Response to junction malfunction on Hills Road

This article was published in 2018, in Newsletter 138.

I’m writing in response to the article in the previous newsletter on the junction of Long Road and Hills Road. I use this junction daily, in the same direction as what appears to be that of most cycle traffic, namely exiting the city in the morning to go to work at the Biomedical Campus (Addenbrooke’s), and returning home towards the city in the evening. I note that there is also a large 6th form college and a secondary school on Long Road.

It should be obvious from the above that probably 80% of cycle traffic proceeding in the same direction as me wants to be to the west of Hills Road following this junction. Were this the Netherlands, the phasing of the traffic lights for the protected cycle lanes would register this as a matter of course, and there would be a long phase for right-turning cyclists, who would easily be able to get from the left of the ‘straight on’ traffic, which at that point wouldn’t be going anywhere. As this is the UK, where movement of motor traffic takes priority, we would be in the same situation we were in more than ten years ago with northbound traffic coming off Hills Road railway bridge.

For those readers who haven’t been in Cambridge long or without such familiarity with specific roads, let me recap a bit of history. Twenty years ago, there was a protected cycle lane coming down the railway bridge heading north, for both left-turning and straight-on cyclists. When the straight-on motor lane had green lights, the left-turn motor lane went red and the cycle lane lights went green. Thus cyclists got the entire motor straight-on phase during which to proceed: equality with motor vehicles.

There were then some roadworks (the reason for which I can’t remember) 12 or 13 years ago at least. When the lights were reinstated after these works, the phasing had been changed. The left-turning motor lane was now allowed a longer green, and thus the cycle lane got about 15-20 seconds at the very end of the straight-on and left-turning phase for motors. As the number of cyclists hadn’t decreased in this time, this was frequently insufficient for all queueing cyclists to get across before the lights turned red. It was noticeable how, gradually, more and more cyclists who were wishing to head north along Hills Road started spurning the cycle lane and moving right across the left-turning lane to make use of the longer green of the straight-on motor lane. It was a great relief when sanity prevailed and cyclists stopped being treated like second-class citizens, fenced off in a cycle lane that held them up for quite a long time compared to the car drivers.

Informative road sign, sadly hidden by foliage at a distance where drivers should be able to see it.
Image as described adjacent

If the Long Road junction had been built in a truly ‘Dutch’ style, with a fully segregated lane to the left of all traffic with separate phasing of the traffic lights for cycle movements from this lane, as opposed to the compromise which has been attempted at this junction, I suggest the queues of cyclists unable to get to work or college would have been quite impressive, and many would have chosen to ignore the facility entirely, as the light phasing insisted upon by British traffic-light engineers would have left many cyclists stranded on the wrong side of the road for some minutes before they got a green light to allow them to cross all the motor traffic. This would rather run counter to the efforts that the council and the Biomedical Campus travel people are making to encourage us all to cycle to work.

Where I totally agree with the author is that the angles are wrong, or some well-placed bollards are badly needed, as illustrated in the article. What has also been desperately needed for the six months since this area has been ‘finished’ is some signage. My pet hate as a driver is lack of signage, especially if there is some road layout which I’ve not experienced before, or I need to be in an unexpected lane! If you were a stranger to the area trying to get out to the M11 or Haverhill, you’d also have no clue which direction to head in, let alone what lane you needed to be in. Interestingly, a sign finally appeared on 25 April. However, from the photographs, some gardening needs to be done so the poor motorist can see it from more than about 10 yards away. At other locations, alterations in a road junction led to a red sign much further away saying ‘NEW ROAD LAYOUT AHEAD’. I do a regular long-distance drive, and some of these new road layouts are still ‘new’ a year or more later! Quite how this new road layout wasn’t dignified with one of these signs mystifies me.

Cambridge has frequently innovated with novel road layouts in the last 20 years. When they were well implemented, with proper signage, they have entered into regular trouble-free use and are now appreciated. I feel it is the fine details of the implementation, not the idea, which have caused the issues outlined in the article in Newsletter 137. My personal experience of the changes at this junction is that they have made my daily journey to work easier, including the very welcome advanced green for southbound cyclists, which allows the veritable peleton between 8 and 9am to move off and rearrange itself before the cars start moving.

Heather Coleman