Saga of Red Cross Lane

This article was published in 2017, in Newsletter 134.

Red Cross Lane is a street off Hills Road, opposite Nightingale Avenue. This is a useful route if you’re trying to get from many places north or east in Cambridge (where people live) to Addenbrooke’s/Trumpington/the Shelfords/DNA path, especially if you want a quieter cycle. It is the first road south of the main Addenbrooke’s roundabout.
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The Red Cross Lane access to Addenbrooke’s has been dramatically improved to provide a very nice link to the Biomedical Campus and National Cycle Network Route 11.

This is extremely welcome and congratulations to those who got it done. However, this little (15-metre long) bit of path is also an illustration in microcosm of the difficulties in improving infrastructure. Why does it take seven years of badgering to get a cheap, simple, project with no downsides done? Effectively, to get a gate opened?

Until last month it was a dead-end, closed by two full-width wooden gates, with a pedestrian gate on the north-side footway and a gap on the south side.

It used to be possible to get a bike through this gap, but it was very unsatisfactory because the only drop kerb was really close by, so you had to approach at an awkward angle across the dropped kerb. It was quite narrow, and lots of pedestrians used it too, so there was inevitably conflict at this entirely unnecessary choke-point. It was just possible to get a bike/child trailer through, but you would have to stop and re-align the trailer.

Before: full width and pedestrian gates. The desire-line across the grass is clear. After: no gates on the new path.
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If we could just get someone to open the gates (and lift an existing bollard to stop vehicle access) cycle access could be dramatically improved. That shouldn’t be hard, should it? It wouldn’t cost much, and no-one could argue that it was a bad idea. We moved to the area a decade ago and soon decided to try to get this fixed.

The problem in resolving this seemed to hinge on it being at the junction between public land and Addenbrooke’s land. Councillors were sympathetic but limited in what they could achieve. Amanda Taylor was helpful in getting a proposed interim measure (a more sensibly placed drop kerb) on the Small Works list. However, this didn’t make the cut for funding when competing with floral displays in Cherry Hinton.

The disability access people at the council had no interest in making this route accessible to people in wheelchairs.

Finding the right person at Addenbrooke’s was difficult, but after a while we made sure this issue was on the BUG-WAG agenda, so that was good. Once someone realised the issue, they’d just fix it, right?

Camcycle pointed out to Addenbrooke’s that Red Cross Lane was terrible in a report on the site in 2011. It was also logged on by Dave Earl. We asked candidates about it in the 2011 council elections, and all elections since. Another couple of years passed and nothing much changed.

The narrow gravel path alongside Robinson Way that cyclists and pedestrians had to share for nearly three years.
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It’s hard to tell what’s going on with Addenbrooke’s, but hospitals having no budget for anything not directly healthcare-related seems to be most of the problem, combined with a clear lack of leadership on cycling matters generally on the site. One thing the hospital did manage is to make the site no-smoking (at the end of 2013), but this meant that the gate-gap was now often blocked by smokers, standing a metre offsite, making the place a stinky cancer corridor and filling it up with fag-ends. Delightful. But at least you could pop through the gap and onto the road.

Addenbrooke’s finally managed to take some action in 2014. Did they open the gates? No, they blocked off the direct route to the road with tape. So now people on bikes had to share 100m of narrow gravel track behind the hedge with the pedestrians. The tape lasted about three days, so barriers were installed. These kept being moved, so they were secured with wire ties. These kept being cut, so locked chains appeared. It seems that the hospital can take action, but only when it’s being deeply unhelpful (by blocking a route for which there is obviously a high demand). Complete madness. The justification for this was claimed to be Health and Safety, although one wonders how putting all the pedestrians and cyclists into conflict could be safer, especially in comparison to opening the gate.

New path at junction with Robinson Way.
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All the users of this route were now permanently irritated by its degradation with barriers and smokers, so at least this should have helped generate some head of civic steam to get improvements. Tess took to accosting grumbling users, both pedestrian and cyclist, to explain to them that nothing would change unless they complained, and that they should contact their councillor and/or the hospital. Without exception the concept of taking such action was alien to them: people really do have no idea that they can agitate, nor how to go about it. Who knows if any of them followed through? It would be great if more people felt empowered, instead of just putting up with whatever rubbish they are given. I’m not sure how we can get this message across to people more effectively.

Finally, in 2016, word came through the BUG-WAG that something might actually happen. It’s not clear what changed, but money was found, a survey done, a design made, consulted on and adjusted, and the works executed this July.

It would be great if more people felt empowered, instead of just putting up with whatever rubbish they are given

The result is excellent. Two closed gates with narrow pedestrian access have been replaced by a well-designed 3-metre-wide two-way cyclepath, with low-kerbed adjacent 1.6-metre pedestrian path, and the pedestrian route to the Forvie site alongside has been tarmac’d. The bollard meets our recommendations. The only thing wrong with it is a completely pointless give-way at a straight not-junction, which is idiotic, but harmless.

But the question remains: why was it this slow and difficult? This is about as easy as it gets: no-one is disadvantaged, no parking is lost, pedestrians gain, people on bikes gain, councillors are onboard, there is no traffic disruption, and the cost is small. But it still takes years. If we want decent infrastructure before the end of the century we have to be able to make things move faster than this.