Campaign: Spaces to Breathe

This article was published in 2020, in Magazine 147.

People in the Cambridge region need spaces to breathe to allow them to stay safe, happy and healthy. As we tackle the coronavirus pandemic, this space is more important than ever.

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The UK was put into lockdown on 23 March to protect its residents against the global coronavirus pandemic. Cycling and walking were encouraged for essential journeys and daily exercise but, even at the beginning of the lockdown period, it was clear that there were many areas across the region where it was difficult to maintain a safe distance from others when out and about. By the time many people had rediscovered the joy of active travel and the sunshine had arrived, it was becoming stressful to use popular routes such as the narrow, shared-use bridges across the river in Cambridge and the Busway cycleway around Histon.

However, for many people in the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough area cycling and walking were essential ways of getting to work, delivering groceries to vulnerable people and boosting their physical and mental health through a difficult period. Choices for those without access to a car were limited as public transport capacity was cut, and in response to the sharp reduction in the number of cars on the road, those that remained often succumbed to the temptation to speed along the quiet streets.

Something needed to be done to help members of local communities protect each other and stay safe while cycling and walking. Spaces to Breathe was Camcycle’s answer.

Spaces to Breathe is already one of the most important and influential campaigns we have ever run. From the beginning, our strategy encompassed the immediate needs of the pandemic, the emergence from lockdown and the measures our region would need to keep its residents safe, rebuild its economy and create a healthy and sustainable future. We have nurtured valuable partnerships with groups and stakeholders across the region, kept up the pressure on decision-makers and continue to lead the conversation on ways to build back better for those who cycle – during the time of coronavirus and beyond.

Campaign Aims

To ensure that:

  • People who need to cycle to or for work, including healthcare workers and cycle couriers, stay safe during the lockdown period
  • People who need to travel for essential journeys, such as picking up groceries or delivering medicine to vulnerable neighbours, have the space they need to do this safely while protecting themselves and others
  • People who would like to take daily exercise for the benefit of their physical and mental health are able to enjoy this time without the worry of struggling to stay a safe distance from others on popular routes
  • We all continue to support our healthcare workers by reducing the burden on the NHS from both coronavirus and road collision patients

Campaign Timeline

13 MARCH: Camcycle publishes its policy on coronavirus and announces that it is temporarily closing its office


18 MARCH: The Colombian capital of Bogot√° announces it is opening 76km (47 miles) of temporary bike lanes to reduce crowding on public transport, help prevent the spread of coronavirus and improve air quality

8 APRIL: Inspired by examples from abroad, Camcycle begins to collate ideas for temporary infrastructure to deliver more space for safe cycling and walking

15 APRIL: We plan out a strategy for a new campaign for ‘Spaces to Breathe’

22 APRIL: Spaces to Breathe goes public in our Cambridge Independent column

28 APRIL: Our ideas and campaign brand get a great reaction when we share them in our weekly Zoom get-together with leading UK cycling advocates

30 APRIL: We launch our form to gather ideas from local communities and start collecting signatures on our open letter to decision-makers


10 APRIL: A experimental widening of cycle lanes in Berlin is declared a success after two weeks and an expansion of the scheme is announced for further streets

13 APRIL: The New Zealand government announces funding for pop-up cycle lanes and widened pavements

17 APRIL: Brighton & Hove City Council announce the UK’s first road closure to aid social distancing, on Madeira Drive

23 APRIL: Cambridgeshire County Council say they are ‘looking at’ temporary improvements for cycling and walking

27 APRIL: Leicester installs the country’s first pandemic-related pop-up cycleway on Aylestone Road near the city’s hospital

4 MAY: Our open letter reaches 100 signatories, including Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner and many local healthcare, education and business professionals

13 MAY: We finalise our presentation of ideas to share with local stakeholders

11 MAY: We set up regular communications with partner groups in the Spaces to Breathe Cambridgeshire and Peterborough coalition

26 MAY: We call on the county council to stop painting narrow, advisory lanes and draw on in-house cycling expertise

27 MAY: Our Quick CAM ideas are published as an exclusive in the Cambridge Independent with two other pages of Camcycle content around cycling and coronavirus


4 MAY: Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mayor James Palmer tweets ‘Now is the time to encourage more cycling in Cambridgeshire’

7 MAY: Mayor Palmer sends a list of suggested improvements to the Prime Minister, including many gathered from our Spaces to Breathe form

9 MAY: The government announces a £250 million fund for temporary measures and calls for swift action from local authorities

