Blatant disregard for standards in Trumpington Road

This article was published in 2001, in Newsletter 37.

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Sustrans design guide says ‘a dividing strip is necessary between parked vehicles and the lane’

What is one of the lessons of defensive cycling that a good cyclist learns? Answer: don’t cycle past a parked car closer than the width of a door. Doing so risks the driver opening their door into your path, with serious consequences if you collide with it or are pushed off into traffic alongside. Around thirty such crashes occur each year in Cambridgeshire.

So what does the County Council do in Trumpington Road? Answer: install narrow cycle lanes immediately alongside long lines of heavily used car parking. What message does this send to cyclists? This is a safe place for cycling and where you should cycle. What message does it send to moving drivers? That’s where cyclists should be; they have no business being in my lane.

The County Council argues that the red cycle lanes will make parked drivers more aware of the presence of cyclists. Perhaps it might, though when taking photographs there was precious little evidence of motorists looking before opening doors.

Unpleasant though it is, experienced cyclists will put up with the abuse and intimidation from motorists who think they should not be riding so far out.

Our main concern is for cyclists who aren’t aware of the danger. We fear this new lane will give an entirely false sense of security. It may even encourage some cyclists to use the road rather than the shared path alongside (which is being reconstructed as well), but in the wrong place on the road, as directed by the lane, putting them at greater risk without them realising it.

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Cyclists aware of the danger ride on or over the line Cyclists not aware of the problem do what they are told: ride within the lane

All the cycling design manuals say that cycle lanes should not be constructed like this. Cycle Friendly Infrastructure, the Sustrans National Cycle Network Guidelines, and Cycle Audit and Review all demand a ‘buffer zone’ – a coloured or hatched area – between the parking and any cycle lane. Sustrans is unequivocal, stating: A dividing strip is necessary between the parked vehicles and the cycle lane to protect cyclists from opening doors. This is most critical when there is a high turnover of parking. It recommends a 1 m wide divider alongside a 1.5 m wide cycle lane.

It is astonishing how many cycle facilities in Cambridge are built to standards way below the national guidance. Virtually nothing is built at ‘preferred’ standard here. Nearly everything is constructed at or below the specified minima. It seems that the County Council is intent on treating minimum standards as the maximum to be aspired to. In some cases this can mean the situation is worse than if there was no facility, and Trumpington Road is a bad example of such a case.

We wrote a polite and measured letter to the County Council in March, long before construction, once we saw this was what was planned. We pointed out the hazard and the guidance. We didn’t think more was necessary – surely it was an obvious flaw and it would be changed. But they completely ignored us, not even bothering to acknowledge our letter.

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Here is an example from Hull where a proper ‘buffer zone’ has been provided

So why didn’t they add a buffer zone? ‘No room’, says the County Council, ‘and a lane is better than no lane’. We disagree.

Of course, there is an easy way to solve the problem: remove the parking on one side. However, parking in Cambridge is treated as a holy cow, sacrosanct. Cyclists are put at risk here because removing parking loses votes. The irony is that this scheme is being put in as part of the changes to support the Park and Ride now under construction near the M11 junction. The Government says of Park and Ride in its recent policy guidance: Schemes should not be designed to increase significantly the total public parking stock available in a town. Yet this is exactly what has been going on in Cambridge.

In the meantime, whatever else is done, this pair of lanes must go. The County Council has a safety audit system for changes on the road. If these lanes pass that process, any confidence we might have in it will be completely undermined. If a cyclist is hurt here, they would have a strong case against the County Council.

Related changes

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Construction on the Park and Ride site is well under way

Elsewhere on Trumpington Road, other parts of the scheme are proceeding. With the exception of the lanes by the Botanic Garden, the construction so far looks reasonable. Additional or wider lanes protect cyclists better from the narrowings at pelican crossings.

The shared path on the left heading into town is to be reconstructed to a much higher standard (though still below national guidance for a two-way path). There will be out-bound bus lanes on parts of Trumpington Road.

Construction on the Park and Ride site is well underway after preliminary archaeological trials.

David Earl