Saffron Walden’s shortest link

This article was published in 2015, in Newsletter 122.

After four and a half years of campaigning, Access Walden marked the first changes on the ground with a photo call that attracted around 100 people early on a Sunday morning. I caught the train from Cambridge to join them and see what they had achieved.

Chicanes on a 60mph road. This is not going to encourage new cyclists on the route between Audley End railway station and Saffron Walden.
Image as described adjacent

The journey between Audley End railway station and Saffron Walden’s market square is two miles and equates to about 15 minutes cycling or 40 minutes on foot. A mile of this is along Wenden Road which looks like a typical country lane, just wide enough to provide two lanes of motor traffic. At either end there’s a short section of footway, but for half a mile in the middle, where the road twists and turns through the hilly landscape, there is no footway. The speed limit is 60mph and the sense of vulnerability is sharpened in the hollows where the banks on either side block any escape route should you be walking or cycling along there when motor traffic appears from both directions.

As it is the shortest route it is the one that most walkers and cyclists would choose, but that also makes it attractive to motor traffic. In the weekday morning peak the road is especially busy and hostile as drivers make the dash to the station, many to drop off children to attend schools in Cambridge.

The result is that many conclude that they’d prefer to drive or be driven and so in turn add to the vicious circle that limits walking or cycling only to those brave enough or who find themselves with no other option. This is known in the business as suppressed demand.

Access Walden is the campaign group focused on this problem and they have succeeded in bringing together the relevant groups and agreeing these changes to the road which are now in place:

The contraflow cycle lane on Wenden Road takes up almost all of one carriageway. The woman pushing a pram in the road proves the footway is not up to the job.
Image as described adjacent
  • conversion of ΒΌ mile of Wenden Road at the Saffron Walden end to one-way east-bound for motor traffic with a contraflow cycle lane
  • four chicanes along the rest of the length of Wenden Road that force one traffic lane to give way to the other
  • diversion of a bus route

Disappointingly, the speed limit remains unchanged at 60 mph, and there is no change to the footway. The chicanes are plastic and are bolted to the road surface, so they feel very cheap and temporary. There is no tangible improvement in the protection provided to walkers and cyclists and so the changes are unlikely to attract new users.

Judging by the tales I heard and the length of time it has taken to get anything done, it sounds like those responsible for traffic in Essex were unwilling to recognise that a problem existed. Now that a step has been taken, I’d expect that over time the changes will bed in. Then it ought to become easier to make more improvements in favour of walking and cycling. So the job is not yet done and they will have to continue the campaigning work, and we wish them well with that.

Simon Nuttall

Many more photos at: http://www.cyclestreets.net/photomap/tags/accesswalden/