Making more room to breathe in the city centre

This article was published in 1998, in Newsletter 20.

During September the County Council has been briefing councillors and interest groups like ourselves on the ideas for the next stages of the so-called core traffic scheme.

The first stage was the restriction in Bridge Street. There are likely to be some changes made there as well, especially to the arrangements at the closure itself. We expect to hear about these in November.

There are no great surprises in what is being suggested to further limit private cars coming into the heart of the city centre. The space freed up will be used to make things easier for buses and cyclists. The next phases limit the amount of through traffic in three areas: Parkside, Silver Street and Emmanuel Street. This last is effectively part of the bus station. These will probably be tackled in that order. In principle, this could be done over three consecutive years, but it seems more likely that it will take five or six. This is because there is only a limited amount of money available. More significantly, it would be a very high-pressure exercise for the Council, both politically and just getting the work done to schedule. There would be a lot of flak flying in all directions about the changes. There are also County Council elections in the middle of the period.

While there are lots of details, the principles of each phase are easy to summarise:

  • Short Street and Emmanuel Road closed to private motor vehicles roughly where the pelican crossing to the Grafton Centre is now
  • Silver Street closed to all motor vehicles, including buses and taxis, somewhere in its narrow section
  • Emmanuel Street closed somewhere to private motor vehicles

Map showing city centre road closures

Some of the immediate consequences of these need to be coped with as well. For example, the first stage may be accompanied with changes of priority at the Emmanuel Road-Parker Street junction, signalling Four Lamps roundabout at the east end of Short Street, and banning left turns by private cars out of Downing Street.

Later on, places will have to be found for tourist coach drop-off points to replace the current sites on Silver Street. The queue for Lion Yard car park also has to be much more rigorously controlled, or traffic will just lock solid on Trumpington Street, the only way out for cars being the narrow section of Pembroke Street.

In the third stage, the direction of traffic flow in Park Terrace (the north side of Parker’s Piece) may need to be reversed.

Widespread implications and influences

Reducing traffic in an area heavily used by cyclists has to be a good thing. While the Silver Street closure would be mainly a cyclist- and pedestrian-focused scheme, Parker Street and St Andrew’s Street would be aimed more at improving bus movements. However, as Bridge Street has amply demonstrated, even though there is potential for overall traffic reduction, there will inevitably be increases in traffic elsewhere.

There are two other schemes being drawn up at the same time which also have to be taken into account:

  • The University’s West Cambridge development means that there will be much higher cycle flows to and from the west of the city centre, putting pressure on Burrell’s Walk, Sidgwick Avenue, West Road, Silver Street and Grange Road. Traffic calming, restraint, or whatever needs to be implemented in the Grange Road area. On the other hand, the West Cambridge development may take some large employment centres away from the city centre, possibly reducing traffic impact.
  • There is a city centre counter-proposal to the huge edge-of-town shopping development at Kings Hedges Road, which is being considered by the public inquiry inspector at the moment. The city centre development is known as the Grand Arcade and would involve redeveloping the whole area bounded by Lion Yard, St Andrew’s Street, Downing Street and Corn Exchange Street. Clearly this will bring many more people into the city centre.

As a result of all of this, we can expect to see much more traffic pressure on the inner ring road. Gonville Place, Lensfield Road and Fen Causeway will all have to take much more traffic. East Road and Maid’s Causeway are likely to be more heavily used. This means some of the knock-on effects need to be considered. From our point of view there is especially likely to be a negative impact on cyclists using those streets.

Secondly, while this is not part of the plans as they stand at this outline stage, we are likely to see pressure to further pedestrianise bits of the city centre. This might be all right if cyclists are properly provided for. Calling it ‘pedestrianisation’ is in itself a problem. We know from experience that some councillors want to see bikes banned more widely in the city centre. St Andrew’s Street outside Robert Sayle is an obvious target, but also, perhaps, Silver Street. We are going to have to meet this threat head-on. If there is to be no way through the city centre for cyclists, and lots of extra traffic on the roads around the edge, why should any of the scheme carry our support?

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Emmanuel Road – possible closure point

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Buses in Emmanuel Street

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The narrow section of Silver Street

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‘Cyclists Dismount’ crossing on Queen’s Road

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Tourist buses on Silver Street

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Parker Street

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Saint Andrew’s Street

Because the area being considered is so wide, there is a lot of scope for other details to be included. For example, the impact on the ring road could include doing things for cyclists in the Newtown area (south of Lensfield Road). We will certainly want to promote making Bene’t Street two-way for cyclists. Radical proposals for the Grange Road area would not be out of place.

The plans are at a very early stage at present, so there is a lot of scope for making suggestions and comments. Political support is not assured for the scheme. The Silver Street closure is especially vulnerable to being left out. Cycle-focused measures are possibly not seen as benefiting the voters electing the controlling group on the County Council. What would be seen as politically (and indeed financially) unacceptable proposals, such as closing Lion Yard car park, are not on the agenda.

What is guaranteed, however, is several years of howls of protest from motorists, politicians, the Cambridge Evening News, and a busy time for us keeping up with all the Council’s momentum. First decisions will be made at the cycle of committee meetings starting in late September and October this year.

David Earl