Newmarket Road works: a personal view

Anyone going past will have noticed the ongoing works for the second stage of the Newmarket Road Park and Ride site. The essential parts of the scheme are an expansion of the car park, an extra lane from the Airport Way roundabout to the Park and Ride site and a new junction and lights at the Marshall’s car centre. The bus lane from the Park and Ride will also be extended to the new lights. All this stuff is fair enough in the context of completing the Park and Ride site and associated bus priority measures.

‘yet again we get a mediocre shared-use path’

The bit that interests us, of course, is the associated work to benefit cycles. The Cycling Campaign submitted a thorough response to the initial plans. This emphasised the fundamental requirement for high quality continuous cycle routes. There are a number of options for treating this section of road, and we tried to present the various possibilities and corresponding details clearly (this is made complicated by the fact that the treatment of one junction affects the best options for the next).

Proposals

The initial proposal promised improving the existing footways to provide high standard shared-use paths, with some caveats about width being restricted in places by trees, especially behind the Marshall’s test berm. We pointed out that all new cycle paths should be as wide and smooth as the Airport Way tracks, and that it would be a much better solution to put the westbound cycle track directly next to the road, thus removing conflict with pedestrians and making it easy to move between road and cycle track. The track would nicely bypass the two sets of lights, but could be arranged so as not to lose priority at the numerous crossings of Marshall’s access points. Eastbound we pointed out that unless serious engineering measures to provide a raised route past the various junctions were undertaken, then any shared-use path here would be of dubious utility as many of the junctions are busy (two Marshall’s entrances, Thermo King and Shell garage (entrance and exit), Park and Ride site), and that a simple on-road cycle-lane would probably be cheaper and better, especially if the road was 4 m width all the way. A general point was made that it was important to consider the options for moving between road and cycleway at various points so that cyclists could make continuous progress and get the benefits of both bypassing the lights but without having to stop at side roads. The start of the Airport Way shared-use at the roundabout (westbound) was given as an example of how not to do it, as the path leaves the road perpendicularly: you almost have to stop to join it, and thus no-one does at this point.

Image as described adjacent
New surface on an old route, with no lighting – and wiggly

The response was thorough, but rather disappointing in that some points were apparently not understood, and others refused on what seems to me to be poor grounds.

Putting the westbound route next to the road was refused on grounds of cost (moving services and laying new pathbed). Similarly providing good access to/egress from the cycle track was rejected as ‘cyclists who move from footway to carriageway are performing a potentially hazardous manoeuvre, which can be alarming to motorists and I don’t think such manoeuvres should be encouraged.’

Construction

As is so often the case, exactly what is what only becomes clear once construction is well underway. Presumably it is easier for traffic engineers to visualise these things from drawings than for us mere mortals. I have to say that I am disappointed with the results of the work so far. The sections of ‘improved high-quality path’ are indeed a significant improvement over the narrow, lumpy footway that was there before, but it’s not particularly flat – certainly nothing like as good as the one further east. The new path is simply some wooden edging and 50 mm of new tarmac on top of the old footway, and follows exactly the same line. That means that it jogs in or out four times in 150 m. No effort has been made to make a straight path, or to smooth out these jogs. This reduces the effective width considerably and illustrates a very poor understanding of what ‘good quality’ means in cycle path design.

Another thing that galls me is that the existing roadworks involve the widening of the road on both sides and the moving of 12 streetlights, several signposts and traffic lights. To put the cycle track alongside the road would only have required moving four more lights and constructing a bit more light-duty tarmac. Would this really put the project hopelessly over budget? It seems to me that an opportunity to produce a really good cycle facility, where cyclists actually have an advantage over car drivers (bypassing the lights, without being squeezed by buses or losing priority at side-junctions) has been wasted by penny pinching, and yet again we get a mediocre shared-use path. It seems that our efforts to explain how and why to do it well were a waste of time, and cyclists are still at the bottom of the road-use pile.

Obviously things are not yet complete and some of the project may turn out better than I expect, but what I have seen in the Council responses and the work on the ground do not encourage me to think that the council has yet understood how to provide good cycle provision, or at least is not prepared to spend the money required.

Wookey