Newmarket Road – considering cyclists at last

This article was published in 2001, in Newsletter 38.

The county and city councils have begun a period of public consultation on a number of improvements for cyclists on Newmarket Road. There have been a lot of changes along this route in recent years, but they’ve mostly been to help Park and Ride buses, not cyclists. So this latest package of changes is to be welcomed.

These proposals have not come out of the blue – council officers have been talking to the Cycling Campaign for some time about them – and the mention of possible schemes in Newsletter 37 was more of a ‘leak’ of possible discussions than a report of definite proposals.

Three years ago we published a detailed set of proposals in our Newmarket Road Corridor Report , and it is gratifying to hear that council officers have kept this report close to hand when considering how to improve conditions for cyclists along this very busy road.

The proposals can be summarised as follows:

  • Widening of the shared-use pavement between Swann’s Road and Ditton Walk, and the replacement of the pelican crossing there with a toucan crossing. There are two options being floated here (see the section Swann’s Road to Ditton Walk below.
  • A central cycle approach lane on the outbound approach to the Wadloes Road roundabout (see the section Wadloes Road Roundabout below).
  • A shared-use pavement on the north side between the roundabout and Ditton Lane (see the section Wadloes Roundabout to Ditton Lane below).
  • Widening the existing central cycle approach lane on the outbound approach to the Ditton Lane signals (see the section Wadloes Road Roundabout below).
  • Improved shared-use pavement outbound between Ditton Lane and Meadowlands Road (see the section Beyond Ditton Lane below).

Swann’s Road to Ditton Walk

From the point of view of cyclists, the section of Newmarket Road over the railway bridge is perhaps one of the most important. Here, five different cycle routes converge to cross the railway. Apart from Newmarket Road itself in each direction, cycle routes lead across Coldham’s Common to south-east Cambridge, down Swann’s Road to the river, the city centre and Chesterton, and along Ditton Walk towards the Wadloes Road estate and Fen Ditton.

The shared-use pavement on the north side forms a key link between these various cycle routes, but is much too narrow. It is proposed to widen this pavement and convert it to a more adequate shared-use cycleway. At the same time it is proposed to convert the existing pelican crossing to a toucan crossing, which is likely to make little difference other than to formally permit cyclists to ride across.

Two options are being proposed here.

  • The first option is to remove the existing on-carriageway cycle lane (outbound) and incorporate it into a 3 m wide shared-use pavement.
  • The second option is to remove the right-hand traffic lane (which is for traffic making a U-turn) and use the space to construct a 3.5 m wide two-way cycle track with a separate path for pedestrians. It is not clear whether the existing on-road cycle lane would be retained in this arrangement. It is also not clear whether this track could continue all the way to Ditton Lane, since the road is much narrower there.

Cambridge Cycling Campaign will be opposing the first option and arguing for the second, so long as the outbound cycle lane is retained for cyclists making ‘through journeys’ along Newmarket Road. If it doesn’t look as if there is room for this, we will be trying to ensure that such cyclists are not inconvenienced or endangered (for example by having to negotiate a kerb, or cross the path of oncoming cyclists).

The second option is very much in line with one of the proposals we made in our Newmarket Road Corridor report in 1998, and council officers are to be commended for adopting it, as well as for the proposal to reallocate road space from motorists to cyclists at this important location.

Ditton Walk to Wadloes Road Roundabout

This long section already has reasonably good cycle lanes. It is proposed to repair a number of uneven sections and to apply a red surface coating.

Wadloes Road Roundabout

In our Newmarket Road report we described this as ‘very unsatisfactory for cyclists’ and said that it should be removed and replaced with traffic signals. Unfortunately the council has decided not to follow our advice, and has decided to leave this roundabout unchanged.

One of the many problems at this roundabout is that outbound cyclists need to get into the right lane round the roundabout so that they are in the right-hand lane as they approach the Ditton Lane signals. The existing outbound cycle lane encourages such cyclists to go round the roundabout on the left.

