Roadworks on Hills Road

This article was published in 2012, in Newsletter 105.

‘A cycle lane was constructed northbound, protected by what I shall describe as lego bricks.’
Image as described adjacent

A regular user recounts her experiences during recent roadworks.

My commute takes me each morning from Hyde Park Corner (the junction of Hills Road at the Catholic Church) all the way down Hills Road to Addenbrooke’s. In the evening, I’ve a couple of destinations. If I’m going straight home or to my exercise class, I need to head north to Hyde Park Corner and turn right onto Gonville Place to go across Parker’s Piece. Other evenings I turn left just after the War Memorial and head through Newtown to Tennis Court Road, either as a final destination or to get to the western side of the city centre.

Therefore I was rather concerned when I first saw signs warning that Hills Road would be closed to all northbound traffic with a long and unpleasant diversion around Brooklands Avenue and Lensfield Road. It turns out ‘they’ were misleading us. An effort was made to allow cyclists full access from Hills Road railway bridge to Hyde Park Corner. So cyclists had been considered, and the fact that a long diversion would be silly and inefficient was clearly realised. However, how good were the results and can we offer any tips for such future works anywhere in the city?

What they did – and how it worked

A cycle lane was constructed northbound, protected by what I shall describe as lego bricks. It was not really wide enough to overtake any but the slowest and most aware cyclist, so could lead to a long queue of rather slowly moving bikes, with those at the back feeling like drivers behind a slow tractor on a winding road. However, in the morning rush hour, the traffic in the southbound carriageway went far slower than the slowest cyclist you can imagine! As the lane was barely wider than a bus, it was pretty hard to get past all but the smallest stationary queuing cars. Normally I whizz past all this queue in the cycle lane. So I would say that whatever people feel about various cycle lanes around the city which are of variable quality, when there is queuing traffic, I feel they are a pretty valuable asset in making cycling much quicker than being in a car. Thus, I was happier using the northbound route on balance, and taking a large diversion to avoid the southbound route unless I was there before about 7.45am.

These signs didn’t apply to bikes.
Image as described adjacent

How about getting into the northbound cycle lane? Crossing Hills Road railway bridge northbound took the same kind of care it used to take before they upgraded the bridge. I must say it made me appreciate how good the new layout is. However, I am not sure I can think what could easily have been done to improve matters for the only traffic permitted to go ‘straight on’ rather than left into Brooklands Avenue. Perhaps some signs warning ‘give way to cyclists heading straight on’ and a temporary box junction at the summit to give space so you can actually move across to the right? I found myself ‘white-lining’ to the right of vehicles to avoid being swiped by a left-turning vehicle if the stationary queue, which was normally there when I was heading home, started to move off. If the traffic moved more freely, you had to very aggressively ‘take the lane’ to stand a chance of safely getting into the right-hand lane, which was marked ‘buses and cycles only’, despite what some car drivers seemed to believe. There was normally one trying to turn left from it.

At the junction with Brooklands Avenue, the ‘road closed’ signs on Hills Road northbound were a little off-putting if you were not a seasoned Cambridge cyclist who realised that those signs probably did not apply to you. No wonder cyclists get a reputation for ignoring traffic signs and the like! In order to get to the nice cycle lane they’ve especially built starting at the War Memorial, you had to ignore a road sign which did not indicate that it did not apply to all traffic including cycles. That could easily have been fixed by just putting a sign or two next to the ‘road closed’ indicating that there was a through cycle route.

No access from the station

Going straight on wasn’t easy.
Image as described adjacent

Another place where it was impossible to get onto the northbound cycle lane was from Station Road. Of course no-one cycling from the station would want to head into town! The right-turn lane was totally obliterated, even though the sequence of the lights had not changed as far as I could tell, so it would have been totally possible to construct a ‘cycles only’ right-turn lane linking into the northbound cycle lane. It was also tricky to get onto it from any of the normal side roads to the east of Hills Road.

This cycle lane did end rather abruptly with a ‘cyclists dismount’ sign at the traffic lights at Hyde Park Corner. The argument was that the full cycle of the lights was not being used, so there was not a phase for traffic coming out of Hills Road, and they also needed to divert the pavement into the bit that could be cycle lane as they’re digging the pavement up too. As it was really only for a few days, fair enough. I had more worries about the ‘crossing not in use’ signs at the entrance to Hills Road. There was no safe way to cross the road here, and while I was inspecting this junction, I saw a near-miss between a car turning into Hills Road and a mother with a pushchair. ‘They’ surely did not expect pedestrians to use three sides of the junction, waiting for three sets of pedestrian lights, to cross one road?

Danger to cyclists did not stop outside the area of the road works. If I’m heading for Tennis Court Road, I cycle along Panton Street and turn left and then immediately right into Tennis Court Road. So, it was really not sensible to stick a sign just before the turn into Tennis Court Road from the east, advising diverted traffic where to go. As this blocked part of the road, eastbound traffic had to swing into the centre of the road or, rather, the right-turn lane into Tennis Court Road. A car narrowly missed me the other day, and I really cannot believe a proper risk assessment was done before placing this sign in such a potentially dangerous place, where cars driving around it risked colliding with traffic quite legally waiting to turn right.

My biggest criticism however is the lack of communication. There were no detailed plans anywhere we could see on the internet, just the rather useless signs on Hills Road railway bridge and out at Addenbrooke’s. Thus, I had to find out all these oddities and features by cycling along and seeing what I found. I would have been pretty annoyed had I been arriving by train the first morning, got to the end of Station Road and found myself stranded. I’m sure a lot of people, cyclists and drivers, would have appreciated being able to plan ahead and look at a map, and work out possible alternative routes which might work out faster.

So most mornings, I used the streets round the back of the station to avoid Hills Road. It was a pity there were also road works at the end of Tenison Road, meaning that was not a useful route as there was a big queue which was fairly hazardous to get past. Evenings if I was heading west of the city centre, I took my normal route. Otherwise, I thought it quicker to take the back streets after turning right along Station Road than to go at the speed of the slowest, and then have to get off and find some way to turn right (three separate pedestrian crossings if you do it by the book rather than jay-walking which is what I did the evening I tried it) onto Gonville Place. It took me probably five minutes longer to get everywhere. Thank goodness I was not in a car!

Heather Coleman