My Way

This article was published in 1999, in Newsletter 27.


Almost every working day I travel to and from work by bike. For the last eight years or so I’ve lived in the north-western half of Gilbert Road, near the traffic lights at the cross-roads with Stretten Avenue and Carlton Way. This is a description of the two-mile journey that I make to Abbey Walk, near the Dobblers Inn in the St Matthew’s area of Cambridge.

This journey begins with a right turn from my drive [1] onto Gilbert Road itself, watching out for pavement cyclists (only one collision so far!) and proceeds across the said traffic lights [2]. This junction has recently been improved (as noted in recent newsletters) and the new lights are far more responsive to approaching cyclists than the ones they replaced. A fast downhill run [3] now follows to the junction with Milton Road [4]. Here I turn left, although the majority of traffic, both two- and four-wheeled, goes right. While waiting for the lights to change, it is interesting to observe the many approaches that cyclists have to the act of turning right. This left turn is immediately followed by a right into Herbert Street [5] and this has sometimes seemed the most dangerous part of the whole journey.

The addition of the Milton Road bus lane has made the other traffic lanes rather narrow, so as I approach Herbert Street, having signalled, and correctly positioned myself to turn right, there is sometimes not enough room for motor traffic to pass to my left. Occasionally, parked cars add further obstruction. Now, to be fair, most drivers slow down to cycling speed and wait, but sometimes – once every few months – the driver behind is one for whom slowing down for a cyclist is clearly utterly infra dig and so he (invariably he) will take the only other option and attempt to pass to the right – arrrgh! This was quite frightening the first time it happened, but I’ve grown wise to it now and rely heavily on my rear view mirror at this point (a Mirrycle saves my life…). Usually, a repeated signal will stop them in their tracks, but there seems to be a sub-species of Homo Whitevanus where it’s better just to wait and let them pass, while contemplating the natural course of evolution. Perhaps a double white line centre marking would help here.

If I survive Milton Road-Herbert Street alive, the remainder of the journey is straightforward, pleasant even, though several obstacles remain. Down Herbert Street (‘single-track road with passing place’) to Chesterton Road is the next stretch. Herbert Street is closed off at its lower end with an early example of a rat-run-stopper, viz. one with no proper provision for cyclists. Since there are convenient dropped kerbs and no pedestrian exits, I (and most other cyclists) do the pragmatic thing and take to the pavement for a few metres. There is a lot of cycle traffic through this constriction and the whole area is really a bit of a mess [6], with all surfaces in poor condition. It would be good for this closure to be opened for cyclists and the area generally tidied up. Another problem here, despite the double yellow lines, is haphazardly parked cars [18]- worse since a used car operation started trading from the garage on the corner.

On emerging from the lower stub of Herbert Street, I cross Chesterton Road, jiggling slightly to the left into Ferry Path. No problems here, other than a long wait sometimes for a gap in the motor traffic as it emerges from the Mitcham’s Corner raceway. Then it’s left into Hamilton Road and right into Pretoria Road [7]. Here be potholes. Pretoria Road seems to be the pothole epicentre of Cambridge – I have a hypothesis that it’s some sort of urban subduction zone. For most of the summer there were some real whoppers of instant ‘rider on the road, front wheel in a skip’ proportions. They have been filled now, although I expect some more will be along soon.

Then it’s over the Fort St George footbridge [8, 10] (affording a little exercise for the front derailleur and small chainring) and left toward the river-side path [11]. This involves passing the Midsummer House restaurant, where occasionally delivery vehicles will completely block the path, requiring an excursion through the mud [19]. A small hard-standing area for the restaurant would be welcome. It hardly needs saying that the ride heading east along by the river [9] is the best part of the trip – in which other city could you cycle to work through a field of cattle? Concrete soon approaches again though, in the form of the Elizabeth Way bridge [13], which, after whizzing over those award winning cattle grids [12, 14], I pass under and turn right to head up Abbey Road.

At the top of Abbey Road comes the challenge of crossing Newmarket Road. I’ve experimented with various approaches to this over the years, but now settle for joining the dual-use pavement (after dodging the rather odd and unwelcome diagonal barrier on the corner [15]) as far as the pedestrian crossing [16]. Having crossed here, it’s then another short pavement hop to join Abbey Street next to the Five Bells pub. This is another area where a significant volume of cycle traffic struggles through inadequate facilities [17]. A proper signal-controlled cycle crossing across Newmarket Road would be very nice to see (OK, tell me I’m dreaming). The short run across New Street into York Street and Abbey Walk completes the journey [20]. It usually takes about 15 minutes in all.

The return trip (same route) is usually uneventful. At the restaurant, the morning delivery vans are sometimes replaced by evening taxis, presumably for the benefit of people who are too important to be able to walk over the footbridge. The right turn from Milton Road into Gilbert Road would be easier and quicker if the traffic lights here had an exclusive right-turn phase. As it is, you have to turn right in the face of oncoming traffic, which usually means waiting in the middle of the junction until the lights are red again.

Despite all the niggles though, my way is a nice journey to work. Commute by car? – not on your Nelly!

Andy Wade

[6] [7] [8]
[9] [10] [11]
[12] [13] [14]
[15] [16] [17]
[18] [19] [20]