This article was published in 2013, in Newsletter 107.
‘We can’t go all the way this time.’ So when will they?
As explained in the next article, Cambridgeshire County Council has decided to prioritise car traffic over cycle safety at the Catholic Church, the site of many collisions in recent years. Cyclists will remain unsafely squeezed in, and the opportunity to increase levels of cycling has been rejected.
The junction designs attracted an unprecedented amount of debate within the Cambridge Cycling Campaign committee. Some of us (myself included) argued for a complete, outright rejection of the plans in their entirety. The compromise reached was to state very clearly that the plans do not go far enough – and that we expect the County to do much more. The scheme is better than the current junction design. It will slightly improve things for those cycling towards the junction from Hills Road.
I cannot see any clear reason why Cambridge Cycling Campaign should be positive about the changes, other than that they undoubtedly remove a barrier for further work. They simply will not result in an environment that the Campaign wants to see. Here are my personal reasons for thinking that we ought to have made a stronger case.
We attended meetings with County Council engineers who were drawing up the plans. These meetings were useful and cordial, and we cannot fault the staff involved. The remit given to them was to redesign the junction without significant detriment to car traffic capacity. They simply did not have the political backing to prioritise cycling, but they made every attempt to include cycling within that limited remit. They are to be congratulated for that.
I believe strongly that talking to people is the best chance we have of effecting change. The Campaign has a good working relationship with officers at the County Council and I want that to remain. However, engagement is not the same as eventual consent, and I made clear in these discussions that Campaign members might not accept the final proposals. For me, the resulting scheme is a clear example of where the Campaign should adopt a clear and independent position of opposition.
The County Council proposes to use £450,000 of the Department for Transport’s £15m fund for junction improvements that improve cycle safety. This £15m fund was created as a result of the Timesnewspaper’s brilliant ‘Cities Safe for Cycling’ campaign. I think that the kind of changes proposed here would disappoint the Times campaigners as their fund would be being misused for a proposal that retains a hostile cycling environment.
Had the County instead decided to make a bold statement in favour of cycle safety they would have been in an extremely strong position to obtain these funds; this cannot now be said for the scheme as it stands. My hope now is that the DfT will encourage the County Council to iterate the design once more to a far stronger state.
The Campaign’s lack of enthusiasm for the scheme meant that, at the Cabinet meeting discussing the scheme, Councillors were left in no doubt that we see the area as unfinished work. But it is clear there is no political will to solve the congestion problem here.
The County’s ‘Cycling Champion’, Councillor Martin Curtis (with whom we remain in cordial dialogue), said at the meeting ‘We can’t go all the way this time’. So when will they? This was, for me, the most striking comment of the whole Cabinet debate.
Yet, the Local Transport Plan clearly outlines the following policy:
Figure 4.2. User hierarchy
Pedestrians [highest priority]
Specialist service vehicles
Other motor vehicles [lowest priority]
The Catholic Church junction scheme exposes this user hierarchy as seemingly a pointless statement that means little in practice. If such a significant policy can be ignored for a junction with high cycle flows and a high collision rate, where on earth will it be followed?
Roadspace reallocation may be politically difficult, but it is only through making proper, safe space on the roads for cycling and public transport that there is any hope of reducing congestion.
There is not a single scheme as part of Cambridge’s road network that goes anywhere near as far in terms of cycle infrastructure as the Torrington Place scheme in London (which is nonetheless compromised and far from Dutch quality). In a supposedly ‘cycling city’ this is shameful.
Only a few days later, the County’s weak proposals were put into sharp contrast, when the Mayor of London’s new cycling strategy was published. Funded proposals for a 15-mile substantially-segregated cycleway – at the expense of motor vehicle space – show that some politicians at least are starting to ‘get it’. Only by providing a really high-quality cycling environment will many more people shift to cycling and free up roadspace for those who do have to drive.
For me, the Catholic Church junction scheme is a litmus test of whether County Councillors really see cycling as a priority, or whether its policy of putting cycling first only applies when it is easy to do so. The answer is clear: they have failed.