Hills Road bus lane proposals

This article was published in 2002, in Newsletter 45.

We reported in Newsletter 43 on the County Council’s proposal to install a bus lane on a stretch of Hills Road. 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 alternatives are proposed. Both involve the removal of the existing dedicated cycle lanes and dividing the road into an outbound bus lane, an outbound traffic lane, and an inbound traffic lane.

Option A would introduce a 4 m wide bus lane with narrow inbound and outbound traffic lanes. This would require road widening, generally at the expense of the grass verges. The resulting arrangement would be similar to Trumpington Road.

Option B would provide a narrower bus lane, again with narrow traffic lanes. The result would be similar to the arrangement in Milton Road. The pavement on the outbound side would be widened slightly and resurfaced to create a 2 m wide path shared between cyclists and pedestrians.

Timing buses

Following many hours of observation of buses and bikes on this stretch of Hills Road, we decided to time bus journeys in two evening rush hours early in November. From 4:30 pm to 6:00 pm, with synchronised clocks, we noted the time that each bus passed points at the start and end of the proposed bus lane. We then made various calculations based on the journey times. The full timings are available on our website.

Bus journey times

The County Council said in June this year (Papers for Cabinet, Agenda Item No. 3, Paragraph 4.2) that ‘over a two-hour peak (minimum in term time)’ in the afternoon and early evening, ‘it can take between 10-15 minutes for buses to travel the half-mile leading up to the Long Road junction.’

In our timings, on the first day (Monday 4 November) the longest bus journey was 5 minutes 37 seconds. On the second day (Wednesday 6 November), the longest was 4 minutes 32 seconds. Out of a total of 68 outbound buses, only five took more than 5 minutes, and none took more than 6 minutes. The average bus journey time during this peak period was only 2 minutes 26 seconds.

Even with a bus lane, it is very unlikely that this average time could be reduced by much more than a minute; at an average speed of 20 mph, buses would travel the length of the proposed bus lane in about 1½ minutes (according to the County Council). We are, of course, not saying that there are never serious delays on this section of Hills Road. What we are saying is that serious delays here are not typical even during the peak time in school term and in November, one of the busiest times of the year. At other times of day, and even in peak times for most of the year, the typical time that buses will save by using the proposed bus lane will be negligible – ranging from nothing at all to well under a minute.

Gaps between buses

Our bus survey revealed that bus passengers are being significantly delayed by a factor which the proposed bus lane will not alleviate at all. This is the problem of bus bunching.

We calculated the times between successive buses on two services, C1 and 99. Both of these are supposed to run every 10 minutes at this time of day.

Gaps between arrival times of successive buses on the outbound C1 service (Arbury to Fulbourn), between 4:30 pm and 6 pm at Cavendish Avenue
Date Gaps between arrival times (minutes:seconds)
Monday 4 November 0:40, 25:26, 1:44, 1:56, 15:09, 1:33, 15:45, 0:40
Wednesday 6 November 7:52, 3:34, 15:38, 39:50, 0:24, 0:04, 32:37, 2:21


In other words, on the Monday, two C1 buses arrived 40 seconds apart, and then there wasn’t another one for over 25 minutes. On the Wednesday, there wasn’t a C1 bus for nearly 40 minutes, and then three of them arrived in under a minute. In fact, these three buses chased each other: while one was picking up passengers, one of the other two would catch up and overtake, and then wait at the next stop picking up passengers. The third bus was almost empty.

Gaps between arrival times of successive buses on the outbound 99 service (Park & Ride), between 4:30 pm and 6 pm at Cavendish Avenue
Date Gaps between arrival times (minutes:seconds)
Monday 4 November 12:55, 5:27, 4:29, 13:22, 9:57, 7:30, 8:22 (with no 99 between 17:33:28 and 6 pm, when we stopped timing)
Wednesday 6 November 9:44, 15:12, 4:30, 10:28, 7:25, 21:12, 18:58, 8:07


There are ways of tackling this issue. Buying bus tickets from on-street machines before boarding, as is commonplace in most of Europe, would help. If more people were able to pay for tickets in advance, the first bus would spend less time at a bus stop loading passengers, thereby reducing the delay to the first bus, in turn reducing the amount by which the bus behind would catch up. We are not alone in saying this. An independent report on bus provision in Cambridge (Steer Davies Gleave, December 2001) says: ‘Improved Ticketing Procedures: the most significant short/medium term measure to reduce vehicle dwell times in the hub.’ Better control of departure times from Drummer Street might also help.

