Abbey-Chesterton Bridge

This article was published in 2015, in Newsletter 122.

Public meeting

On Monday 7 September a public meeting was held to introduce some options for designs of the proposed new bridge, together with some suggested provision for the approach ramps.

Campaign Chair Robin Heydon in front of the proposed bridge location.
Image as described adjacent

You can view the options on the county council website at:

Regular readers will know that there has been some local controversy over both the location and the need for any such bridge. At this well attended meeting, following the presentations, such opposition was much muted. It is now clear that the bridge will be close to the existing railway structure and the approach ramps are likely to be formed as an extension of the existing railway embankments. This vastly reduces the impact on Ditton Meadows compared to some early proposals.

Although the span will be around 40m the total length of both approach ramps will be over 100m. Hence the design of the ramps will form a significant part of the appearance if not the cost. Building such ramps from soil as an extension of the existing railway embankments will clearly, in time, much soften the visual impact. Steps at the bridge ends will enable those on foot to shortcut the ramps and reduce conflicts on ramps, such as occur at Green Dragon Bridge.

Any designs here need the cooperation and support of Network Rail. Not only do they currently own the triangle of land on the north bank on which the bridge would be forced to land, but any design which increased cycle or foot traffic on the Fen Road crossing would be very likely to result in a veto from them. Network Rail would have such powers even if they did not hold that key piece of land.

So what of the designs?

I’ve a preference for option 2, which has clear segregation between those on foot and bike, with both sections being 2.7m. It is the widest design but the construction depth means the approach ramps could be slightly longer. Both the other options are narrower at 4m and, even if informally segregated, future increases in use could cause unnecessary conflicts. Although option 1 looks as though it could easily be widened by say half a metre, I feel the structural design of option 3 would preclude any widening.

Getting agreement for this bridge is urgent

All these designs have splayed sides and would have appropriate but not intrusive safety rails and lighting. The splayed sides give a greater effective width, especially for cycling. The effective width of the cycle section of the bridge at the station is only 2m when you take into account the vertical face at the edge. The obvious way to have segregation is for the foot section to be on the downstream (away from the railway) side. This side will have excellent views over Ditton Meadows, and is the place that many will loiter to gaze about, so clearly should be the preferred pedestrian side.

Getting agreement for this bridge is urgent. It will not be quick to construct. It is crucial to establishing sustainable travel patterns that this bridge and the approaches from Abbey ward are open as soon as possible after the opening of Cambridge North station, and ideally before any other developments in the Cambridge Northern fringe are completed.

Pictures of options. Designs by Knight Architects included courtesy of Cambridgeshire County Council.
Image as described adjacent

Jim Chisholm