Directionally challenged

This article was published in 2000, in Newsletter 30.

Streets are usually designated as one-way way to control motor traffic. That is the assertion the Campaign made in its 1998 report seeking more access for cyclists. That report has been followed up by the County Council and has now resulted in some tentative steps to make some changes.

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St Barnabas Road has been two-way for bikes for many years

About half of the streets in Cambridge which are only one-way for motorists have cyclist exemptions. Most of these are so-called ‘false one-way streets’; in other words, they permit no entry to motor vehicles at one end, but two-way traffic is still otherwise legal.

Streets treated in this way have often been altered as a result of serendipity: there has been an opportunity as a result of some development or junction change. We argued that, unless there was a particular reason to prevent it, cyclists should be allowed to use all one-way streets two ways, and without the road width and expense of installing a physical island.

In both our European trips we have seen simple exemptions to many one-way streets operating uncontroversially. For example, see the articles on Ã…rhus in this newsletter, and on Groningen in Newsletter 15.

As a result of our request, a County Council report sent to the Cambridge Area Committee in April noted that there were collisions at Tennis Court Road-Downing Street, but concluded that, in general, there had not been many problems with the existing exemptions. The report also noted that many cyclists vote with their pedals and ignore no-entry signs anyway.

Consultation and experiment

Therefore, County Council officers suggested an experiment: convert three streets for two-way use by cyclists. There will be a consultation period first, always a good thing.

We suggested Bene’t Street (in the city centre), Panton Street (off Lensfield Road) and Sedgwick Street (in Romsey). We chose these streets in the spirit of experimentation, not necessarily because they were the most used or demanded. The no entry into Bene’t Street off King’s Parade is widely ignored and, together with Corn Exchange Street, forms a major blockage to through routes and access to and from the Market Square, especially when the cycle ban operates. Panton Street penetrates a mixed use area that is riddled with one-ways. Sedgwick Street is typical of many car-lined streets in Romsey which require a long detour if you want to visit one of them.

However, the committee decided to choose somewhat differently. Bene’t Street is to be included. All being well, Corn Exchange Street will have a contraflow lane when the Grand Arcade is developed (see article). However, Wheeler Street (the bit behind the Guildhall, which would otherwise mean there is a continuous route) is not in the plans. Oh dear.

No to Panton Street

The committee rejected Panton Street. Councillor Anne Kent, who represents this ward, told me: ‘I am not happy to support Panton Street being included at this time. We have a petition on traffic speeds and, as part of that, I am asking for a review of traffic movements in the area. This would prejudge it.’

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No entry into Burleigh Street is widely ignored by cyclists. It may now be sanctioned.

Councillor Kent continued: ‘It is also not as simple as the paper suggests. Officers had forgotten both Coronation Street and the fact that there is parking on the east side of the road – this would force cyclists into the path of oncoming cars. My other concern is the degree of ‘surprise’ that cyclists would represent to both cars and pedestrians… until other measures are in place. It is a race track and a rat run, used by [drivers] who think they know it well with lots of school children crossing.’

Because of the many one-way streets in the area, a review of the whole area seems like a good idea, and might well produce a better result for cyclists. No such review has yet been agreed. The whole point of an experiment, though, is to consider whether the problems that people imagine will arise actually do. It’s a fine line, because we can’t experiment with people’s lives, but European and Cambridge experience already shows success elsewhere. If parking has to be banned to allow two-way access, it will not work because no Councillor will ever vote for any significant amount of their constituents’ street parking to be removed.

Instead, the committee substituted Burleigh Street at East Road. The No Entry signs here are universally ignored by cyclists already, so the change is a welcome recognition of what people are already doing. On the other hand, I think this is likely to achieve few experimental results, since nothing much will change as a result.

Will pavement parking help?

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Pavement parking is already allowed in parts of Romsey. Now it is to be extended further. How about some cycle parking here too?

In Romsey, the committee also adopted Hope Street instead of the narrower Sedgwick Street. Hope Street is almost identical to the neighbouring Cockburn Street which is already exempted so, again, useful though it is, it is unlikely to produce any surprises.

At the same time, the committee agreed to extend the pavement parking scheme. A white line is drawn along the pavement recognising the already universal practice of cars parking half on and half off it. The line helps to prevent so much encroachment on the pavement that people (especially wheelchair users) cannot use it properly.

If this is going to become standard, we think it would be a good idea to install a few Sheffield stands at intervals, on little promontories in the road. You can park a car here, but it is really hard to find anywhere to park your bike.

Pavement parking should make the street a bit wider as well. This could help in the long run in deciding to open the one-way streets up to cyclists.

Change takes a frustratingly long time. Even if it is accepted, it could be ten years before it is possible to cycle two-way in one-way streets. But it works both ways – bureaucracy, caution and tentativeness also delay unwelcome changes.

David Earl