Other measures to speed up buses

There are many other measures which could and should be taken to speed up buses on this route:

Yellow cross-hatching on the road surface at the Long Road-Hills Road junction, at places on the Addenbrooke’s roundabout and at the junction with Worts’ Causeway would also help.

More generally reduction of on-street car parking and better enforcement of waiting and loading regulations all along these and other bus routes would benefit both public transport and cyclists.

Most important of all, reduction of off-street parking provision in the city would reduce private vehicle movements and much improve conditions for buses and cycles. The Anglia Polytechnic University has just announced a highly commendable move in this direction. Its rebuilding programme will remove 160 car parking spaces.

Image as described adjacent
Anglia Polytechnic University: 160 car parking spaces to go.

Counting bikes

On Thursday 7 November, we had volunteers on Hills Road from 7 am to 7 pm. Some counted bikes, using a mechanical counter, and others handed out leaflets to cyclists.

The peak flow in a whole hour was 277 – that is about one every 12 seconds.

1375 of these cyclists were on the road, and 431 were on the existing pavement cycleway. That means over three quarters of cyclists are currently voting with their wheels and choosing to ride on the road in the cycle lanes rather than to use the pavement cycleway.

If the council’s proposals go ahead, many of these cyclists will feel compelled to use the cycleway. This will mean many faster cyclists on the pavement, more congestion and conflict with pedestrians and the loss of priority at side-roads. Those cyclists who choose to stay on the road will suffer the same problems that we know already happen on Milton Road (see box.)

Minor improvements – major problems

The proposed changes will improve bus speeds only slightly, and only for a short period in the rush hour at certain times of the year.

Cambridge Cycling Campaign recognises the importance of public transport in reducing traffic levels in Cambridge. But the proposed bus lane will improve bus speeds only slightly, and only for a short period in the rush hour at certain times of the year. We believe it is unacceptable to achieve such minor improvements for buses by making conditions much worse for all cyclists and pedestrians, 24 hours a day and all year.

We do not have a major traffic congestion problem on this section of Hills Road. Such difficulty as does exist should be tackled by other measures. Creating a bus lane will make matters worse for cyclists and pedestrians and is a disproportionate and inappropriate response. We should be proud of the provision for cyclists and pedestrians in Hills Road; it is better than almost anywhere else in Cambridge and encourages thousands of people to walk and to cycle to Addenbrooke’s Hospital and to the schools in the area. We should be publicising and celebrating this provision and certainly not abolishing it.

Thank you to the many concerned Campaign members who have helped us with surveying, leafleting and deliveries.

Clare Macrae

Hills Road cycle counts, Thursday 7 November 2002
Time On the pavement cycle path (both inbound and outbound) On the road cycle lanes (both inbound and outbound)
07:00- 08:00 22 77
08:00-09:00 54 190
09:00-10:00 41 236
10:00-11:00 19 100
11:00-12:00 27 69
12:00-13:00 24 75
13:00-14:00 20 77
14:00-15:00 22 61
15:00-16:00 31 70
16:00-17:00 33 116
17:00-18:00 82 160
18:00-19:00 56 144
Total 431 1375


# ‘The Milton Road Effect’

We know what will happen because it has happened before.

In Milton Road, the inbound bus lane has left an extremely narrow outbound traffic lane. Cyclists who use it complain repeatedly that they are harassed by impatient drivers. This includes travelling far too close behind, and in some cases actually nudging cycles with their vehicles, abusive shouting, gesturing and blowing horns and overtaking deliberately far too close even when there is no traffic approaching.

This harassment is so common that it has become known as the ‘Milton Road effect.’ As a result many cyclists have unwillingly transferred to the pavement, where they have to put up with the narrow path, the need to break the law by cycling in the pedestrian part to pass other cyclists safely, the obstructions such as wandering pedestrians, wheelie bins and road detritus, and the repeated interruptions at side roads.

Have your say

The deadline for responses to the County Council’s consultation on these proposals is Monday 2 December.

You may have received a copy of the County Council’s survey form through your letterbox.

There is also an online survey form on the County Council’s website www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/sub/eandt/highways/cambridge/hillsroad/

You can find more information on our website www.camcycle.org.uk/campaigning/issues/hillsroad/ or from us.