Opinion: It’s time to work with local communities to make their streets nicer places to be

This article was published in 2020, in Magazine 147.

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Robin Heydon

Coldhams Lane is a residential street that is dedicated to moving cars as fast as possible towards the centre of Cambridge. And some reports I’ve seen suggest that speeds in excess of 70mph have been recorded along there. This is a street where children live, where they probably have friends who live on the other side of the street, and where they should be able to go and visit their friends without having their parents supervise the road crossing for them on the way there and way back.

Given all the recent COVID-19 changes, the lack of traffic and the associated huge improvement in air quality, never mind the reduction in noise and increase in people walking and cycling, residents on that Lane have some ideas.

What would they like to see happen? Wider pavements for a start. With so many people walking these days, and hopefully for many more days in the future, the pavements have to be wider. When roads get congested we instinctively spend billions of pounds widening them, why not do the same for pavements? They would like the cycle lanes to be doubled in width. The current cycle lanes are not even up to the minimum standards required by the government these days, so just bringing those up to the spec is necessary, but I have a feeling they’d like to go a little bit wider than that.

If we tied these improvements into a longer-term plan for radical improvements of the roundabout where Sainsbury’s is, along with subtle improvements near the retail parks, this road could become a fantastic route into and out of Cambridge for those people walking and cycling.

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With wider pavements and less motor traffic, Coldhams Lane could feel like a lane again: what would that feel like, sound like, smell like?

We got into this situation by not really noticing how much motor traffic has taken over our lives. How noisy it is, and how foul the air is near it. Perhaps the suggestions being made were only really possible because neighbours could actually cross the street safely and talk to each other, keeping a suitable social distance apart from each other whilst talking and not being drowned out by the constant rumble of traffic going past.

To me, the key concept here is that Coldhams Lane has lost its original intention. It is a Lane. To me, a lane invokes images of a quiet country track that leaves the farm and stretches out into the fields. A lane is a quiet place where you can easily just stop, lean against a tree, and contemplate the existential question of the day. When I think of the word lane, I don’t think of the A14 (a soulless road dedicated to moving traffic) and forget everybody who lives on or near the street, or who wants to walk or cycle.

This may be a once in a lifetime opportunity to see what a Lane could actually feel and smell like, in Cambridge. Let’s grab these ideas and run with it. Are there other Lanes, or Streets, or Ways that should also have similar ideas?

Robin Heydon is Chair of Camcycle. This article was first published on 25 May in the Cambridge News, where you can read his column each week.

If you have an idea for a lane, street or way near you, join our campaign for Spaces to Breathe! Add your suggestion to our online form at camcycle.org.uk/SpacestoBreathe or pin an idea to the map at WidenMyPath.com.