This article was published in 2012, in Newsletter 105.
The area around the Science Park and Cowley Road is the most economically dynamic in the county and at the same time a planning mess. In the absence of a master plan, the area south of the A14, northeast of the old railway line to St Ives and west of the river Cam has been driven by major, largely private developments, like the St John’s Innovation Centre, Trinity College’s Science Park and the Crown Estate’s Cambridge Business Park. The area will soon benefit from a new railway station, which could open in late 2015.
The new station will be built at the south end of the old Chesterton sidings just north of the railway bridge over the Cam, the level crossing on Fen Road and the junction with the old St Ives line – see map below.
The Busway and cycleway alongside would be extended from Milton Road along the line of the old railway. Vehicle access would be by extending Cowley Road. Some new cycle and foot access links would also be provided from the west, notably via the Bramblefields nature reserve and from Fen Road via Moss Bank (meaning one could get to the station by bike from Green Dragon Bridge fairly directly).
The business case for a new station
For the station and the infrastructure development around it, the county council will borrow in the region of £23 million, which it hopes to recover from the franchisees through an increase in the number of travellers on the line to London, many of these additional trips originating in Northstowe. The county’s transport models (largely based on the assumption that people prefer whatever is fastest) suggest that only about 200 people currently driving to the Science Park area will make the modal switch and use the train. With the increase in reading gadgets and internet-enabled devices this behaviour might change and the figure of 200 might be an underestimate.
All trains between London and Cambridge will also stop (or start) at the new station, and maybe other trains, too. Delivery in 2015 is crucial, as the railway franchises will soon be renegotiated and the new station’s ‘business’ needs to be included. Owing to this time pressure, the new station will arrive without a master plan, which the council hopes to develop later.
An area of the city where until now the A14, the river and the railway have been barriers could potentially be opened up with new routes for walking and cycling. However, the initial drawings for the area – www.camcycle.org.uk/jumpto/nl105sps1 (simplified on the map below) – demonstrate a lack of vision. Cambridge Cycling Campaign has therefore sent a letter with a list of required improvements, compiled from the members e-mail list. We are pressing to address the major concerns outlined below.
The Chisholm Trail
We need to campaign for a new bridge over the river Cam to build the Chisholm Trail. The county council has allocated funds to study the possibilities for a new pedestrian and cycle bridge over the Cam by the existing railway bridge. This will eventually form part of the Chisholm Trail (www.camcycle.org.uk/campaigning/cycleroutes/chisholmtrail/).
While there is cross-party support for the new Chesterton bridge and the Chisholm Trail, there is a risk that the bridge will be built long after the new station opens. We think that this new bridge over the Cam needs to be in place before the new station opens, in order to avoid the users of the new station acquiring travel patterns which involve driving when they could walk or cycle instead.
It also needs to be pointed out that some residents of Old Chesterton already have concerns over the impact of heavy cycle use in Water Street and across Green Dragon Bridge at peak times. As designing and building a new bridge takes years and requires funds which are currently not in the budget, we have very little time and face many challenges.
The current plans will leave the level crossing at Fen Road untouched. Nevertheless, we are asking for the new station to be planned with access from two sides – the access facing Cowley Road as in the plans plus provision for a future access from Chesterton Fen.
Asking for the second access to be included in the plans and stipulated in the franchise for the new station seems important, based on the experience of Campaign members, who have so far found it impossible to convince the operators to add a second, southeasterly, ticket hall at Cambridge Station, despite the land off Clifton Road being available and unused and the presence of a bridge to the platforms.
Given that a bridge (though a tunnel like at Ely would be much preferred) will provide access to the platforms at the Science Park Station, adding a second entrance from the Fen Road/Chesterton Fen side (which lies in South Cambridgeshire) should be relatively easy.
The provision of station access on both sides of the railway is crucial in view of a possible Chisholm Trail to the northeast of the railway tracks and the possibility of Fen Road being cut off at the level crossing in future, with Fen Road north of the railway joining up with the northern end of Cowley Road. There are no pavements on the northern part of Fen Road and many parents consider this and the level crossing not to be a safe enough route for their children to walk or cycle to school.
