Coldham’s Lane bridge – a pale grey elephant

This article was published in 2001, in Newsletter 39.

In the last Newsletter we told you what we had said about the cycle- and foot bridge proposed next to the existing bridge taking Coldham’s Lane across the railway. I am very sorry to say that the decision makers ignored all the main points we made. I hesitate to call the result a white elephant. Let us say, a very light grey elephant! What a sad waste of over a million pounds. The extent to which our criticisms of this scheme were taken so lightly has convinced us that we need to think again about how we communicate with the County Council, discussed in Decisions, decisions in this newsletter.

Image as described adjacent
Councillors were placated after being told cyclists could legally use this inadequate pavement. In fact, the signing shows that shared-use ends 3 m short of the roundabout that needs to be avoided.

Our four main points, which we have been making since the scheme was made public in the summer, are:

  • a bridge on only one side would not properly provide for cyclists heading away from Newmarket Road;
  • a major roundabout by the Beehive Centre (which cyclists must inevitably use) does not make sense when mixed with a major cycling facility;
  • the proposed bridge is too narrow;
  • access to and from the Beehive Centre and the cycle route to York Street needs to be integrated into the scheme.

County Council officers ruled out all discussion about the bridge’s structure and location because it had already been decided behind closed doors. It will be at least a metre narrower than the bridge at the station.

They proposed that eastbound cyclists cross and re-cross the road to use the bridge, waiting for traffic lights at both. Councillors have now approved this. Will the lights give any sort of priority to bikes? You must be joking!

They made no proposals at all regarding access to and exit from the Beehive Centre. This could mean a cyclist wanting to go from the Beehive Centre to Coldham’s Common (say) would have to first turn right at the roundabout, then wait for signals to cross back over the road again, then cross back over at the other side of the bridge. They completely ignored our representations about replacing the roundabout with traffic signals.

‘Ungrateful’ cyclists continuing to use the more convenient old bridge will be sworn at and physically intimidated by drivers.

They did take on board a minor point about how to cross over at the Coldham’s Common end, but even messed that up. Representations from a councillor (thank you!) have now corrected that.

At the joint committee of City and County councils that decided the outcome, councillors seemed to agree with many of the criticisms that we had made. ‘It’s not very good really’ seemed to be the gist of the discussion. Nevertheless, they voted it through anyway, rather than telling officers to go back and come up with something better. ‘Something is better than nothing’ seemed to be the order of the day – though a delay to reconsider is not the same as abandoning the scheme. The bridge does bring undoubted benefit for pedestrians.

In passing the proposal councillors were also partly persuaded by one argument put by a County Council officer: that access to the Beehive would be provided after all by an ‘existing’ shared-use pavement round the corner by the roundabout. But this shared-use pavement doesn’t actually exist: the existing shared-use stops about three metres short of the roundabout that needs to be avoided.

Obviously, the shared-use pavement could be extended. But this misses the point. A one metre wide footpath alongside a shopping centre is grossly unsuitable for two-way cycling. There is obviously room to do much better, over, for example, the absence of a proper crossing point at the busy shopping centre entrance. We will try to get the details of this scheme reconsidered by the Committee.

What a sad waste of over a million pounds.

So we are now left with plans for a very expensive – but mediocre – bridge which is almost useless when heading away from Newmarket Road and with inadequate access from the Beehive Centre. Many cyclists who might have used a better alternative will now continue to use the existing bridge. They will be sworn at and physically intimidated by drivers because they aren’t using the new bridge, and they will be labelled ‘ungrateful’ because they vote with their pedals by taking the more convenient route.

David Earl