Catholic Church junction

This article was published in 2013, in Newsletter 106.

The junction where Hills Road, Lensfield Road, Regent Street and Gonville Place meet by the Catholic Church, known sometimes as ‘Hyde Park Corner’, is not pleasant to negotiate by bicycle because of the size of the junction and the number of different traffic movements.

This has been recognised by Cambridgeshire County Council (the transport authority) who, as part of a scheme to replace the ageing traffic signals, have made proposals ‘to make this busy junction safer and more user-friendly for cyclists and pedestrians’. These proposals went out for consultation in November and Cambridge Cycling Campaign submitted detailed – and fairly critical – comments in early December, and has been campaigning since for a more cycle-friendly junction.

Cambridge Cycling Campaign leafletting in January 2013.
Image as described adjacent

The county’s proposals

The main improvement from the point of view of cyclists is the creation of advanced stop boxes on all four streets, with the existing cycle lane leading into the one at the north end of Hills Road.

Our response

While some comments on the members discussion list suggested that the scheme should be rejected as wholly inadequate, after much discussion the Campaign sent a very detailed letter emphasising that the changes proposed did not go nearly far enough, were quite unworthy of Cambridge as a national leader in sustainable transport and did not comply with the County Council’s stated policy of prioritising cycling, walking and public transport.

Ideally, we would like the road network around the Catholic Church to be redesigned to make it much more suitable for cyclists: the article in Newsletter 103 outlined our initial ideas for making all the sections of the ring road from Newmarket Road to Newnham into a joined-up, safe and convenient cycle route. But this is a bigger project than improving the Catholic Church junction and would need careful planning and implementation. One reason is that reducing the number of lanes on Gonville Place and Lensfield Road will have impacts on capacity, and current demand needs to be managed, to reduce traffic flows, before road capacity can be cut dramatically.

Catholic Church junction from the top of a bus looking towards Gonville Place
Image as described adjacent

Newsletter 103 also explained the concept of separate traffic lights for cyclists, ahead of those for motor vehicles. We have asked the county council to approach the Department for Transport for permission to trial such advanced green lights at this junction now. We also identified other measures which we feel could be implemented now, without seriously affecting traffic flows.

Prohibit motor vehicles turning left from Hills Road into Lensfield Road

This is needed to remove the conflict between cyclists heading straight on into town and motor vehicles turning left into Lensfield Road. Traffic coming from the south and aiming for Lensfield Road (or beyond) could use Brooklands Avenue. Measures to prevent motor vehicles rat-running through Newtown would also be needed.

Southbound cycle lane in Regent Street leading into the planned advanced stop box

Advanced stop boxes are much easier to use if there is a cycle lane leading up to them. The county’s plans make no such provision and with two lanes of southbound traffic it will be difficult for cyclists to reach the advanced stop box safely. We would like to see a single lane of traffic heading out of town. There would then be space for one traffic lane 3m wide, and a cycle lane, complying with the national standard width of 2m. A proper cycle lane of this nature is entirely appropriate given the volume of cycle traffic. We consider that the traffic might actually flow more smoothly with a single lane for motor vehicles, as there would be less likelihood of delays caused by traffic not being able to pass vehicles illegally blocking the yellow box junction.

Plan view of proposed junction
Image as described adjacent

Northbound cycle lane along Regent Street heading towards the City Centre

Because of restrictions on through traffic in the centre of Cambridge there are fewer vehicles heading north along Regent Street, so one traffic lane would be quite adequate. There might then be space for a proper cycle lane.

Coloured tarmac and enforcement of box junction

Visually joining up the cycle lanes along both axes with coloured tarmac across the junction would make it clear that they form a continuous route and highlight the presence of cycles. We also want effective enforcement to prevent delays caused by the yellow hatched box junction being blocked.

Ban on vehicles except buses and bicycles turning left out of Lensfield Road into Regent Street

The existing traffic lanes leading up to the traffic lights are very narrow and cycles and cars are squeezed together, making it arguably one of the most hostile sections in the whole city. Putting in an advanced stop box will do little to help because it will not be possible to reach it safely. Now that St Andrew’s Street is closed to through motor vehicles, the number of vehicles turning left into Regent Street is much lower than it used to be. So we propose that a left-turn movement here could be restricted to buses and cycles only, leaving the current central lane reserved for straight-ahead and right-turn movements only. The few cars needing to access this part of the city can use Trumpington Street or Parkside.

Box junction blocked and causing problems.
Image as described adjacent

The approach here has waiting space for only around ten vehicles. Combining the remaining lane into a dual straight-ahead and right-turn lane would, we acknowledge, create increased delays in the short term, because motor vehicles turning right would partially block those heading straight on to Gonville Place. However, the main destination for those heading right would be either the station or Hills Road head-ing out of town. Thus within a short period of time, people driving from Newnham or Trumpington Street would soon learn to use Trumpington Road and then turn left into Brooklands Avenue. Both these roads are better able to cope with an increased level of traffic than the inner ring road. Other people would, with the safer bus/cycle only approach, and the addition of our proposed Newnham to Newmarket Road route in the medium term, switch to cycling.

Gonville Place approach

It has long been our view that the change from two lanes to three lanes around ten years ago has made the ring road far more hazardous and unpleasant for cycling, and there has been a consequent drop in usage as a result. Our strategic vision here is of a proper, 2m, Dutch-quality segregated path linking Newmarket Road to Newnham. This would require the Gonville Place stretch with three lanes approaching the junction to be reduced to two lanes. But there are difficulties in implementing such a change at this junction in isolation, because the effect on congestion further up the ring road would be significant, and cyclists at those other, upstream, junctions would thus be disadvantaged by increased congestion there. Nonetheless, a reduction to two lanes is needed. So we have asked, as a first step, that county officers model the effects of congestion by drawing up plans for the full route that we propose, taking into account the resulting shift from car to bicycle.

Monica Frisch