Newmarket Road takes to the buses

Newmarket Road Park and Ride site opened this summer, providing a frequent bus service to the City Centre from a screened site between the big Marshall car showrooms and the new roundabout by the airport.

What has this to do with cycling? The car park offers the opportunity for people to park on the edge of the City and cycle in – there is good cycle parking at the site. It should also reduce (or at least reduce growth of) motor traffic. But the answer in the immediate future is in what happens next to Newmarket Road.

The County Council has agreed the principle of bus priority between the Park and Ride site and Coldham’s Lane. On the one hand this should make Park and Ride much more attractive, letting buses bypass queues (with the psychological effect that has on drivers, as well as the actual time saved). On the other hand, Newmarket Road is already quite well served by cycle lanes, some of which will be removed, and the layouts of others will be changed.

However, some of the bus lanes will be wide enough to accommodate both cycles and buses with room to pass. The frequency of buses is not high enough for there to be a continuous stream, so this might actually turn out to be quite an attractive option, effectively a super-wide cycle lane with the occasional bus. Cycles will also be able to bypass some of the traffic lights.

Ditton LaneJunction (11k)

It’s a big, complex plan and it will be quite hard to decide what our response should be. We may well have differences of opinion. Our task is made harder by the limited time we have – formal responses will need to be in by the time you read this, though I am sure there will be opportunity to make further comments.

There are two main elements to the plans:

  • Bus lanes where there is room, to avoid buses getting stuck in the queues. Cycles are allowed to use all the bus lanes (as are taxis, unfortunately, in my opinion). There are two widths of bus and cycle lane – ‘wide’ means 4 metres and ‘narrow’ is 3 metres. For comparison, Hills Road bus and cycle lane is narrow – 3 metres wide. The narrow lanes have some alternative provision for cycles alongside, but of variable quality.
  • Five sets of traffic lights which allow buses through while halting cars alongside them, giving the buses maximum advantage. Cycles would not trigger these lights, so there are other ways for cycles to get past them, again of variable quality. My feeling is that many cyclists will stay on the road and jump the red lights, so I think we should be looking for a legal manoeuvre at these points that would achieve the same end.
Newmarket Road By Airport (21k)

Most of the changes are on the City-bound side; there is only a short stretch of bus lane coming out of town.

What is there now?

First, consider what is there at present: heading west,

  • A poor quality shared-use footpath from the City Boundary (after leaving the newly constructed cycle track from Cherry Hinton) to Barnwell Road roundabout (see picture), with no special provision on the road. The road is fairly wide, but the long extra traffic lanes leading up to the Ditton Lane junction don’t leave much room for bikes.
  • 1.5 m cycle lanes from Barnwell Road to Elizabeth Way, with a short break near Coldham’s Lane. The eastern part of this section is single carriageway, but the part over the railway bridge westwards is dual carriageway (see picture below).
  • A contra-flow shared-use footway over the railway bridge. This allows cyclists to get from Coldham’s Common to Stourbridge Common. It is very narrow, and used by many pedestrians.

Eastbound,

  • Intermittent cycle lanes as far as the railway bridge, then cycle lanes to Barnwell Road.
  • A long central cycle lane, offering some protection, leading up to the Ditton Lane traffic signals, where there is a left turn only lane (see Newsletter 12), and
  • A very poor quality shared-use footway from Ditton Lane to the Park and Ride site and beyond (where the new construction improves things dramatically).
Newmarket Road Bridge (18k)

What is proposed?

Sketches of the proposals are available on the Web. They are schematic only, and are not to scale.

Again, heading west first:

  • Traffic lights are already installed at the Park and Ride Site entrance. A narrow (3 m) bus lane would start here. Cyclists can use the bus lane, or the shared-use pavement alongside. To encourage the latter, there will be a slip lane onto the shared-use path. This will have to be improved to be a realistic alternative (there are apparently no plans to do this yet), but it does mean that cyclists can bypass the new bus traffic lights proposed near the airport entrance.
  • Then there is an unchanged section, the narrow bus and cycle lane resuming on the approach to Ditton Lane. There is another set of bus priority lights here (see diagram), and a bypass for bikes. But it goes so far away from the road that I would expect it to be little used.
  • The two-lane approach to Barnwell Road roundabout is unchanged, as is the single lane section with cycle lanes as far as the railway bridge.
  • Then, along the whole of the dual carriageway to Coldham’s Lane, one lane is now given over to a wide bus and cycle lane, with a brief break as one approaches B&Q where the existing forward stop lines for cycles and a short approach lane are kept. There is another set of bus signals just before Coldham’s Lane.

Travelling east, the only changes are:

  • a very short piece of wide bus and cycle lane at the approach to B&Q, (again with an approach lane for cycles and forward stop line retained), and
  • a wide bus lane from B&Q to the railway bridge, with bus lights at the end of it.

My inclination is to be positive about the scheme. With some improvements to the way in which the traffic lights are bypassed, and preferably reconstruction of the footpath to make a cycle track in some places, we can end up with something that actually improves conditions for cyclists as well as for buses. We should certainly look at it as an opportunity rather than a threat, I think.

Dave Earl