The Chisholm Trail

This article was published in 1998, in Newsletter 17.

This is the first of two articles, with the traffic theory in a future Newsletter. Jim Chisholm gave a talk at March’s Campaign open meeting to explain how building a strategic, good quality new cycle route across Cambridge may be the most cost-effective way to relieve the city’s traffic congestion. The route is proposed by Jim and the Cycling Campaign, not by politicians or County highway planners. This is its first time in print.

Jim Chisholm worked at the Transport and Road Research Laboratory from 1969 to 1985. He worked on collection and analysis of data, but also did some mathematical modelling. On obtaining a degree he moved to research in new fields, but retains his passionate interest in sustainable transport. He has been a commuting cyclist for over 25 years.

Mark Irving, Editor

A lot of this suggested route is on private property. Don’t attempt to ride it yet, as you would be trespassing. All of the route can be explored from either adjacent rights of access or readily available maps.

A supercycleway?

[map of the proposed trail route]

There are already several routes that could be converted to 3.5 metre (12 feet) wide paved cycle tracks at little cost. These are rail alignments that are either disused or under utilised. These routes are ideal because of their even grade and segregation at most road crossings. There are also other potential routes either on existing metalled but not surfaced farm tracks or parallel to existing rail tracks.

The bridges at Long Road, Mill Road, and Coldham’s Lane all have space under their spare arches on both east and west sides to allow a cycleway. Those at Hills Road and Newmarket Road have usable crossing points and provision of ‘grade separation’ could be provided at a later stage. The addition of a cycleway to the railway bridge over the Cam at Stourbridge Common could continue the link to Chesterton and hence the Science Park, Cambridge Regional College and one of the possible Sustrans routes out of Cambridge.

This supercycleway would provide a segregated route connecting the campuses of CRC (Kings Hedges), Anglia Polytechnic University, Hills Road, Homerton and Long Road, to residential areas north and south of the City. In addition a southern extension would provide excellent links to the Addenbrooke’s complex from the south.

Journey times for some cycle trips along such routes would be far shorter than today’s car journeys.

A low cost first stage part funded by section 106?

With only minor engineering works and access agreements across derelict Railtrack land or existing roads a route from Newmarket Road to Addenbrooke’s Hospital and Shelford Road, Trumpington could be provided. No major land acquisition would be required, only some fences, lighting and 2 km or so of asphalt for 5 km of route. The section from Newmarket Road to Hills Road is described in detail below as this is the area currently subject to planning applications (the source of ‘section 106’ money).

East of the railway

This whole eastern side route of nearly 3 km could give journey times of around 10 minutes from Cambridge United football ground to the Junction, with the only serious conflict being the little used level crossing on the Newmarket line.

Newmarket Road to Coldham’s Lane

Space for a supercycleway
Image as described adjacent

Although there is already a path across Coldham’s Common it is narrow and twisting. The track between the railway and the lake on the Common leads to Coldham’s Road, and would provide a direct alternative. The quiet Newmarket railway line has a level crossing on Coldham’s Road, and there is a railway access road which leads under a spare arch of the Coldham’s Lane bridge. This section has the advantage of leading cyclists away from the ‘at grade’ signal crossing over Coldham’s Lane.

Coldham’s Lane to Mill Road

The access road leads to the disused railway traction depot, then the route could follow the boundary of the old BT site where development as a fitness centre has been proposed, then along the boundary of Ridgeon’s. Together with a proposed cycle and pedestrian bridge over the railway beside the (narrow) Coldham’s Lane road bridge, this would greatly reduce traffic conflict at the Cromwell Road-Coldham’s lane junction. Access could also be provided to the proposed Anglia Polytechnic University residences. The route could then run to the east of the Railtrack buildings to reach the north end of Cavendish Road. From there, there is a partially surfaced route used for access to carriage cleaning facilities. This leads to the car park in Great Eastern Street, and from there can connect with a spare arch under Mill Road railway bridge.

Mill Road to Hills Road

Spare arch under Mill Road Bridge
Image as described adjacent

A vehicle track runs over Railtrack land (with access, through a locked gate at present, to Mill Road through Fletcher’s Terrace and Argyle Street) to the east end of the cycle bridge and the edge of the Leica car park. Then a junction with Clifton Road is possible, and an abandoned vehicle track runs parallel to the sidings for 200 metres to part of the parking area for the Royal Mail sorting office. From the other side of this parking area a new high quality route could lead to the ‘works’ access to the Junction, and hence to Hills Road at its junction with Cherry Hinton Road.

This last part of this section is adjacent to one of the areas likely to developed (the old cattle market). It would improve the very poor access on foot or by bike to the Clifton Road industrial area, which has 800 car parking spaces in addition to the Park and Ride car park. This section would reduce, by about one kilometre, cycle and walking distances from Mill Road to the Royal Mail sorting office or other developments in that area.

West of the railway

For most of this section an access agreement, fencing to separate the route from rail tracks, and some works to give cyclists and pedestrians priority over cars would be all that is needed.

This section, about 2 km, would give a good, safe and speedy route through an area which is currently difficult to cross by bicycle. It would then become less than 5 minutes journey time from York Street to Hills Road.

Beehive Centre to Mill Road

The Beehive includes a cycle route, of a rather low standard, from Coldham’s Lane to York Street. This should be upgraded, then Ainsworth Street and Hooper Street lead back to the railway at the back of the City Council’s maintenance depot. A new cycle path could use some of this depot’s land to lead to a disused arch under the Mill Road bridge, and to Mill Road itself past the front of the closed public library. This avoids the need to cross Mill Road, even at the modern traffic lights on Gwydir Street.

Mill Road to the station and Hills Road

For 300 m a path used by railway staff leads to the corner of the station’s long stay public car park. Through this car park, past the front of the station and through the short stay car park leads to the Railtrack signalling centre. A short new shared-use path would complete the link to Hills Road at the Brooklands Avenue junction.

Personal Safety

Many people feel insecure and vulnerable on enclosed routes with poor lighting and blind corners. Care would be needed to ensure that lighting, landscaping and frequent access points make these routes a pleasant place to walk and cycle rather than dark and enclosed tunnels.

The System

The advantages of a system are more than the sum of its parts. Even with just this central section of the Supercycleway, or even just parts of it, for many journeys across Cambridge cycling would become the quickest mode. Also many more journeys would be within the capability of a sensible 12 year old (a Sustrans route criterion), hence reducing the need for parents to ‘taxi’ children to and from activities in this area.

If this route could be constructed as part of the change of use of the three major sites to the east of the railway line it would greatly reduce the need for cars to be the prime method of access to these developments as well as giving improved choice for people making existing journeys in this area.

With suggested extensions to the north and south it is possible that enough journeys would switch from car to bike to make significant reductions both to delays for motorists and to traffic pollution.

Jim Chisholm