This article was published in 2002, in Newsletter 41.
What are we doing right?
I was struck by John Franklin’s article (‘Where are we going?’ Newsletter 40) – it is striking that cycle use nationally is falling so fast while Cambridge seems to be getting at least something right. I think it is very much to do with achieving critical mass – once enough people are cycling others will feel comfortable hitting the roads too. So it’s essential to have people on the roads, but off-road cycle routes are clearly essential too to build people’s confidence first – it’s a fine balance. I’ve just come back from Vancouver, Victoria and Seattle, all of which are building some sort of cycling culture. One thing which struck me is that most buses have bike racks – important there because of tunnels and freeway bridges which block some commuting routes, but possibly useful here as a way of spreading the message that cycling can be a practical part of an integrated transport system. There are also quite a lot of cops and parking enforcement officers going around on mountain bikes – I liked the gloves attached permanently (or at least for the winter) to the handlebars!
I write to respond to the challenge put by John Franklin to tell him how best to boost cycling in the 21st century. One of the great joys of cycling is its spontaneity. Suddenly, an urgent errand needs to be carried out. Open the front door, jump on your bike, and off you go. I wish! Before opening the front door, don warm, weatherproof clothing, fit trouser clips, strap on hard hat, check lights and place in pockets. Open front door, unlock bike, and you’re off. On arrival, reverse the above, and on return, repeat process, unless you’ve forgotten that it was going to be dark – in which case, push bike home. Time on bike – 10 minutes. Time faffing – 5 minutes.
If politicians would grasp the nettle, frequently offered to them, of putting an end to the October ceremony of putting the clocks back, afternoons during half of the year would be a great deal more cycle-friendly (and all other outdoor pursuits-friendly). Cycling after dark feels dangerous, whether it actually is or not, and taking lights everywhere is very tedious. And now that Scotland is virtually autonomous, the Scottish lobby that demands that we perpetuate this dangerous practice could be free to follow our example, or not. But I believe this move would be a positive encouragement to cyclists.
The wrong slant
Your otherwise excellent piece on the Trumpington Road scheme (Newsletter 40) fails to mention one of the major failings of the pavement cycle path: the appalling drainage which leaves many puddles, especially in the sections either side of Trumpington (in front of the Park & Ride and between Trumpington and Long Road). This is a serious fault for a path that is supposed to cater for pedestrians as well as for cycles as it is difficult not to drench pedestrians without dismounting. There has been no care taken with the camber of the path.
|The lack of minimum cross-fall on many sections of the new path on Trumpington Road results in puddles over much of its width. This results in splashed pedestrians, and ice-rink conditions on cold mornings.|
New path tolerable, but carriageway better
A few months ago I read a comment on the shared use path along Cambridge Road, Fulbourn (Letters, Newsletter 36). Now that I’ve recovered from the trauma of being described as insensitive I’d like to explain why I usually choose to ride on the road rather than the pavement.
Firstly, this facility is certainly better than some around Cambridge but still leaves much to be desired in terms of speed and safety of travel. I’ve put a detailed description later.
Secondly, in general I resent being expected to use such facilities, however good they are, when my place is on the road. Pavements are for pedestrians. I’m of an age and upbringing that make me very uncomfortable mentally riding on the pavement even where it’s permitted.
Thirdly, I sometimes have to wait three minutes to gain Cambridge Road from Windmill Lane so delaying some motorists for a few seconds seems fair to me. On most mornings I re-pass any cars going to Cambridge in the jam between the Robin Hood and Yarrow Road so they don’t gain much by passing me.
Given these factors I don’t feel guilty about using the road over Windmill Hill rather than the path. I do use the path going into town if there is a bus or other large vehicle likely to come up with me on Windmill Hill, going out of town I’m usually on the path over Windmill Hill if I think my speed is going to drop below 15mph.
I’m content to chance being run into from behind. I doubt that this is more likely since the path was made dual use, and I think this risk is less than the combined risks on the path.
|Windmill Hill, Fulbourn. Use the road or the shared-use pavement?|
Riding the path
Going towards Cambridge on the road there are no serious conflicts with traffic, heading for Fulbourn even the roundabout at Yarrow Road is not difficult as the lights at the Robin Hood break up the motor traffic so the right turn is easy. It’s very different on the path.
Starting from Fulbourn:
Turn left into the jug handle across a nasty kerb which is supposed to be flush but actually would make me worry about my wheels and balance. Cross Cambridge Road. Sharp turn left, ducking and diving around the rowan tree. Cross a couple of drives. Give way to traffic from all directions at Caraway Road where I want maximum power to attack the hill. Cross a couple more drives.
The path between Caraway Road and Hinton Road is too narrow for comfort. Several times I’ve had to cross with cyclists coming the other way with my wheels very close to the edge of the kerb and my handlebars overhanging the road.
Give way to traffic from all directions at Hinton Road. On the road I’m usually at 25mph or more westbound, on the path it’s 10mph maximum. Eastbound I want to keep the power on for the hill, not slow down or stop. The section from Hinton Road to the hospital’s main entrance is not bad – reasonably wide and a decent surface. At the hospital entrance there are some sharp bends and a chance to play Russian roulette with vehicles turning left off Cambridge Road rather too fast. The problematical rose bush has been trimmed.
From here the path becomes more of a joke again – too narrow, and often badly surfaced. Give way to traffic at the second entrance to the hospital, including vehicles making the banned right turn off Cambridge Road. The chicane around the lay-by at the houses is particularly interesting on dustbin days.
Sharp left at Yarrow Road, give way to traffic from the right or try to squeeze between stationary vehicles, gain the barely adequate island (OK for solos without trailers), give way to traffic from the left, sharp left again, blind right-hand curve around the hedge.
A few hundred metres before the Robin Hood the shared path becomes pedestrians only and cyclists have to re-cross Cambridge Road.
In the dark the problems multiply, especially on the unlit section. Even with a 2.4W halogen I have trouble seeing the edge of the pavement when I’m on it, let alone unlit cyclists, pedestrians, dogs etc. On the road, at least going out of town, the vertical face of the kerb shows up well, especially in the wet. Going into town I doubt that motorists want my carefully leftward aimed 2.4 Watts shining in their eyes.
Finally a couple of general points. When the water company was working at the Hinton Road junction it was difficult to see the backs of the warning signs on the path – the reflective side was facing towards Cambridge. Fine for people on the road, not good on a two-way cycle facility. Although most of the surface is good there are weeds coming through. How many years before it all becomes a bumpy mess?