21 MAY: The county council publish a list of proposed temporary schemes

23-24 MAY: Narrow, advisory cycle lanes are painted on Milton High Street and Girton Road

28 MAY: The Department for Transport states that measures that do not ‘meaningfully alter the status quo on the road’ will not be funded

3 JUNE: A discussion with Horningsea stakeholders is just one of many local meetings we attend this week

4 JUNE: We raise two questions around Spaces to Breathe at the meeting of the Greater Cambridge Partnership Joint Assembly


3-4 JUNE: Decision-makers at meetings of the Combined Authority and Greater Cambridge Partnership unite in support of cycling and walking improvements

16 JUNE: The county council unanimously approves an impressive report of emergency proposals

Safe, healthy and resilient: a transport plan for the future

We’ve been campaigning hard for Spaces to Breathe because time is of the essence. Evidence has shown that in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the pandemic began, levels of motor traffic have bounced back higher than before bringing congestion and pollution with them. For our health, our economy and our NHS, we need to ensure that doesn’t happen in our region. We need to make sure key workers can get to work and children have safe routes to school. More of us need to walk and cycle so there is space on the roads and public transport for those who can’t make that choice.

To achieve the most benefit from the limited time and resources, the temporary measures must be planned. Using data from existing projects such as the LCWIP (Local Cycling Walking Infrastructure Plan) and City Access Study, local authorities should use an iterative process to determine desired routes and realign them based on the locations where rapid interventions are possible.

Quick CAM network – click for a larger version
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Our ideas for a Quick CAM network, do just this. We selected some key commuter routes in Greater Cambridge and calculated the journey times that could be achieved by someone riding an electrically-assisted pedal cycle if temporary interventions – achievable in 1-2 weeks – were applied along the route. We’ve also summarised other measures that could be quickly applied across the county, from school streets and low-traffic neighbourhoods to safe spaces around shops and improvements to traffic signals.

We need to work together on these schemes, trialling suggestions from local communities and encouraging more people to cycle through positive communications and cycling incentive schemes. We need to act fast and monitor well, learning valuable lessons on what works so we can build back a better future.

View our full presentation of ideas at

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Modal filters

Modal filters are quick, low-cost measures that make streets safe for active travel by removing motorised through-traffic while retaining full car access. (Image: )

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School streets

As children return to schools we need to ensure that pupils and their families can travel there safely and also reduce impact on the wider transport system. Interventions should include ways to make routes to school safer, ‘School Streets’ which limit traffic at drop-off and pick-up time, and extra cycle parking for children and their parents. (Image: @MeristemDesign)

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Pedestrian improvements

Reallocating roadspace to pedestrians gives more space for passing, queuing outside shops and waiting at bus stops. Railings and unnecessary items of street clutter should be removed and signals for walking/cycling should be improved so that the green man phase arrives automatically and sooner (to avoid touching of buttons). (Image: Sustrans)

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Cycle parking

Demand for cycle parking will grow and theft is rising. We need more spaces in more locations, built to higher levels of quality and security. (Image: Cyclehoop)

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Liveable neighbourhoods

Reducing through-traffic in residential neighbourhoods enables streets to be used as safe places for walking and cycling to schools and shops. It also opens up safer spaces to play, spend time and get exercise, which is particularly important when we can’t travel. Let’s make our local streets the best holiday destination this summer. (Image: @Heidi_LDN)

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Safe shopping

To encourage people back to the high street we need safe routes to get there, widened pavements outside shops and increased secure cycle parking. (Image: Hammersmith and Fulham Council )

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A strong, positive and widespread campaign is needed from community leaders in local authorities, business and the media featuring relatable role models. (Image: @BikeIsBestHQ)

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Working together

It’s important to engage with the community to gather ideas. Let’s do this together to improve our neighbourhoods (not have it forced upon us).

Our Regional Partners Include:

  • A10 Corridor Cycling Campaign
  • Arbury Road Residents’ Association
  • Barrington & Shepreth parish councillors
  • Coldhams Lane Residents’ Association
  • CTC Cambridge
  • Eddington and Girton Safer Cycling and Walking
  • Ely Cycling Campaign
  • Ely & Littleport parish councillors
  • Histon & Impington parish councillors
  • Horningsea & Waterbeach parish councillors
  • Huntingdonshire Cycling and Walking Campaign Group
  • Huntingdonshire parish councillors
  • Peterborough Cycle Forum
  • Sustrans East
  • Waterbeach Cycling Campaign
  • The Wilbrahams parish councillors