Opinion: The worst potholes are gone, but Riverside needs a more ambitious vision

This article was published in 2021, in Magazine 151.

Robin Heydon
Robin Heydon

I cycled along Riverside the other day and noticed something different, and yet also the same. Riverside is a street with three personalities. At the western end, near Elizabeth Way bridge, is a lovely bit of design. We have a clear area for people walking. This is separated from a vehicular area by lots of cycle parking and trees. And then there is the vehicle movement space, wide enough for a single motor car and plenty wide enough for lots of people cycling in both directions. Then there is some car storage, a narrow pavement, and then you get to the front doors.

This was an excellent scheme that in my opinion should be replicated all the way down Riverside. Unfortunately, the next section is a rough patchwork of poorly done roadworks creating what must have been planned as a lovely mountain bike section. The pavement is shockingly narrow: so narrow that most people walking just give up and walk on the road. There is still motor vehicle access along this section, but this only provides access to a number of houses along Riverside and to the car storage areas for the various new blocks along the waterfront.

Then there is the Riverside Bridge, with the café near the end which always appears to be doing excellent business with all these people walking and cycling past.

The final section has recently been resurfaced. It is super smooth now, but it still has terrible provision for people walking. The far end is just a sea of black tarmac for storing all manner of items. Electric wheel chairs, caravans for people to live in, and cars. And in the middle of these are numerous huge … no, they are bigger than huge … ginormous 20mph speed limit signs painted on to the road surface. They look completely out of place on a street barely 200 metres long that primarily accommodates people walking and cycling.

People walking, cycling and using mobility aids on the new black tarmac on Riverside
The new resurfacing is super smooth, but still has terrible provision for people walking. This route could be transformed with wide pavements and new trees.

In the Netherlands they have what they call a Fietsstraat or Cyclestreet. They have a lovely sign that shows a picture of a cycle in white, and a picture of a car in red in the background with the words ‘auto te gast’, or cars are guests, underneath. You would be right to say that in the UK we don’t have any such signs or designations. We have bridleways, and byways, and roads, and motorways, but no cyclestreets. Neither do the Dutch! One local council just decided to design a new sign, design the road surface to be attractive to people cycling, and discourage people from driving along such a section by blocking through traffic. Riverside has all these qualities.

The newly resurfaced section is on a major cycle route from Abbey and East Chesterton into the city centre, also marked as National Cycle Network route 11. We could have easily made a little more effort to make this space more attractive. We could have provided a lovely wide pavement next to the river, separated from people cycling by some cycle parking space. We could have planted a few trees and greened up the space. We could just cut and paste the design used at the other end of Riverside.

Instead, we have a car-centric resurfacing of a street that just provides access to a few houses and apartment blocks, with no thought given to people walking or cycling. At least it is not as bumpy as before. But it could have been so much better. It sometimes feels like it is sexier to build a new motorway than to improve the places where people actually walk and cycle every day.

Robin Heydon is Chair of Camcycle. This article was first published on 15 March, 2021, in the Cambridge News, where you can read his column each week.

The Riverside improvements were made as part of the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s Greenway project.