Looking back at 100

This article was published in 2012, in Newsletter 100.

Cambridge Cycling Campaign has produced a newsletter every two months since we launched it in 1995. The one-hundredth issue is an opportunity to look over what has changed in those sixteen years.

No change is good!

From top: rising bollards in Bridge Street, cattle grid on Midsummer Common, launch of the Park Street cycle park, cycleways in Trumpington and Fulbourn, opening of the Jane Coston cycle bridge, genome stripes between Addenbrooke’s and Great Shelford and the Coton cycle path.
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We all know there have been changes on the ground, and I’ll talk about those in a moment. But it may seem strange to start by claiming as one of our biggest achievements, both as a Campaign and a community, that really not that much has changed. It’s overstating the case a bit, perhaps, but Cambridge seems to have been able to resist many of the pressures that other communities have given way to.

Firstly, levels of cycling have fluctuated (and I’d bet that has as much to do with the difficulty of counting as any real factors), but haven’t fallen off a cliff in the way they did in other places and, indeed, have probably risen.

One might argue that this is because of increased infrastructure or a cycling culture whose mass helps it survive. Some say in spite of rather than because of what has changed! I think the way in which Cambridge has retained its centrally-focussed structure as a town is more important. There was a real possibility in the 1990s that shops would move to a mall at what is now Orchard Park, and that John Lewis and others would move out of central Cambridge. Had that happened, I think an unstoppable process of ‘doughnutting’ would have started, leading to shopping realistically accessible only by car, as in so many other places.

At the same time, access to the centre by car has been systematically limited. The ‘core scheme’ has extended from the bollards in Bridge Street in 1998 to a ring of restrictions now. County Council officers acknowledge that this whole policy might have been derailed at the start had it not been for overwhelming support expressed by Cycling Campaign members.

So we have managed both to keep the centre alive and to keep traffic levels from rising in the areas where people cycle most.

Of course, there are individual out-of-town supermarkets, and there is also the car-dominated shopping area along Newmarket Road, but that is also only a very short bike ride from the town centre.

One of our biggest achievements, both as a Campaign and a community, is that not much has changed

Another ‘non-change’ has been the A14, sunk, of course, by the recession. But it will return – new roads never go away. A new road would have been a disaster for Cambridge and its cyclists had it been built as envisaged. It was conceived in an environment where Cambridge would have been protected from huge increases in traffic by demand management as part of the ill-fated congestion charging scheme, but that scheme’s abandonment did not lead to the A14 changes being stopped. If an A14 which can accommodate lots more traffic is built, I am sure this will have a devastating impact on cyclists in Cambridge. As things stand now, a toll road seems to be being considered, but there are also moves afoot to seek funding for developing alternatives to driving along the A14 corridor (and The Busway is a key plank of that, of course).

Northstowe has not been built yet either, but it will be. Only the recession has stopped it. I think few people quite realise the scale of Northstowe: the new town was envisaged as a third the size of Cambridge. What worries me most is that a settlement of this size has the possibility to be seen in the future as just the place for car- oriented shopping malls that could suck the heart from Cambridge.

Co-operation is good!

While there are changes on the ground which only happened because of the Campaign, so much of what we have done and still do is a matter of co-operation and lobbying as much as a direct achievement for the Campaign. The political process grinds ever so slowly and there are ever so many barriers in the way of change. There is the obvious barrier of a sizeable number of people who do not want favourable changes for cyclists. Money too is a limiting factor, of course.

Sometimes, though, we’ve encountered ‘not invented here’ attitudes which have led to change being a slow and roundabout process. It’s surprising to look back and see how often something was simply ‘not possible’ when we’ve suggested it, but which has several years later been promoted by decision-makers and become standard practice. Sometimes this is because particular individuals don’t like something, and in time they move on. For example, for years it was impossible to get white lines to delineate cycleways alongside roads in dark, out-of-town areas so you could see the edge. The mantra was that drivers would see the line and think it was for them and hit the kerb, and it was impossible to get beyond this. Now, it is standard practice to do this on new paths (and solar studs are now also used) – but there is a legacy of paths surfaced in the 1990s which don’t have lines and where there is not yet a process to get them added.