Because Chesterton Fen is in the catchment area of the Shirley School on Nuffield Road, it is unlikely that the level crossing at Fen Road can be closed without providing either school transport or a bridge over the railway near the new station. Adding foundation points during the station construction should be easy, adding them once the station is operating would be complicated and costly. Of course, bridging the railway further away where there are fewer tracks seems cheaper, but it would put less of Chesterton Fen within walking distance of the station entrance. In a meeting with county officers we asked for foundation points for support columns of a future bridge to future-proof the new station.
The ideal solution would be for the bridge to all platforms to simply be a public right of way, connecting Chesterton Fen and Chesterton Sidings. Passengers would ‘check-in’ only when accessing the platform. This works at Welwyn Garden City and hundreds of railway stations on the continent. As the new station will be built and financed by the council, it gives the opportunity to design a fully permeable station, where tracks don’t form barriers.
The maintenance track needs streetlights
Is the council set to repeat the current failings of the cycleway alongside the Guided Busway? As guided buses don’t need streetlights, column lights for the cycleway will not be part of the new station budget. With the background lighting from Milton Road, the new station, Nuffield Road industrial estate and Cambridge Business Park, the lack of lighting on this route would be a sad disregard of people walking and cycling, e.g. to the Science Park or Cambridge Regional College.
The council is in the process of analysing if it can afford to allocate funds to install stud lighting on the existing maintenance track and we are pressing for column lights in built-up areas, including the new track between Milton Road and the new station.
The Campaign has raised concerns regarding Bramblefield Nature Reserve with officers, as we want to avoid a deterioration of the reserve and feel that lighting could well be inappropriate, if alternative fully lit routes through Moss Bank and Nuffield Road are provided.
In October we were told that, in order to make room for the Guided Busway, the shared-use underpass on the southeastern side of Milton Road (under the old railway track) would disappear, with the cycleway being made level (for a video of the area see www.camcycle.org.uk/jumpto/nl105sps2).
In another meeting in November we were presented with an alternative, initial drawing (not to scale), proposing to preserve the subway with a shared-use path squeezed in by the Trinity Hall Farm Industrial Estate. This would apparently save £700,000 on the cost of moving the utilities if the underpass were filled in. While we generally liked the idea, we also commented that there may not be sufficient space to create an adequate turning point between the subway and the access to the guided busway.
The council is planning for a minimal, straight-on-crossing, which will not allow buses to turn into or out of Milton Road here. Buses from Milton Road will turn into Cowley Road to reach the new station.
To improve permeability between the industrial estate on Nuffield Road and what should become as good as a ‘cyclebahn’ alongside the Guided Busway, it is being proposed that the track run south of the Guided Busway, whereas it runs north of it between Milton Road and Histon. This means that anyone walking or cycling from the station to the Science Park or Regional College will have to cross twice, over Milton Road and then the Guided Busway. (Yes, we have asked for detector loops for cyclists at the many new traffic lights, but any improvements will not come out of the new station’s budget.)
The ideal solution to the above problem would be to provide another full-width cycleway / footway with street lighting along the edge of the Cambridge Business Park, in addition to the full-width cycleway / footway on the maintenance track. We believe that there is sufficient space available for this, and this level of development is appropriate in the urban context.
Cowley Road as a ‘no-go’ area
A quick glance at the drawings shows that the most direct route from the new station to the Jane Coston bridge, St John’s Innovation Centre or the Science Park is Cowley Road, which in the draft is basically reserved for motor traffic. While there is a plan for a cycleway from the new station ‘piazza’ to Cowley Road, it is interrupted by the kiss-and-ride roundabout and ends at the bend where it reaches Cowley Road.
While Cowley Road comes under the highways authority (the county council), the adjacent embankments are apparently owned by the city council. Cowley Road sees many large lorries, and traffic levels will increase greatly. The county council expects that opportunities to extend the footpaths and cycleways all the way to the Science Park junction will arise when the area develops and new planning applications for, e.g., city council held land will be discussed. But nobody knows how long this might be after the station opens.
