Spine or perimeter access?

This article was published in 2017, in Newsletter 135.

I’ve been following with some interest the development of Great Kneighton since it was still called ‘Clay Farm’. I always thought the huge multi-lane junctions linking to Long Road and Addenbrooke’s Road were a mistake as they encourage car traffic and discourage more sustainable modes.

But I’ve also had increasing concerns that, despite what seems years of building with much of the housing being occupied and a secondary school partially open, access by sustainable transport is difficult.

The ‘supposed’ spine road is still two cul-de-sacs with no obvious route through the construction site for those on foot or a bike and certainly not for the promised bus service. To get from one half of the development to the other on foot or with bike involves a constantly altering route over muddy roads and around construction vehicles.

This road was never intended as a through ‘spine’ road for private motor traffic, as bollards at the new village centre give free passage only for buses, and those on foot or bike. Car access is only from Long Road or Addenbrooke’s Road.

As all good transport planners know, changing a place of work or residence is a time when transport choices are evaluated in a (more) rational way.

Without proper walking, cycling and public transport access from DAY ONE, poor decisions will be made and rarely revised. This is why we have so many two-car families, with so few realising what good cycling, walking, and public transport options are or should be available. In Freiburg, which our city planners visited, the tram ran into the big recent development from day one.

At an initial meeting about proposals to develop ‘Cherry Hinton (North)’ adjacent to the airport the clear lead was for an arrangement similar to that in Great Kneighton, complete with all the disadvantages. This contrasts with the earlier (’70/80s) developments in Cherry Hinton which are (almost) a series of cul-de-sacs off a perimeter road, with a footway linking Fulbourn Old Drift with Cherry Hinton High Street.

So would a ‘compromise’ be better for all? A perimeter road may be seen as a ‘by-pass’ that encourages more, higher-speed car traffic. But if the ‘spine’ of the development is a green corridor ideal for walking and cycling with limited bus access, and is available from day one, that brings big benefits for all (except the developers?).

All developments need to take account of their environments. Here we have the airport on one side and Cherry Hinton village on the other. Putting the main road adjacent to the airport would offer a good buffer, and give opportunities to restrict traffic, especially HGVs, from the village parts of Coldham’s Lane and Cherry Hinton High Street.

For motor traffic, ‘ribs’ would not connect to the green spine but to the new perimeter road in the north and Teversham Drift and Church End in the south. The perimeter road, green spine, community centre and school would come with the first phase of dwellings.

Once that is done, construction, with all that disruption, would be limited to a few ‘ribs’ at a time, whilst cycling and walking would be the obvious choice. Shops and school would be accessible without the use of any road. Buses might loop off the spine road to the community centre to remove the need for the less mobile to cross the the perimeter road.

Jim Chisholm