Autumn in North-West Cambridge has kicked off with a flurry of highway improvements, including phase 1 of an improved cycleway along Huntingdon Road from Girton as far as Oxford Road. The major housing developments materialising in Castle ward are offering the prospect of safer cycling routes on this side of the city.
Cycling has been an important alternative transport mode in the new developments on the North-West of Cambridge from the early planning stages. There is not yet a definitive map of the orbital cycle route which will eventually link the Science Park railway station – Milton Road – Kings Hedges Road alongside the Guided Busway to Orchard Park – Histon Road and onto the Darwin Green site through to the North-West (University site) – West Cambridge. From the information available I set out to navigate one of the proposed routes from the University site (North-West Cambridge) and into Darwin Green (the former NIAB site) heading towards Histon Road.
The junctions to the University’s North-West Cambridge site on Huntingdon and Madingley Roads are under construction and scheduled to open in late 2015. The County strategic route of north-south cycle paths is linked to, rather than integrated with, these junctions. Cyclists accessing North-West Cambridge and Darwin Green along one of the primary pedestrian/cycle routes will be able to do so via a dedicated crossing over Huntingdon Road close to the boundary with Girton.
Cyclists will then join the Huntingdon Road cycle path into Cambridge and pick up the Darwin Green section of the orbital cycle path by turning left after Whitehouse Lane onto the shared-use path.
The Darwin Green cycle route is part of Cambridgeshire County Council’s existing cycle routes. The route which is a Public Right of Way (PRoW) runs along the western boundary of Darwin Green (former NIAB site), currently from Whitehouse Lane, and links to Histon Road. During the early planning stages this section was often referred to as the ‘Green Corridor’.
Whitehouse Lane will remain a vehicular road to serve the Hotel Felix and the Anglia Ruskin sports fields. The Darwin Green section of the orbital cycle route will be a segregated route. The initial section which is located off Huntingdon Road has already been surfaced and runs for approximately 200 metres alongside the 187 homes which are now occupied. However, the path comes to an abrupt halt and the link to the existing PRoW is not clear from here. At present, a pedestrian or cyclist is forced to use Whitehouse Lane to follow the PRoW/cycle route. The route surface varies from a concrete road to a single track along the edge of fields and is not suitable for cyclists.
One could easily confuse Laurence Weaver Road as the entry point to the Darwin Green orbital cycle route. Another fine cycle path has been marked out along Laurence Weaver Road for about 200 metres. The Laurence Weaver Road cycle path converges with an existing pedestrian toucan crossing over Huntingdon Road. The Laurence Weaver Road cycle path will eventually be developed for cycling permeability through Darwin Green to link up with Windsor Road and Blackhall and Brownlow Roads by late 2017-2018.
A cycle route which will link Histon with Girton and offer alternative cycling routes to the precarious trips cyclists currently make along Huntingdon and Histon Roads is to be welcomed. With the number of new residents eventually settling in this part of the city we certainly need to commit to cycling to ensure safer journeys, better air quality and reliable journey times.
However, cycling infrastructure on the Darwin Green development is largely dependent on developer contributions through S106 funding which, in turn, are determined by the phasing of the development. Unfortunately, it seems that many years will pass before the cycling infrastructure will be complete, unless the Darwin Green developers (Barratt Homes) adopt the philosophy of their neighbours (University of Cambridge) on the North-West site, and install essential infrastructure at an early stage, like now!
As an example of how the S106 triggers work, the cycle route through Darwin Green to Windsor Road (off Histon Road) is dependent on the local centre/primary school (14/0086/REM, condition 3) being constructed. September 2017 is currently the earliest date for the implementation of pedestrian and cycle routes to Blackhall and Brownlow Roads which are also off Histon Road. The proposed Public Right of Way (PRoW) upgrade from Thornton Close, Girton, is envisaged to occur in March 2018.
The University (North-West) site, as a predominantly car-free development, has wisely anticipated the importance of setting early patterns of travel behaviour by their residents. Here, the University is putting in the cycle infrastructure prior to occupation. The routes may not be in their finished format, but essentially the paths will be in place and will be serviceable for cyclists to use.
Whilst we wait for the Darwin Green development to materialise, I would like to see the existing PRoW, which is part of the County Council’s orbital cycle network, upgraded so that the ‘Green Corridor’ cycle and pedestrian routes can begin to serve the increasing number of residents who will want to cycle safely and efficiently across the burgeoning North-West of Cambridge. I am investigating whether funding through the City Deal might be the way forward.