Cyclists to be forced off Hills Road

This article was published in 2002, in Newsletter 43.

‘A cycle superhighway’ was how Newsletter 32 described the section of Hills Road between Cherry Hinton Road and Long Road. This is the stretch that runs past Homerton College and the Perse School, a wide, leafy and rather attractive road with wider than normal cycle lanes on each side, nicely surfaced in smooth red tarmac, and one of Cambridge’s better pavement cycleways running parallel in the inbound direction.

Image as described adjacent
Hills Road now: Pleasant cycling.

As a result, this section of Hills Road is one of the easiest and most pleasant routes in and out of the city for cyclists (though the junctions at each end can be difficult).

Well, you’ve got just one more year to enjoy it. Because after next summer, this pleasant section of road will be transformed into one of the most unpleasant roads to cycle along in the city. In a little-known meeting last month, the ‘Cabinet’ that controls Cambridgeshire County Council approved in principle proposals to remove the cycle lanes from much of this section and use the space taken from cyclists to install a bus lane.

So what is the County Council proposing? The plan is to introduce a bus lane on Hills Road in the outbound direction between Cavendish Avenue and Long Road, a length of about a third of a mile. Two alternative schemes are proposed. Both will be a disaster for cyclists.

Both schemes involve the removal of the existing mandatory cycle lanes along this section and the division of the carriageway into an outbound bus lane, an outbound traffic lane, and an inbound traffic lane.

Option A would involve the provision of a 4 metre wide bus lane with a 3 metre inbound and a 3 metre outbound traffic lane. This would require road widening, generally at the expense of grass verges, to achieve a 10 metre wide carriageway overall. The result would be similar to the arrangement in Trumpington Road.

Option B would involve the provision of a narrower, 3 metre wide bus lane with a 3 metre inbound and 3 metre outbound traffic lane. The result would be similar to the arrangement in Milton Road.

Hills Road options

Inbound: abuse, intimidation and physical assaults

Image as described adjacent
Towards the City on Hills Road.

A 3 m traffic lane is too narrow to allow a car, let alone a bus or lorry, to overtake a bicycle without getting in the way of oncoming traffic. This means that Hills Road inbound would become extremely unpleasant to cycle along, with impatient drivers harassing cyclists from behind and shouting ‘get onto the cycle path’ as they force their way past. This is the kind of behaviour that happens now, every day, on both Milton Road and Trumpington Road. Abuse. Intimidation. Even physical assault.

And unfortunately the frustrated motorist’s cry of ‘get off the road’ describes exactly what the Council expects cyclists to do on Hills Road, even though a Cambridge Cycling Campaign survey showed that a large majority of cyclists who currently ride into Cambridge along this section of Hills Road choose to remain on the road rather than use the adjacent pavement cycleway.

The pavement cycleway here is constructed to a better standard than usual, though it suffers the usual problem of give-ways at every side road. However it is completely unacceptable for the County Council to make conditions on the road so awful that cyclists feel compelled to use it.

Outbound: squeeze in with buses or get off the road

In the outbound direction the Council offers the alternatives of a 4 m bus lane (if carriageway widening were done) or a 3 m bus lane (if councillors decide to reprieve the grass).

If the 4 m bus lane option were chosen then a very narrow advisory cycle lane about 1.2 m wide would be marked out inside it. This offers some protection against speeding buses, but not much: experience in Trumpington Road and Elizabeth Way shows that this is not wide enough to prevent being overtaken by a bus being a scary experience.

If the 3 m bus lane option were chosen then the Council would expect cyclists to ride on the pavement in this direction as well. The pavement would be widened slightly and resurfaced to create a 2 m wide path shared between cyclists and pedestrians – well below the width required by national standards. Cyclists would inevitably be expected to stop and give way at each of the four side roads the path crosses.

Make your views count

These proposals will make conditions on Hills Road so unpleasant that cyclists will effectively be forced to ride on the pavement, using a cycleway constructed to standards far lower than those we have seen elsewhere in Europe. Yet again, conditions for bus users are being improved at the expense of the right of cyclists to ride on the road safely, conveniently and without harassment. There will probably be a consultation over the summer. Please make sure your views are heard.

Nigel Deakin

A Cycling Campaign meeting to prepare our response to the Hills Road proposals is on Monday 29 July. See Diary later in the newsletter.

Map of Hills Road