Smarter Cambridge Transport

This article was published in 2017, in Newsletter 135.

Camcycle members play an active role in Smarter Cambridge Transport, the volunteer campaign group and think tank working for more integrated, sustainable, and smarter transport in the region.

Just under two years ago, Smarter Cambridge Transport launched its online discussion system. The 10,000-message limit looked more than enough to take the group through the next few years. It lasted barely 12 months.

Things move so fast, however, that we no longer need the messages that have scrolled off the system. Discussions more than a few weeks old are almost inevitably overtaken by events. It’s barely a year since Mill Road Traders held protests over ‘road closures’, but it seems much longer.

So where are we in the controversy and chaos that have characterised the transport element of the ‘City Deal’ granted to Greater Cambridge? From the point of view of Smarter Cambridge Transport, we can at last see a few positives to counteract the almost universal disappointment with the initial ideas. But we also know we’ll need to campaign as hard as ever in 2018.

Reaction, input and research

Smarter Cambridge Transport finds itself involved in three distinct areas.

We need to react quickly to proposals from the Greater Cambridge Partnership that haven’t taken into account public opinion (these still exist). It’s not good enough for the authorities to come up with plans and only afterwards put them to the public for ‘consultation’. The public now expects to be involved from the outset, before expensive plans and designs are commissioned.

Next, we need to ensure that when the Greater Cambridge Partnership does come up with proposals that have had public input, our input has been considered fairly. While the cost-benefit analysis techniques they’re obliged to use can be inadequate, it’s important that any deficiencies are accounted for. Poor modelling, which is common, also needs to be highlighted.

Smarter Cambridge Transport campaigns for new developments to have a zero net impact on road traffic, and will do so in the case of the new Cherry Hinton/Cambridge Airport development. The inevitable increase in car trips generated by the new community must be offset in the existing community by a modal shift from car to sustainable alternatives.
Image as described adjacent

Finally, Smarter Cambridge Transport endeavours to keep ahead of the game by researching and generating ideas, which the authorities might be able to use on future projects. On our website there are papers relating to subjects like Inbound Flow Control, bus routeing and on-street parking, which we’re hoping will be incorporated into the authorities’ thinking in the future. This also means monitoring forward-planning, such as Supplementary Planning Documents, large planning applications, the mayor’s transport strategy and the next iteration of the Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire Local Plan.

Rural Travel Hubs

One of the concepts we’ve pioneered, which has met with much interest, is that of Rural Travel Hubs. These could offer thousands of people in towns and villages around Cambridge a multi-modal transport combination that is more attractive than using their cars.

The concept is straightforward. What people want from a bus service (apart from affordability) is high frequency and a direct route to the final destination. Most villages get awful services because bus companies cannot justify a frequent, direct service from just one village. The usual compromise is to make the route serve several villages, but that fails on the direct route requirement. In addition, a longer journey means a less frequent service from a given number of buses.

So what can be done? Using its members’ experience, Smarter Cambridge Transport brainstormed the idea of bus, tram, or train stations, which could sustain frequent, direct services into the city. We named these Rural Travel Hubs.

The key to their success is their easy accessibility from the surrounding area by other means of transport, whether it’s walking, cycling, community-organised minibuses or even by car. There is a crucial role in this for Greenways – it is this infrastructure that the authorities need to develop, along with the supporting information systems. The result would be that the Rural Travel Hubs themselves could support facilities, making them safe, comfortable, and attractive places for people to be.

Ideas for Cherry Hinton

When it comes to projects where the Greater Cambridge Partnership asked for public input at an early stage, Smarter Cambridge Transport has put in proposals that ensure all modes of transport are considered fairly. A current example is the proposed housing development in Cherry Hinton, on the southern corner of Cambridge Airport. Jim Chisholm, Camcycle trustee and Smarter Cambridge Transport member, helped with our response to the Supplementary Planning Document – available online – which has received approving comments from local residents and, indeed, councillors.

We are supporting a ‘green spine’ for cyclists and pedestrians only, creating a calmer, safer, and more attractive area for residents to shop and socialise. This is an ideal opportunity to put the main route for motor vehicles around the outside, as a perimeter road to separate the community from the airport.

Adding our voice

Smarter Cambridge Transport endeavours to keep ahead of the game by researching and generating ideas

This leaves the misconceived projects that the Greater Cambridge Partnership has inherited from its predecessor, which were presented to the public without serious public input and with the expectation that any consultation would have limited impact. These include the Milton Road and Histon Road plans, and the Cambourne Busway.

Smarter Cambridge Transport can only add its voice to the chorus of disapproval towards these projects. We have helped to co-ordinate some of the opposition, but most importantly, we have ensured that the authorities are presented with better plans, not just objections. In the case of Milton Road, we supported the excellent ‘Do Optimum’ alternative developed by the Milton Road Alliance, which has certainly been heard. Pressure needs to continue to be applied if the residents’ ideas are to be adopted.

With the Cambourne Busway, we have asked key questions that have been invaluable to the many objectors to the scheme who have fewer quantifiable reasons for not wanting it to go ahead. Many local politicians have now joined with the hundreds of residents questioning the scheme, and we remain hopeful that the Greater Cambridge Partnership will see sense.

Perhaps it is unfortunate that transport policy is not in the hands of residents or interested groups like Smarter Cambridge Transport, but we have certainly had an impact over the past two years, and we hope to increase that in the years to come.

Chris Rand