Silver Street and Regent Street

This article was published in 2002, in Newsletter 41.

Or, how to squeeze everyone through a five metre wide gap.

Following the schemes in Bridge Street and Emmanuel Road, the Silver Street and Regent Street areas are next on the list for traffic reduction. This has always been the long-term plan, though the spectre of the Grand Arcade redevelopment (the Robert Sayle site) complicated the plot for a time.

Image as described adjacent

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At 4.2 metres at its narrowest, there isn’t much space left to play with even if Silver Street is made one way.

While buses were the main focus of the two earlier schemes, in theory, Silver Street is more about cycling and pedestrians. Silver Street is extremely narrow in places, as are the pavements, so that pedestrians sometimes have to step into the carriageway. In addition, the tall buildings create a pollution-trapping canyon. Over the years, this street has seen numerous crashes in which cyclists have been injured.

All changes have knock-on effects, so it makes a great deal of sense to consider what happens on Regent Street at the same time, as well as the effects of traffic displaced from Silver Street onto the inner ring road. Not least of the considerations is the way in which cars exit Lion Yard car park.

Councillors agreed the scheme in principle last year and options have been whittled down. Following Council officers’ discussion with interest groups, including ourselves, councillors accepted recommendations to focus on two of the five original possibilities. The ingredients from which the choice was made were:

  • Total closure to motor traffic. Officers did not recommend this, though the Cycling Campaign and others have advocated it, because of the impact on the inner ring road. Though it is hard to judge from a very condensed summary of comments made, it looks as though South Cambridgeshire District Council and the tourist bus companies were those most opposed to complete closure. But we felt that this was one of the few really viable options as all others would require a carriageway to remain in Silver Street, so limiting pedestrian space.
  • Part-time closure. Interestingly, cycle flows are much more spread out during the day than motor traffic. Even so, they are still at their highest at the same time as motor traffic. Off peak closure won’t do much for commuting cyclists or pedestrians at the busiest times.
  • Tidal-flow, i.e. one-way traffic with the direction reversed at some point during the day. In the morning, motor vehicles would be able to travel towards King’s Parade, and in the evening away from it. The road would be laid out so that cycles could go in both directions. This option does offer more opportunity to create space for cyclists and pedestrians by narrowing the vehicle roadway, but not by much in the ‘canyon’ section as the street is so very narrow. A 3.0 m traffic lane, say, and a 1.5 m contra-flow cycle lane would leave little scope for widening the pavements. It is also obvious that there isn’t room for cycle lanes or tracks in both directions plus a single (changing) direction roadway. Therefore, unless the Council can come up with some brilliant piece of engineering, cycles will still have to share the road with the cars and trucks (and the queue) in the direction of the peak traffic.
  • One-way. But which way? Like tidal flow, cycles would still have to share with motor vehicles in one direction.
  • A combination of tidal-flow and part-time closure. Before, say 9.30 or 10am, cars and lorries (do we have to allow lorries?) would be allowed through towards King’s Parade, the street would be closed for the middle of the day except to cyclists and pedestrians, then it would open to outward bound motor traffic after, say, 4pm.

‘It is surprising that the complete closure option has been so easily dismissed.’

The Council has decided to focus on part-time closure, with or without a tidal-flow system. It is surprising that the complete closure option has been so easily dismissed, though it hasn’t been completely ruled out. While traffic on the inner ring road would certainly increase more with this option, the figures are not that much greater than with partial closure. For example, officers estimate that Fen Causeway would see a 15% increase with complete closure of Silver Street, and an increase of 11% with part closure, part tidal-flow.

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Fen Causeway might need to take about 15% more traffic.

Officers also recognised concern about Regent Street and will be talking to us about this in late April. There are no firm proposals as yet, but more than once, reversal of Park Terrace has been mentioned as a possibility.

In our response to the major strategic decision about the nature of the restriction in Silver Street, we also raised a lot of further points that are very important to cyclists, many of which are independent of the method of traffic reduction.

We stressed the need for a crossing linking Pembroke Street and Mill Lane, probably with traffic lights. It is always difficult to cross Trumpington Street at this point. We also expressed concern about the restricted visibility on turning right into King’s Parade from Trumpington Street. Work in Silver Street offers the opportunity for remodelling this junction. In addition, it might be possible to properly accommodate cyclists leaving King’s Parade who mostly ignore the ‘give way’ line or they would never get out.

Image as described adjacent Image as described adjacent
It is hard to cross from the contraflow lane in Pembroke Street into Mill Lane or to get to Kings Parade. Many cyclists need to cross over onto Coe Fen at this blind corner by the Mill pub on Mill Lane.

In Mill Lane itself, the corner by the Mill pub is awkward. This is exacerbated by the swing gate which causes congestion. There is also a need for cycle parking in this area.

Opportunities on Queens’ Green and crossing Queens’ Road could also be usefully looked at as part of the scheme. Coach parking will probably have to be moved from Silver Street.

We are also concerned about the impact of any changes on the ring road. It is a little worrying that this concern seems to have been used as a justification for not recommending complete closure of Silver Street rather than working on the ring road to mitigate the effects for cyclists.

The Silver Street scheme really must address the double mini-roundabouts at the end of Trumpington Street. The junction will carry even more traffic when Silver Street is restricted, and it still holds the cycling casualty record. Image as described adjacent

Once more we drew attention to the dual mini-roundabouts by the Royal Cambridge Hotel at the junctions of Trumpington Road, Lensfield Road, Fen Causeway and Trumpington Street, which is still the junction with the highest cyclist casualty rate in the city.

Any reclamation of space from motor traffic in Silver Street and Regent Street should be a positive move allowing the separation of, at least, some cyclists from the remaining traffic. With the recommended options there is unlikely to be any additional space for wider pavements in the narrow section. Therefore, should we, as a cycling campaign, be concerned that the group least likely to see any benefit will be pedestrians? Certainly all of us who watched the street in action last December had a great deal of sympathy with the pedestrian predicament.

It would also be a concern that pedestrians would walk in any new cycle lane and that, in any one-way solution (tidal or permanent), cyclists would avoid the traffic queue by using the cycle lane intended for the opposite direction.

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Weekday traffic flows in Silver Street (March 2001).

David Earl