Cambridge University car and cycle parking

This article was published in 2016, in Newsletter 126.

Car park charging proposed for University sites – but cycle parking improvements needed

Cambridge University’s Downing Site is a car-dominated site, with parking spaces squashed into every possible space. Walking, cycling, and indeed space for University employees and students to relax, is very poor.
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Cambridge University is proposing to introduce charging for car parking. This development is partly due to pressure by the councils on the University to tackle congestion within the city but is also a great opportunity to seek improvements in cycle infrastructure at the same time.

The University has 9,000 central staff and operates a total of 32 staff car parks across the city and beyond, where demand far outweighs the available space. Staff are not automatically offered a parking space: the need for a parking badge is considered in terms of a strict order of priorities with priority given to staff who are/have:

  • Blue Badge holders
  • other medical or physical conditions which necessitate that they should park in close proximity to their place of work
  • family commitments
  • regular and frequent unsocial hours of work (when public transport provision does not provide a viable alternative)
  • regularly required to use a car for work purposes during the working day
  • prepared to undertake a formal-car sharing arrangement
  • reside in areas beyond reasonable reach of public transport
  • willing and able to park their vehicle at the University secure Park & Cycle facility and cycle, walk or take the University shuttle bus service to their place of work (only those staff working on central sites are eligible).

Proposals to introduce a system of charging for parking spaces include the following considerations:

Geography Department in 2003 – still the same in 2016. Insecure 1960s-style concrete block cycle parking and wheelbenders! Although these are from Geography, some other areas of the University are just as bad, alas.
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  • charging should be salary-contingent and salary sacrifice should apply if possible
  • management of permit allocation should be centralised
  • there should be a maximum permit allocation per site
  • revenues generated should be ring fenced to support alternative modes of travel such as buses, trains and cycling.

Many people who work in central Cambridge, for instance at shops and offices, do not receive free parking. So the University’s proposals to make parking a non-free resource are in general welcome. But it is important to recognise the lack of transport choice for those who live outside the city. There is surely scope for subsidy for those on lower incomes.

The proposal that any income from car parking should be strongly ring fenced, including Park & Ride vouchers, bus subsidies, cycling improvements etc., seems sensible. Any such public transport subsidies should again be on the basis of the same prioritisation, so that those in greatest need benefit most. Arguably, general University funds should also be earmarked to contribute to such changes, as a means of spreading such benefits equitably.

It seems self-evident that the University’s ambition to ‘become a world-leading university for sustainable travel’ cannot be achieved without a clear commitment to improving the city’s cycling infrastructure.

Joined-up thinking is needed. Recent moves by Downing College, to prevent cycling through its car park – where, oddly, there is no requirement for cars to be pushed – is a great shame, given that employees on the Downing Site are now required to take the longer route round in a congested area with very high pedestrian flows. While Downing College is not legally part of the University, it exists only because of it. This lack of joined-up thinking, tarring all bicycle users with the same brush, makes cycling for University employees and students unnecessarily difficult. Downing College’s change in this regard undermines praise due to it for some of the best cycle parking in Cambridge.

Ongoing measures being taken by the University include:

Downing College has re-banned cycling through its car parking, meaning University staff and students now have to take a longer route through congested streets.
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  • A ‘Park & Cycle’ site at its West Cambridge Site, off Clerk Maxwell Road. At the moment there are 300 lockers available with 292 car parking spaces, with the commitment given that if demand is sufficient then up to another 150 lockers will be installed. However, it is not clear to us to what extent this facility is being used.
  • A Cycle to Work Scheme, through which staff can lease bicycles and associated safety equipment through a salary sacrifice scheme which means that employees are able to receive Income Tax and National Insurance savings on the retail price of the chosen bike (up to £2,000) and the safety equipment package.
  • A commitment to provide showers, changing rooms, drying rooms and lockers in all new buildings.
  • A commitment to provide cycle parking at all new developments.

Current cycle parking needs substantial improvement

The current cycle parking situation on some University sites is, however, absolutely abysmal. In order to encourage staff commuting over longer distances, there needs to be reliable, high quality and secure parking on all sites.

The University should commit itself to upgrading all its older cycle parking to the same standard as it would be required to create for new buildings. This means stands that enable the frame to be locked, and more of them. Currently, there are lots of wheel-bending stands, and even concrete blocks! And, nearly 13 years after a consultant’s report on the Downing Site identifying changes needed, almost nothing has been done.

Bengt Hjulmand