This article was published in 2016, in Newsletter 126.
The Greater Cambridge City Deal has a new project to divide communities.
Consultants have drawn yet more lines across the lungs of Cambridge. Although we clearly need more capacity for people to get in and out of Cambridge, and authorities have fortunately been quick to say these lines are ‘illustrative’, we need more pragmatic solutions.
This is my area, and I do understand that the recent expansions at Linton, Granta Park, Babraham, and the Cambridge Biomedical Campus, not to mention Haverhill, mean more people travelling over the Gogs between Cambridge and Four Wentways (the A11/A505/A1307 junction).
I’m very surprised that the A1307 is being considered in isolation, as the A1301 corridor through Great Shelford, almost parallel, and only a few miles away, is also suffering increased motor traffic. This is due to expansion of the Genome Campus, with further potential growth, including ‘science park’ type employment for a possible 2,000 people on the old Spicers warehouse site near Sawston and other potential developments, not to mention people who drive the short trip to the Trumpington Park & Ride site, although the no.7 bus supposedly runs through the main villages every 20 minutes.
Neither bus trips nor cycling are easy or convenient for the outer reaches of either corridor. Public buses are slow or expensive, and cycle routes, few of which meet modern standards, either stop or take long diversions to some important destinations.
Suggestions of a new busway or reinstated railway all the way to Haverhill have been ruled out as being too expensive or not achievable in the timescale of the City Deal programme, as is a dual-carriageway road.
Obviously, we all want more reliable journeys to and from work that cost us less money, but improving the lot of those who use public transport or cycle by spending big money can outrage those who drive, unless they too see benefits. In addition, those living on the A1301 are seeing congestion worsen and buses become less reliable.
To compound these issues, the business/science parks operate private fleets of coaches, not available to local residents. In Stapleford during the morning peak I see more ‘private’ buses, be they for school or business, than public service buses! To stand waiting, and see a bus stopping that you cannot board, is almost as frustrating as seeing an empty bus pass without stopping! In addition, despite routes that could easily be adapted at little expense to enable buses to bypass traffic queues, little or nothing has been done in recent years.
On the A1301 corridor, buses from Saffron Walden via the Genome Campus to Cambridge now run only once per hour with no buses after 6.10pm (to Saffron Walden) and none on Sunday. To be attractive to those who work other than 9-5 and to provide for education, shopping and leisure trips, at least a half-hourly service is needed during the day with an hourly evening service, and a Sunday service.
How does cycling help the mix?
Cycling into Cambridge has almost doubled in the past ten years. This has been aided by several factors:
- the creation of good-quality cycle routes away from busy motor traffic routes, such as those alongside the Busway
- road congestion has highlighted the utter reliability of cycling journey times, meaning that trips are far less stressful and time is actually saved rather than wasted
- road congestion also means that at peak times cycling will be quicker than bus over distances of less than 10km
- the realisation by many more people that cycling is a good way to incorporate exercise into a regular daily routine
- electric-assist bikes are increasingly available and can easily double the range that can be cycled, so the city centre can be reached from necklace villages by all ages and abilities.
Providing more good cycle routes is relatively cheap. I reckon you could easily build 4km of route for the cost of 100 extra spaces at an existing Park & Ride (P&R) site.
That should be sufficient to connect another necklace village to the existing high-quality cycle network, enabling many more work, education, shopping and leisure trips to be made by bike.
Is Park & Ride the solution to everything?
Many with access to a car think that P&R solves all Cambridge transport problems, but a not insignificant numbers of trips are diverted from otherwise profit-making commercial services (technically called ‘abstraction’), with one P&R in Bristol abstracting 40% of passengers from such services. Is it really right to spend millions of capital tarmacing over green fields when it encourages more private car traffic through villages, and leaves those without access to a car disenfranchised? We now even have severe congestion on the approaches to many existing P&R sites, with consequent delays to regular service buses from the villages! Even around Cambridge there are large numbers of students, elderly people, and families without two cars, where a car is not available for all (or even any) essential journeys.
Of course P&R is a big benefit for those travelling into Cambridge from locations further away and without a good direct bus link, but a stand-alone P&R site needs around one thousand spaces to have a viable dedicated bus link. Previous incarnations of the Cambridgeshire Local Transport Plan have suggested smaller sites near to villages further out from Cambridge. Such ‘hubs’ could be more than a dedicated P&R. Cycle access from nearby villages could be improved, and the hub could be a base for a small community-based minibus. They should be served by a limited-stop express bus service into Cambridge from even further out, stopping in necklace villages and/or business/science parks on the way. To speed these up within the city they would only stop at say Addenbrooke’s and the railway station, setting down on the way in and picking up on the way out, as, I believe, happened in the 1960s.
I’ve established the principles, but what should be the practice?
For public transport
Park & Ride ‘Hubs’ at Whittlesford station, Four Wentways/Abington, and Linton, each served by limited-stop buses from Haverhill and Saffron Walden that use parts of the existing Busway network to avoid congestion on Cambridge’s southern fringe, together with short stretches of bus lanes at congestion hot spots.
Incorporate existing ‘works’ coaches for Granta Park, Babraham and the Genome Campus into that express service which should then be commercially viable for an extended period throughout the week, and hence provide a vastly improved services for many local villages.
For cycling and walking
Extend and improve the existing cycle network (NCN11) alongside the existing rail corridor as least as far as the Spicers development and over the disused Haverhill railway line as far as Granta Park and Abington. Sustrans already has a licence to use some Network Rail land for this route.
Such a route would link the expanding Biomedical Campus and housing in the southern fringe with the possible 2,000 jobs on the Spicers site as well as giving good links to the housing in Sawston, Babraham, Granta Park and beyond. It would avoid the ‘climb’ over the Gogs which, although enjoyed by ‘sports’ riders, can easily add 5 minutes cycling time for ordinary mortals. Such a new route would be away from busy traffic, hence pleasant, and avoid the navigation and safety dangers that cycling in the dark against un-dipped car headlights can pose on the A1307 and A505.
It is very easy to find expensive schemes that seem to solve all our problems. They never do. I’ll just list one example of many: very expensive schemes on the M25, supposedly to reduce congestion, have led to rapid increases in traffic volumes.
I’m sure that spending 20% of the capital on more carefully considered schemes could bring 80% of the gain in a far shorter time without much of the pain. So called ‘soft’ engineering and small-scale measures normally give far better returns than heavy engineering that causes years of disruption.