Cyclists’ eye

This article was published in 1999, in Newsletter 22.

Milton and its consequences

What to do about Cambridge Road and the High Street in Milton is turning interesting. If you’ve been following the story, you’ll know we raised the problem a couple of years ago that islands installed as minimal traffic-calming were causing cyclists to be squeezed by passing cars. Then along came proposals for narrow cycle lanes in this road, but keeping the islands. Local councillors, however, said no, we want to put cyclists on to the pavement instead.

Last autumn the County Council consulted Milton people about both. The Campaign said neither scheme was satisfactory, and that it was the islands that were the problem. The result of the consultation exercise was that there was slightly more support for the on-road lanes.

Not having got the answer they wanted, councillors then blamed us. They seemed to think we had subverted the opinions of the residents of Milton, and that we were neither ‘real’ cyclists nor representative of the cycling community. Some councillors seemed to think it was none of our business what was done in Milton.

This seems like sour grapes to me, but does leave us work to do. With 550 members, it seems that there is no other organisation in the area that can come close to providing a voice for cyclists. Councillors are nevertheless looking for ways to discount our opinions.

Because of the inconclusive results, councillors accepted officers’ recommendation to defer the work in Milton. New plans have now been drawn up. These still incorporate shared-use pavements, but remove the offending traffic islands and provide a decent width cycle lane northbound. They also show a speed table (a paved, raised area) by the shops where one of our criticisms was that neither previous plan did anything, just where it’s most needed. More minor and cycle-friendly traffic-calming measures are also suggested.

These new proposals look much more satisfactory and give all parties a solution they can be comfortable with. It remains to be seen whether councillors will be satisfied with this or whether they will want to impose their own view of what is best for cyclists.

It would be wrong to describe the new plan as a compromise. It’s more than that: it’s a compound solution. It sets an interesting precedent too: using traffic-calming as a way of providing for cyclists – the budget doesn’t have to be exclusively for building cycle paths and lanes.

There are two remaining problems though. We know that some of you do want to cycle on the pavement. Providing complementary answers, as is now being promoted in Milton, means that, at least some of the time, everyone can be happy. But where a shared-use path is provided for the less assertive cyclist, the police and the courts may take the view that all cyclists should use it. Therefore the cyclist on the road can be held to be at fault if a collision occurs, even though they are rightfully there. We must find a solution to this, otherwise we will be driven off the roads.

Secondly, so many of the shared-use paths, even those that have been purpose-built within the last few years, have serious deficiencies. Just because someone feels vulnerable, he should not have to put up with things such as street furniture in his way, big bumps up and down, exceptionally narrow routes or ridiculously sharp bends.

Comberton to Barton

Because work at Milton has been delayed, the money allocated to it will be swapped with the next scheme on South Cambridgeshire’s list. This is the building of a cycle track between Barton and Comberton.

The construction is typical of recent rural routes: a shared-use path with minimal pedestrian use, on one side of the road only. Two side road crossings at the Barton end will simply be flush kerbs with give-way lines across them. While most of the length will be a more or less adequate 2 m wide, 1.8 m is common and some stretches will be as narrow as 1.3 m with a kerb on one side and a fence on the other. This is not enough space for two bikes to pass, let alone do so safely.

Having to cross the road twice travelling west (and then encountering two side roads you wouldn’t otherwise have to cross) must surely be more hazardous than staying put. While I understand the reluctance to be on the road with vehicles passing at speed, I am even less convinced this kind of provision makes things safer. At best, it may mean some cyclists, especially children, are allowed, or feel able, to cycle – those who wouldn’t ride at all without some sort of marked cycle track.

We feel it’s appropriate to ask why cars should be allowed to travel at 60 mph along a relatively narrow country lane in the first place.

Harston

Anyone who regularly uses the A10 knows it’s undergoing a series of road works. The section from the M11 to Harston has been resurfaced and in Harston village a series of traffic-calming measures is being installed.

The resurfacing is exceptionally smooth and comfortable to ride on. If only they could surface cycle tracks to such standards! At the same time, road markings have been repainted to narrow the carriageway significantly, leaving a good margin on either side for most of the length. It’s noticeable how many more cyclists are using the road rather than the abysmal shared-use path alongside. Quite why the new lines could not have formed a proper cycle lane, though, is an interesting question.

However, the traffic-calming is a different matter. Though the road works are making conditions much more difficult than they finally will be, it’s already clear that siting islands at intervals along the road is a major hazard for cyclists. Indeed we told the Highways Agency this when it consulted about the scheme a couple of years ago, but it is doing it anyway.

The problem is the same as in Milton, but speeds are higher here. Drivers try to overtake at high speed approaching and even within the constricted space at the islands. This is dangerous for cyclists and is worst at the first island where the traffic is moving fastest. At the time of writing, a pair of islands is being constructed at the southern end of the village; this could be even worse than the one that has been in place for about six weeks now at the northern end.

David Earl