We are asking that, as part of the new station plans, the whole of Cowley Road be upgraded with a footway and segregated cycleway. It is important that the electorate puts pressure on the city and the county to come together and build a solution instead of a problem: the current plans send cyclists and pedestrians along the longer, indirect and unlit route alongside the Guided Busway.
Moss Bank to Cowley Road
We also expect an increase in the number of people walking and cycling up Moss Bank, past the new station to Cowley Road and the Science Park. The draft design makes no preparations for this route, which would avoid the double crossing over Milton Road. The plans lack a cycleway past the cycle parking and the station’s ticket hall as a continuous link to Cowley Road.
In the draft design, cyclists en route between Jane Coston Bridge over the A14 and Moss Bank would cross the station forecourt (officers like to call it a ‘piazza’) very near the entrance to the ticket hall. We have asked for this route to be improved to avoid conflict between pedestrians and commuters on the ‘piazza’.
Improve the area’s cycle network
Existing cycle routes in the north of the city are in urgent need of improvement. Many designated cycling routes in and around Chesterton are confusing or obstructed, leading to cyclists preferring to ride on the road or on pedestrian paths. Pedestrians are poor relations with faster traffic. Increasingly, paths are becoming dual-use for pedestrians and cyclists. With the expansion of cycling, this can be intimidating to pedestrians, in particular the elderly, the infirm, and those with small children or dogs. We are therefore calling on the council to build cycleways to standards achieved in the Netherlands.
Drawing parallel lines
The Nuffield Road business area and Cowley Road (from Milton Road towards the new station) run roughly parallel, only about 250 metres apart. Two other bits of tarmac also run parallel in between: Cowley Park (which is the Cambridge Business Park) and the overgrown road alongside the public drain, which Network Rail apparently want to retain, though it has not been used for years. The fifth parallel route in this 250-metre section of very valuable land will be the concrete beams of the Guided Busway and, finally, the sixth parallel with be the tarmaced (but unlit) maintenance track. We wonder how long it will take for these six parallel, mutually exclusive routes to appear as a textbook case of bad land management.
Cambridge Business Park resembles old West Berlin
Cambridge Business Park, home to BBC Cambridgeshire, is surrounded by a wall and has Network Rail-owned land on three sides where, unlike on most other private land, trespassing is a criminal offence. You can only get in through one controlled access point from Milton Road. It is ridiculous, it is in Cambridge but there is little the county council can do. There will be talks between the county and representatives of the Park to see how to open up this bit of Crown Estate. According to the draft design, those heading for e.g. the headquarters of Cambridge Silicon Radio, which is just 350 metres from the new station, will be expected to walk around Cambridge Business Park to reach the Milton Road entrance (or take a taxi).
The designers are trying to create a clean distribution around the station ‘piazza’. Travellers stepping out of the ticket hall will find 1,000 cycle parking spaces to their left (just southeast of the new station’s entrance), the bus stops straight ahead, the car park to their right and the kiss-and-ride roundabout and the taxi rank further to the right. While this clear distribution is laudable in principle, we expect that many station users will have left a bike at the station, to continue their journey to the CRC or the Science Park, and we are asking for a second cycle parking area northwest of the new station’s entrance, facing the Science Park, ideally increasing the number to 3,000 spaces. Fly-parked bikes are a menace in general and to the visually handicapped in particular and the station design should discourage it.
We need car parking
One of the benefits of the new station is that it may reduce the number of car trips to the congested Cambridge Station area. But it could also result in a car invasion in East Chesterton. We therefore give a very cautious welcome to a good chunk of the land between a new station with regular services to London and some of the most dynamic and innovative technology firms in the country being reserved for a car park. However, the new station’s franchisee is likely to license the car park operation to a private contractor, such as NCP. The car park operator will apparently be free to set the price for parking. If the prices are the same as for the car park at Cambridge Station, any motorist leaving their car on Moss Bank, Nuffield Road or Cowley Road will save £7.70 for a day at peak time or £33.20 weekly. Onstreet parking is likely to become an obstacle to commuting cyclists.