With this problem in mind, council officers have suggested marking a central cycle lane on the eastbound approach to this roundabout, to help cyclists heading out of town on Newmarket Road to take the right-hand lane through the roundabout.

This is an interesting innovation, one that we didn’t make in our report. Whilst it is a considered attempt at improving conditions for cyclists, the real problem here is the roundabout, and the provision of red paint is going to do little to prevent it remaining an unpleasant and hazardous obstacle to cyclists. Introducing a central cycle lane on the approach to a roundabout is an innovation not yet seen in Cambridge: although we have seen central cycle lanes on the approach to traffic signals before, this is the first time we will have seen a central cycle lane on the approach to a roundabout. We think that this is an interesting idea, and worth trying, but one which we will be watching carefully to see how well it works. The main criticism (mentioned in Newsletter 37) is that it encourages cyclists to try to ride round the roundabout in between the existing lanes of traffic, when they would be much better advised to occupy the right-hand lane fully. We shall see; we hope it does work.

Wadloes Roundabout to Ditton Lane

Here the road becomes a dual carriageway, and the left lane becomes a left-turn-only lane for traffic turning into Ditton Lane. This causes difficulties for straight-ahead cyclists, who have to cross a stream of left-turning traffic to get into the right-hand lane and then ride in an exposed position in the middle of the road as they approach the junction.

Image as described adjacent
If a cycle track can’t have priority over side roads, but a cycle lane can, then why not transform the cycle track into a cycle lane at each side road?

This problem was recognised some years ago and the central cycle lane here is a great help. In our Newmarket Road Corridor report, however, we argued that more should be done. We said that there should be a single lane leaving the roundabout. Then, the left-turn lane could be marked as being a definite left turn off this lane, much closer to the junction, in the manner established elsewhere in the city such as the left turn from East Road to Mill Road.

Unfortunately, council officers appear to have decided that such changes would reduce traffic capacity too much here and so have decided to leave the current arrangement virtually unchanged. However, they have proposed widening the existing cycle approach lane somewhat, which we welcome. (Can we also have an advanced stop line at the end, please?)

The council has also proposed converting the pavement on the north side of Newmarket Road between Wadloes Road and Ditton Lane to shared-use. This is unlikely to be of much interest to cyclists heading out of town (mainly because there will be nothing to help them cross Ditton Lane), but it is already popular with cyclists making shorter journeys between Wadloes Road, Ditton Lane and Barnwell Road, via the existing pelican crossing. Resurfacing and widening this pavement and making it legal to cycle on is therefore a useful pragmatic proposal.

Beyond Ditton Lane

East of the Ditton Lane junction, the only proposal is to widen and resurface the existing shared-use pavement between Ditton Lane and the first entrance to Marshall’s, on the northern, outbound side only. Nothing is proposed for the city-bound side.

In our Newmarket Road Corridor report we said that we would like to see a high-quality, one-way cycle track constructed here on each side of the road, with priority over side roads. Improved provision for cyclists is particularly badly needed in the outbound direction, where the traffic lane is too narrow for motor vehicles to overtake cyclists easily and cyclists are routinely harassed from behind.

Given the council’s refusal to give cycle tracks priority over side roads, we suggested that this cycle track could be transformed into a cycle lane at each side road, so it could maintain priority.

Unfortunately our advocacy of cycle tracks built to continental standards is yet again being ignored, and so we are likely to see yet another typical Cambridge pavement cycleway, where you have to come to a halt and give way at every side road.


Full marks to the council for studying the report we wrote three years ago and including some of its suggestions in its current proposals. We’re particularly pleased to see that our proposal to reallocate road space from motorists to cyclists on the Newmarket Road railway bridge has been taken up.

Many of the recent changes on the riverside route (see Your Streets This Month) were also first suggested in our report. And, as always, we’re very grateful to council officers for consulting us at an early stage.

However, it has to be said that some of our key proposals for Newmarket Road have been ignored. Both the roundabout at Wadloes Road and the left-turn-only lane into Ditton Lane will remain. And, as for high-quality continental cycle tracks with priority over side roads (such as some of us saw in M√ľnster last week), we will have to dream on…