargo cycles, etc). Residential sites in Cambridge are not permitted to use two-tier racks, but some try anyway and get away with it. Non-residential sites using two-tier racks are supposed to provide at least 20% of their cycle parking using Sheffield stands, but some ignore that requirement and get away with it. Other common problems with two-tier racks include: models without lifting-assistance, racks lacking a secure locking hoop, and aisle widths that are too narrow. Racks with moving parts require ongoing maintenance.
CYCLE ROUTE DESIGN
Cycle route and cycleway design is not handled very well by the current Local Plans. The Cambridge Local Plan does say that walking and cycling routes should have priority where there is conflict with cars; however, that is largely a dead letter because the Highway Authority at the county level does not respect that statement. Issues of accessibility and natural surveillance are also parts of the current Local Plan. However, more detailed issues such as visibility splays, preventing blind corners, ensuring cycling-compatible geometry, prohibiting dangerous obstructions and giving separation from pedestrians are not covered. These are issues that we believe should be specified in the upcoming Local Transport Note from DfT, and then the new Local Plans can follow suit. However, we do need to remain vigilant to ensure that the Local Plans protect cycle routes after they get built. It’s one thing to have a cycleway in its fresh form on opening day, but then after a few years it can be utterly compromised by thirdparty developers who come in and dig it up for changes such as dropped kerbs, utilities and new fences. We can easily see how bad it gets with pavements, which are very often sacrificed and ripped up for new driveways, poles, utility cabinets and other assorted detritus that obstruct the public right-of-way or reduce its quality. Driveways and fences, in particular, can create fresh dangers from motor vehicles emerging without warning onto the cycleway. That’s why it’s important that the protection of cycle routes (whether on or off-highway) be embedded into the Local Plan, so that these problems can be checked whenever there is an application or unpermitted development that might affect one.
For example, we recently had the case in which a landowner suddenly installed a set of illegal and inaccessible barriers into a major cycle route near the Biomedical Campus (see page 15). While this case led to a major outcry, other similar but less busy routes can slip under the radar when people simply give up hope of fixing the problem. Another case is in Whittlesford, where the developer failed to build an accessible cycle route as planned, thus severing National Cycle Route 11 for anyone unable to lift their cycle.