Slalom City

This article was published in 2003, in Newsletter 46.

Overview

Reviewed: the new cycle route between Riverside and Newmarket Road, beside Tesco.

The route joins Riverside to Newmarket Road, going round Tesco on both the left and right sides. It provides a useful link not only to Tesco, but from Chesterton and places north to Newmarket Road and places south.

The route is already well used, providing a way of avoiding some of the traffic and traffic lights on Newmarket Road. It is wider than usual (3.4 metres including the footpath) and well surfaced. Visibility is mostly good, ensuring both safety and a route that’s usable above walking speed. It is let down, though, by a slalom course of barriers, three right-angle bends and poor integration with the roads at each end.

Tesco map

Following the route from Riverside to the T-junction

Tesco entrance from Riverside
(A) From Riverside

The start of the route at Riverside has a nice curve – provided you want to enter or leave the cycle route from or to town. From the other direction it requires quite a swing into the middle of the road to get round the bend. (A)

The road layout on Rustat Road at the junction with the cycle bridge could, we think, be replicated on Riverside as part of traffic calming.

You then approach what can only be described as a slalom course uphill, difficult with panniers, and a real challenge with a cycle trailer. (B) The barriers reduce the width to 0.85 m and introduce conflict between otherwise separated cycles and pedestrians. Most cyclists cycle through in a straight line starting on the cycle side and ending up on pedestrian side.

Slalom course
(B) Slalom course.
Slalom course
(B) Slalom course
Cycle bridge over railway
Cycle bridge over the railway: Keeping cyclists and pedestrians separate without the need for barriers.

The cycle bridge over the railway line shows how it should be done keeping cyclists and pedestrians separate and safe without any need for such barriers. The small kerb and the difference in heights works well: people instinctively know the raised section is the ‘pavement.’ Pedestrians feel safe because even inconsiderate cyclists don’t climb the kerb into the pedestrian section.

At the top of the slope there is a good visibility splay with corner to right (C).

Top of the slope
(C) Top of slope
Curiously the cycle lane swaps sides at this junction, so pedestrians and cyclists carrying straight on have to cross each others’ paths. Why isn’t the cycle side on the left as it comes up the hill? It would have made more sense to have the Give Way on the path to the right so you don’t have to stop halfway up a hill.

Following the left route from the T-junction to Newmarket Road

Access road and barrier
(D) Access road and protruding metal barrier
The cycle route runs beside the supermarket, where it is interrupted by an access road to the loading bay. (D) Here the sharp end of a metal crash barrier protrudes hazardously into the cycle lane. The two bollards, one in the centre of each of the cycle and pedestrian lanes, send both cyclists and pedestrians into the central gap. It would be much more sensible if one post were placed in the middle, keeping both lanes clear and cycles and pedestrians separate. Lorries often partly obstruct the paths. The paths should be clearly marked across the road to prevent this happening. This could be achieved either by making the coloured tarmac continuous over the access road or with yellow hatching.

The route then skirts the cycle parking area. Full marks for position, both here and, most importantly, right in front of the store. The racks are also good quality stainless steel. Their shape (designed to allow bikes with baskets and panniers) allows bikes to tip over, particularly when loading with shopping. We would prefer the more usual Sheffield racks, or a mixture of the two types. Perhaps the front row of racks was an afterthought: the roof is too short to cover both rows of racks and there is not enough space between the two rows to get a bike in or out. It would be better to move these 18 cycle racks to the front of the store between the two sets of existing racks (next to parent and child parking). This would allow the remaining racks to be moved under the middle of the roof.

Cycle parking area with route alongside
(E) Cycle parking area with route alongside
More barriers at Cheddars Lane
(F) Yet more barriers at Cheddar’s Lane.

From the cycle parking the route joins Cheddar’s Lane, but just when you have to look both left and behind to your right you have to navigate another set of barriers – why?

On the other side of Cheddar’s Lane there is another design fault. A kink in the path encourages cyclists to break the law by cycling in a straight line, cutting across the pedestrian side. Of course with a little more effort this could have been straightened, as illustrated.

Kink in the path
(G) Kink in the path (with artist’s impression of a straightened route)
Better design with good visibility
(H) Better design with good visibility.

The route then drops down into an advanced stop line at the Newmarket Road traffic lights (though most cyclists turning left do so on the pavement before joining Newmarket Road). Provision for cyclists turning right here is poor. Leaving the cycle path and cycling perpendicular to the stationary traffic to get into the right-hand lane is dangerous. Cyclists cannot see either the vehicle or pedestrian traffic lights when moving from the kerb to the right hand lane. What if a cyclist has just left the path and enters the advance stop box as the lights change? Will the driver on the right be looking out for a cyclist or staring at the lights? There should be a way for cyclists to leave the path just after Cheddar’s Lane and enter an on-road cycle lane leading to the advance stop line.

Following the right route from the T-junction

This is generally a good design, placing the cycle path on the side with better visibility and providing some sweeping corners.

Right-angle bend
(I) Right-angle bend.

But, oh dear, another right-angle bend. Do designers really think people will waste hard pedalled energy to slow below walking pace to get round the sharp bend? Of course many riders cut the corner across the pedestrian side.

The route ends a few yards short of Newmarket Road (J). Looking to the right there is a piece of red tarmac that runs down the pavement for 30 metres. This is OK for entering the site, but there is no provision for crossing Newmarket Road. Cyclists wanting to turn right would be better using the Cheddar’s Lane junction.

Newmarket Road
(J) No provision for crossing Newmarket Road, looking straight on.
Looking right at Newmarket Road
(J) Looking to the right.

And does any cyclist use the red tarmac with the 90° bend? Of course not: practically everyone cycles straight across the forecourt.

Summary

This article may seem to be a negative list of whinges, but we are in truth very appreciative of this new route. It’s just a shame that a few points can spoil what is otherwise a well designed and constructed route which is proving to be popular.

Many of the details are well chosen. For example, the white line is both safe in contour and has slots for drainage (especially important in icy weather). Kerbs have been made flush with a concrete infill – if this wears well it may be a cheap way of making all of Cambridgeshire’s non-flush kerbs meet council specifications (step smaller than 3 mm).

However we feel that, as a matter of urgency, the sharp crash barrier that overhangs the cycle lane at the back of the loading bay and the slalom barriers that throw pedestrians and cyclists into conflict should be removed.

The County Council is working on a design guide for routes for cyclists. We hope that the guide will address all the above types of mistake. We would also like to see routes and traffic schemes on private land follow the same design rules, and receive equal public consultation, as those on public land.

Richard Taylor