This article was published in 2001, in Newsletter 38.
The debate that has now run over the last two newsletters appears to be symptomatic of two schools of thought that surface continually in several of the Campaign’s forums. In short, they may be described as (a) the assertive school, which is confident of its own abilities and requires sufficient road space to be able to cycle at a good speed even in urban areas, and (b) the segregationist school, which wishes to see motorised traffic kept at a safe distance from cyclists.
Members of the Campaign hear both views put at the stall on Saturdays, at monthly open meetings and I have no doubt that the issue crops up in committee discussions also. I believe that the Campaign needs to take account of, and to represent, both views. (If politics teaches us anything, it is surely that the ‘broad church’ approach is likely to be more successful in the long run, even if more difficult to balance in the short run, than a narrow, factional approach.)
Jonathan and Vicky Larmour (in Newsletter 37 ) clearly represent the assertive school. They appear to use Radegund Road as a through route to places further afield. Certainly, for east-west cycle traffic, the street is a very useful part of the route that runs from the city centre, over the cycle bridge and then via Davy Road to Cherry Hinton, Fulbourn and other points east. I have not used this route much in the morning or evening peaks, but I have used it at other times and have found it to be relatively free of traffic. I would always use it in preference to Mill Road or Cherry Hinton Road, which carry much heavier traffic.
James and Lisa Woodburn (in Newsletter 36 ) appear to represent the views of the segregationist school, although their point of view is perhaps wider than the narrow definition that I have given above. Their argument is essentially founded on the changes to the schools in the area. Not long ago, it looked as though Coleridge Community College might close; now, not only has it been saved but a new primary school will be built on the same site. James and Lisa advocate a number of measures, including off-road cycle paths, that would encourage children to cycle to school.
I have much sympathy with both views and do not see that they need to be in conflict with one another. The great fear of the assertive school is that, at some point, legislation is going to force cyclists off the road and onto much slower cycle paths. The corresponding fear of the segregationist school is that unconfident cyclists (whether old or young) are going to be deterred from using their cycles by the prospect of injury if they are forced to mix with cars and heavier traffic.
In many respects, Radegund Road is a good street for accommodating both viewpoints. The roadway is wide enough to take cyclists as well as cars, though I strongly support the Larmours’ argument for enforcing better lane discipline. Also, the verge is wide enough to take a cycle path, and the expanded schools site provides a forcible argument for installing one at least, on the northern or school side. I am sure that many members of the campaign, and even many non-members, would prefer to see the space being used by children cycling to and from the primary and secondary schools rather than providing additional car parking space for the residents as at present. Given the density of traffic in Cambridge, such a cycle path would probably be the only way to provide a route that would qualify under the Safe Routes to School Initiative as being genuinely safe.
It is in suburban areas like Radegund Road that the wide variation in cycling speeds is most apparent. A strong cyclist travelling down the slight hill towards the college may well be travelling at six or seven times (at least) the speed of a young cyclist travelling to primary school. In contrast, the speed in a built-up area of a law abiding motorist would rarely be even double that of a reasonably strong cyclist. Given such disparity in cycling speeds, it is surely unreasonable to expect both classes of cyclist to use the same provision.
Those of us who made the trip to Münster recently were continually amazed by the tolerance and understanding shown by motorists towards cyclists. We were there at the weekend and therefore did not see a typical day during the week, but it is likely that a large proportion of Münster’s motorists cycle at the weekend and get a clear appreciation of cyclists’ needs. Until Britain’s motorists show similar understanding, many of the country’s cycling parents will wish to keep their young children on their cycles but off the road. At the same time, cyclists need to argue for the continued right to use the roadway as part of the normal mix of traffic, when their needs are best served by doing so.
The Campaign should not be afraid to represent both schools of thought.