Magdalene Street tries on a new look

This article was published in 1999, in Newsletter 27.

A possible new look for Bridge Street at Quayside, and at the mini-roundabout by the bollards, which would operate in both directions, thereby removing the much-commented-on way in which buses swing around the present islands into cyclists’ path photo

On 14 October the County Council did a carefully monitored experiment in Magdalene Street to see if it might be possible to increase the desperately narrow pavements on both sides of the road outside the college without too much impact on traffic. Cycle safety was particularly in Council officers’ minds.

A final scheme would pave the street properly and raise the road level past the college. For the experiment, though, a crude but effective measure of putting down railway sleepers to narrow the road was employed.

As the resulting carriageway was then only wide enough for one vehicle, the fairly long length was signed to give priority to in-bound traffic . In fact, many buses (since the bollards, these are now second only to cycles here) had already been doing this informally as it was too narrow to allow them to pass each other easily.

I watched what happened for about half an hour. Apart from the early disaster of one of the signs being demolished by a vehicle hitting it, there didn’t seem to be much conflict or impatience. Of course people behave differently when they know they are being watched (especially by a policeman in uniform). But a video was also made from a window of Magdalene College on the day when no one was visibly present. One thing that struck me was how often there was actually no one at all in the restricted section, even at 9.30 am.

There was room for a cycle and a bus to pass, though with perhaps a less than comfortable margin. Inevitably, most cyclists continued through the narrowing in both directions, and most vehicles did not give priority to cyclists who were supposed to have it.

It’s not clear to us whether a cyclist who can pass another vehicle is failing to give that vehicle priority anyway (and vice-versa). It will be important to clarify this in case of any legal action in the event of a collision should the final scheme go ahead, as seems likely. And more important, we need to make sure there is an escape route so that if a cyclist is confronted by an aggressive driver, there is somewhere to get out of the way. The plans foresee a flush surface from building to building, with bollards to keep vehicles off the pedestrian section. But if there was even a small kerb, a cyclist needing the escape route could come a cropper.

A lower speed limit, together with a different road surface, should emphasise the delicate nature of the final arrangement, and keep drivers and cyclists cautious.

The Magdalene Street proposals are part of a wider exemplary consultation exercise which has been going on for some time to improve the appearance and amenity of the Bridge Street route. An exhibition has now been held showing proposals arising from the consultation. As well as giving pedestrians more space, one of the aims of the scheme is to try to make people feel that the streets are part of the City Centre.

Makeshift signs mark the Magdalene Street experiment There is room for a bike and a bus to pass… just. As things stand now, there is barely room for pedestrians to pass each other.

Also in the City Centre, work has continued to complete the physical measures to support the Emmanuel Road barriers, including at the Parkside-Clarendon Street junction. These still have some way to go.

In Kings Parade, work is well advanced in re-laying the surface to widen pavements and pave the area by Great St Mary’s Church. While the setts are a little bumpy under-wheel, they’re not nearly so bad as Green Street where the camber makes it much more difficult to cycle. A slight rattle in Kings Parade is perhaps a small price to pay for its much improved appearance, and for reduced traffic in the rest of the street. The access into Senate House Passage is also much easier because there is virtually no kerb now.

It is noticeable that there is still a great deal of evening car parking in King’s Parade, even before work is complete.

The Clarendon Street junction will have diagonal cycle markings across it to try to emphasise to drivers turning out of Park Terrace that some cyclists are going to head for the corner to get onto the heavily used contraflow cycle track alongside Parker’s Piece. Kings Parade work is nearing completion.

David Earl