Overspill parking is, of course, an externality to the car park operator, but a burden to residents. An officer hinted at the Cycling & Walking group that there are other expensive, but underused, car parks at railway stations around the country where users prefer to leave their cars on the public highway in the vicinity. We fear that parking will become a major issue in East Chesterton. Sadly, depending on how they manage the car parking, we may still end up with many fly-parked cars on the access roads, despite much land being used for a car park.
An opportunity to improve Nuffield Road
Nuffield Road is a mixed-use area with a primary school, a large medical centre and housing, as well as large warehouses and industry. The path to the Nuffield Road allotments will become a station access for walking and cycling.
We have suggested that Nuffield Road’s residential section be cut off for motorised through traffic just past Discovery Way (in the bend by the allotments), and that the industrial section of Nuffield Road be opened up to Milton Road via Nuffield Close (here: cycle.st/p45471) and the first bit of the Guided Busway. This would require a crossing design that allows vehicles to turn into or out of Milton Road.
The Milton Road to Nuffield Close section of the new Guided Busway should therefore not have a guideway track, so as to at least keep this option open as the area is developed further. Bob Menzies’ initial reaction to this proposal (which he called ‘radical’) was that the difference between a straight-on-crossing and one allowing turning traffic would cost an extra million pounds, which he felt was a bit too much for keeping lorries away from a primary school. Shirley School has already seen accidents in front of the school gates. The risk is that the likely increase in traffic for the new station and an increase in onstreet parking will cause the area to deteriorate drastically, if the industrial part is not sectioned off from the residential stretch.
Bridge and lifts
There are many things in this development that we will have to work on and it is sad that the Campaign still has to worry about the basics. Unfortunately the dysfunctional guide channels and small, inappropriate lifts installed at Cambridge Station in 2011 show that we cannot even take the most obvious things for granted.
We have therefore asked for longer lift cabins than those used at Cambridge Station and with doors at both ends (as found at most airports) to allow users to push a wheelchair, luggage or bike straight in and out instead of having to reverse out of the lifts, which leads to hold-ups.
We have also pointed out that the new station’s ‘foot & cycle bridge’ needs proper guide channels to allow cyclists of all physical abilities, especially the elderly and frail, to walk a bike up and down the stairs, which will also require a separate hand rail. It may not suffice to request even such basics in writing and it will require further campaigning to avoid a repeat of the Cambridge Station bridge disaster. A subway with long ramps – like at Ely – would be ideal!
We have also requested provision within the station area for a bicycle rental business, secure cycle parking and also a bicycle repair shop, which the Science Park and East Chesterton currently lack.
Future proof the station
The county council is about to rush into place infrastructure (access road, unlit routes, a bridge to all platforms, absence of an entrance from Chesterton Fen, permanently cutting businesses on Nuffield Road off from Milton Road) which once built is likely to stay unchanged for generations. We think our much vaunted ‘super city’ deserves better.
The north Cambridge railway station could be an excellent example of good infrastructure design. It could have excellent cycle parking with space for thousands of bikes. It could be integrated with all the surrounding land uses: business parks, science parks, innovation park, and the residential areas of East Chesterton, Milton, and Fen Ditton. It could have excellent public transport and cycling links. These could be segregated from traffic jams and lorries, yet provide the most direct route to the station from places further afield.
Instead, we get a rushed uncoordinated plan of station, guided bus, car parking – ‘oh, and a minimum of that other stuff: doesn’t need to be that good’. This is not just another building that will last for thirty years, this is a future entrance point for the city. Please raise your concerns at the consultation, with your councillor and check the Campaign’s Science Park Station page at www.camcycle.org.uk/jumpto/ScienceParkStation
Klaas Brümann and Robin Heydon
COVER PICTURE: the site of the new station just north of the old St Ives line branch, seen from Fen Road level crossing.