Most of what we achieve is, in the end, a compromise. Some people have told us that they think we should refuse to co-operate with a process that leads to compromise of any kind. I think this fails to recognise that we have no power to make anything happen. What about demonstrations and Critical Mass rides? We did indeed have a very successful demonstration in 1997. However, I think we are at a point now where there would have to be some specific problem with an identifiable solution for us to organise a demo: calling for ‘better conditions for cyclists’ would elicit the response ‘but that’s what we’re doing’. Moreover, given a press hostile to cycling, how would headlines reading ‘Cyclists cause havoc’ be avoided?

So much of what we have done and still do is a matter of co-operation

Cycling Weekly has just published an article by Keith Bingham [1] which concludes that ‘the much-admired Danish and Dutch models remain an elusive dream. Will the UK ever develop anything remotely similar? No chance. Others may hold hope but, in my view, this is as good as it gets.’

But is that what we want? This has been a constant dilemma. We have a broad spectrum of people, some of whom don’t want off-road provision under any circumstances and others for whom on-road is never acceptable, and every position in between. Isn’t most of that seen through the prism of what is actually constructed, all of which still makes cyclists share with pedestrians and give way at every turning? But is anything else achievable in Cambridge? So long as every tree and verge is sacrosanct, and when traffic capacity and on-street parking are still usually decisive, it seems hard to see how.

Some things we think we’ve won have been frustrating. I’m thinking particularly of the generally high standard set by the City’s cycle parking standards. On the whole this delivers, but in quite a number of high profile cases councillors have refused to uphold it.

Change is good!

It is facetious to say that nothing has changed, of course. There have been many changes for the better for cyclists (and some for the worse, and some decidedly mediocre). With most of these we have had a finger in the pie in some way or another.

The banning of cyclists from Cambridge city centre in 1994 was one of the catalysts which brought the Cycling Campaign into being. Despite cyclists winning the case at a public inquiry, the County Council was able to ignore that and push through their ban anyway. For thirteen years, cyclists were not allowed to cycle the central streets for large parts of the day six days a week. Only in 2007 was the ban finally lifted. Perhaps somewhat to our surprise, rescinding the ban was a response to increasing pressure over being able to cycle two ways in the streets where cycling was still allowed. Yes, Fitzroy Street and Burleigh Street still have a ban, but there has not been ‘blood on the streets’ in the city centre as predicted by nay-sayers.

The cycle bridge at the station was built just before we were formed, but there have since been three more bridges built specifically for cyclists in Cambridge, relieving some particular pressure points. The one at Coldhams Lane (2004) was a miserable affair, though it is nevertheless well used, but the other two at Milton (also 2004) and Riverside (2008) are excellent.

In 2007, after thirteen years, the city centre cycle ban was finally lifted

It’s hard to remember now that Cambridge had many one-way streets in 1995. Only a few, like St Barnabas Road and the enduringly successful Downing Street contraflow (another `blood on the streets’ prediction), had been opened up for cycling both ways. We’ve chipped away at this issue over the years. Few now remain and the rules that made it so hard to achieve have been changed. Yet another ‘blood on the streets’ kind of response has been belied in Corn Exchange Street where the cycle park was nearly thwarted by massive resistance to providing access to it from both directions. We still have work to do, though. It seems unlikely that the city centre triangle will be relaxed, but the Newtown area (Panton Street in particular) and north Romsey are still unnecessarily restricted.

