Provision for cyclists at the North West Cambridge development

This article was published in 2014, in Newsletter 116.

Transport and congestion are together one of the biggest issues facing Cambridge at the moment. One of the others is the lack of housing, and consequent high accommodation prices. New developments are desperately needed, while minimising impact on the transport network.

Those promoting new developments in Cambridge love to talk about cycling. They love to produce glossy brochures with pictures of happy cyclists on empty roads. They make much of how cycling will reduce or negate the transport impact of their development on existing roads. The reality of their designs rarely matches the rhetoric, and the North West Cambridge development is no exception.

Most important of all is junction design and major roads. Residential roads are not usually a barrier to cycling. If you want to encourage people to cycle you don’t help people get to the end of their street by bike: you help them get out of the development to the rest of the city.

The development

North West Cambridge is the working name of a Cambridge University development between Madingley Road and Huntingdon Road. Intended primarily as a housing development for 3,500 employees and postgrads of the university, it will also have a primary school, community centre, health centre, shops and sports facilities. A further

1,500 houses will be available for purchase by the public.

Plan of Madingley Road West junction now under construction
Image as described adjacent

‘Ensure a reduction in vehicles on the network’

Developers always say that impact on the network will be minimal. It is rarer to claim that a development will actually reduce traffic. But that is what the North West Cambridge development is claiming.

Their exhibition content stated: ‘The suite of measures proposed will ensure a reduction in vehicles on the network. As a consequence they will more than offset any increases attributable to the development.’

Key to this is discouraging car use. The development has a number of ‘Quality of Life’ pledges, of which Pledge 4 is ‘Low car use will be the norm’.

However, the junctions that connect the development to the existing road network are being designed for high capacity car movements.

The junctions

I’m taking Madingley Road West (aka Madingley Road/ High Cross) as my example, but the junctions are all designed on similar principles.

While cars can exit the development in one traffic light phase, all the pedestrian and cycle connections to the road network are two-stage crossings. That means that cycling off-carriage- way or walking you have to wait twice to cross a single road, or four times if you need to make a diagonal movement.

A second motor traffic lane increases the capacity of the junction on every arm, for car traffic which we are told will not exist.

The central islands for the crossings are offset, requiring a 90 degree turn in a small space on a bike. This is particularly hard for anyone with a trike, or trailer, or a tag-along: i.e. those people likely to be most vulnerable or carrying children. There is not a lot of waiting space in the middle, which is in any case only necessary because the crossings are two-stage. So while car capacity is generous, the walking and cycling access has not been made for mass movement.

NIAB junction. Looking west across Huntingdon Road, with near crossing emphasised. [The cover photo was taken towards here from over there.]
Image as described adjacent

The toucan crossings connect up shared-use paths. For reasons why shared-use is substandard provision, disliked by pedestrians and cyclists alike, see Newsletter 111.

The High Cross junction arm has an advance stop box without a feeder lane, but they found room for the extra queuing lane for motor traffic.

None of the junctions provides anything other than paint protection for people on bikes on the road. The lanes are advisory rather than mandatory, so can legally be blocked by vehicles.

The junctions are large, and open, and any person on a bike who ventures to use the road as the more convenient option will find it deeply unpleasant.

This is classic ‘two-network’ provision (see Newsletter 115). Your journey can feel safe, or be convenient, but not both at the same time. This is not a design philosophy for widespread cycle use, and it certainly doesn’t encourage it.

The planning application

Cambridge Cycling Campaign objected to the planning application when it was first made, as did Sustrans, citing ‘inappropriately large junctions’ as the basis for their objection.

At the Joint Development Control Committee it was recorded in the minutes: ‘Disappointment was expressed about the lack of detailed response to the issues raised by the Cambridge Cycling Campaign and the City Council Cycling and Walking Officer. The Principal Planner (New Neighbourhoods) acknowledged the concerns raised, however explained that in respect of assessing junction design the report needed to consider all material considerations with regards to the application and not just from one view point.’

It is extremely disappointing that even though the failure to respond to our concerns was highlighted, it was still considered sufficiently immaterial that councillors approved the application without reservation on this point.

Impact on Cambridge

The road network in Cambridge is already close to gridlock. Getting a large number of cars out of the development in one go only ensures worse problems along the same roads closer to the city centre. The roads around the development are bringing in people from outside the city who may not have a cycling alternative. Commuters are hardly likely to be pleased if their journey is made more congested by people who could have had a good alternative to car use.

The Campaign will be keeping a close eye on this development and doing what we can to mitigate poor cycling provision, but the approval of the planning application has limited our options.

Hester Wells