This article was published in 2017, in Newsletter 132.
The Homes and Communities Agency recently consulted on a revised draft Design Code for Northstowe Phase 2, the stated aim of which is to provide ‘clarity from the outset on the ethos of the project and the standards required’.
There is a huge design opportunity, with new developments such as Northstowe and Waterbeach, to provide world-class walking and cycling environments, that enable all people of any age or ability who want to cycle to be able to cycle safely and enjoyably.
Northstowe is one of ten new Healthy Towns recognised by NHS England and it is claimed that ‘it will contain multiple and integrated open spaces and opportunities for walking and cycling… maximising opportunities to promote healthy lifestyles through design of the built environment’. But cycling in the Cambridge region is more than just a way to exercise, it is a general-purpose, all-weather, year-round form of transportation and Camcycle would expect Northstowe to provide robust cycling infrastructure that meets the needs of the people who will be living and working here.
‘Give priority to pedestrians and cyclists, by creating a connected network of legible streets that provide a safe cycle and pedestrian environment’ (section 1.6)
We were very pleased to read this but there is a crucial point that is missing here, which is that to really achieve a safe cycle and pedestrian environment the network should be a connected grid for walking and cycling, not for driving.
By specifically designing out through-routes for motor vehicles, rat running is prevented and the interior of the settlement immediately becomes a more peaceful and safer place for families walking and cycling. Only then does the Design Guide’s claim that the network of tertiary streets will provide an additional network of safe cycling routes ring true. Motor vehicles should be diverted outwards onto a perimeter roadway to go around the settlement instead. This kind of initiative would mark out Northstowe as a truly innovative, forward-looking development: an exemplar for the future.
The Design Code includes detailed street design, with three classifications: Primary, Secondary and Tertiary streets. In our response we rejected all three Primary Street types (Avenue, Double Tree Line and Single Tree Line) because they do not have protected and separate space for cycling, but instead resort to on-carriageway lanes. We strongly recommended swapping the positions of the trees and the cycle lanes so that people cycling are protected from the carriageway by trees.
Most of the Secondary and Tertiary Street designs mix people cycling with cars. We strongly believe that this should only be considered on low-traffic streets with slow speeds and no through-traffic. The anticipated volume and the speed of traffic using these carriageways are unclear. Of the two secondary street designs, only Type A (Designated Cycleway) has protected and separate space for cycling. This preferred layout could be significantly improved by the addition of a ‘safety buffer’ inserted between the parked cars and the cycle lane, so that there is space for doors to open without hurting anyone.
The Design Code claims that the network of residential Tertiary streets will provide an additional network of safe cycle routes, but we don’t feel confident that this will be the case unless rat-running is prevented.
Of the four Busways discussed we supported Busways Type A and B (Shared and Dedicated Busways) because they have separate and protected space for walking and cycling. We have major concerns and objections about Busways Type C and D (Town Centre and Urban Park) because there is no separation of cycling, and no clear path for cycling. The Design Code appears to indicate that cycling is expected both on the carriageway shared with buses and on the pavement shared with people walking.
Many people will not want to cycle amongst heavy moving buses and so will chose the shared pavement despite the high potential for misunderstandings and conflict between them and people walking (and scooting, and roller-skating, and walking with a cane, and walking their dogs… the list goes on). This shared space is also shown to include ‘general services’ zones, illustrated with people sitting at al fresco tables, which risk further conflict between different users of the space.
We supported efforts to design out potential conflict at bus stop cycle by-pass lanes between people cycling and people walking by ensuring sufficient width/adequacy of passenger waiting areas and safe walking routes to and from the bus stop. We would add, however, that bus stops should follow the London Accessible Bus Stop Design Guidelines and be long enough for two-door buses to open both doors.
We were pleased to see the Design Guide’s commitment to convenient and continuous pedestrian and cycle crossing points that allow people cycling to cross in one phase where signals are used. Overall however we are concerned that the Design Guide has not covered junction design sufficiently. Good junctions are paramount to ensure safe, effective movement and as such this is a key standard to be set. Camcycle would be very pleased to join detailed discussions to ensure that all considerations are fully explored.
We hope to be able to work with the Northstowe team to ensure that the new development meets the latest and best standards for providing high-quality and attractive walking and cycling infrastructure. We recommend our document ‘Making Space for Cycling’ alongside Highways England document ‘Interim Advice Note 195/16’ as starting points for design, along with robust discussion and consultation to understand how to best apply those principles in specific circumstances.