Talking of Cycle Parks, these have been unequivocal success stories. The slow start to Park Street (2002) left it looking a bit shaky for a while, but it is now extremely well used (having the Cycle Ambulance there helps a lot too). Grand Arcade (2008) is predictably full to overflowing now. The city council’s failure, despite our vigorous lobbying, to ensure most of the required 500+ spaces were allocated to public parking means this Cycle Park is now short of space. We need a third one now.

Because most people only know and use small parts of the area, it’s perhaps hard to see quite how much more accessible Cambridge has become by bike from pretty much all the fringes. There has been a huge step-change and it is continuing. Just some examples: 300m of new cycleway were built (2002) between the Fulbourn Tesco and the railway, making it possible to avoid the busy main road between Fulbourn and Cambridge (which has also had an average to poor cycleway built alongside). The A14 is no longer the barrier it once was at Milton. The Coton path is a model not emulated anywhere else. Shelford has the Genome Path linking to Addenbrooke’s (2006). Histon is now linked to the Science Park via the Busway cycleway (though direct access to the city is still very problematic). Trumpington has both the pretty good cycleway along Trumpington Road (2001; let down particularly by Trumpington High Street) and the Busway to the station. The missing part of the Cottenham to Histon cycleway is now under construction.

Less concrete, but nevertheless very important, achievements are also evident. From the beginning we have stressed the need for quality in construction. This message has got through and surface quality and widths in particular have improved enormously (but still to nowhere near Dutch standards). There is still a legacy of old provision, shamefully so along Queen Edith’s Way, for example, and adequate widths are generally only achieved by sharing with pedestrians. Nevertheless, it would be churlish not to recognise the major improvements in approach leading, for example, to the cycleway to Wandlebury (2011) and some of the others built by the Cycle Cambridge team. The recent imaginative changes at Riverside also deserve mention.

Similarly, 20mph areas are more common, after much resistance, but it is a slow process.

The Travel for Work scheme [2] which grew out of a cycle-only partnership which we were instrumental in, is still running and working with employers to change travel patterns. It is hard work in the face of much pressure the other way. Nevertheless, this possibly threatened area may even see a new lease of life in the next couple of years.

It may only seem minor, but I think one of our achievements which pleases me most is the provision of cattle grids on the commons. Do you remember the ‘pram arms’ and gates we once had to contend with? All but one set of these are now gone, making the commons so much more accessible by bike.

And we have pretty comprehensive, systematic signposting supported by some excellent (if somewhat over-inclusive) and very popular maps, neither of which existed in 1995. Lots of signs are important, not just for information but because they reflect the importance of cycling to the city.

Change is coming!

Major planning applications are some of the hardest things we have to grapple with, but probably will be our major focus for some time to come

The recession has given Cambridge a breathing space. But things are moving once more. One can’t fail to notice the cranes near the station. Great Kneighton, aka Clay Farm, south of Long Road, and the Addenbrooke’s site extensions to the west are already filling in the south of the city. Housing construction is underway between the M11 and Trumpington Park & Ride site. Northstowe is back on the agenda. North-west Cambridge (between Huntingdon and Madingley Road) is in the planning pipeline – predicting a 70% modal share for cyclists (hmm). Major planning applications are some of the hardest things we have to grapple with, but probably will be our major focus for some time to come.

From top: celebrating the end of the city centre cycling ban, campaigning for two-way cycling in one-way streets, the openings of the Grand Arcade cycle park and the Riverside bridge, Wandlebury cycle path and the St Ivo Way.
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Looking back at Clare Macrae’s 50th edition round-up [3], limited cycle parking at the station was identified as an ongoing theme. It still is. But I think we can now see light at the end of this particular tunnel. The long-awaited plans for a proper cycle park are at last moving forward. I am moderately optimistic that by our 150th edition we’ll be able to report 3,000 spaces at the station as a major success.

David Earl

[1] www.cyclingweekly.co.uk/news/latest/531312/how-britain-has-failed-cycling.html
[2] www.tfw.org.uk
[3] www.camcycle.org.uk/newsletters/50/article1.html