The guided bus scheme

This article was published in 2003, in Newsletter 49.

Cambridge Cycling Campaign supports better public transport as a means of reducing private car traffic. At the same time, we are aware that some of our members are concerned about the effects of extra buses in the city, especially in the centre. We are uneasy about giving wholehearted support to the proposed guided bus scheme. This article describes the complicated background, and our concerns.

Cambridgeshire County Council is consulting on the provision of a guided bus route from Huntingdon to the Trumpington Park & Ride site and to Addenbrooke’s hospital. We’ve been here before: in the past a private consortium (SuperCAM) proposed a similar scheme. The Transport Works Act (TWA) required by this scheme will almost certainly necessitate a public inquiry next year. By the time you read this, you will have a few days left to let the county council know your views on the first stage of the consultation.

Guided Bus Map

What’s gone before?

The private consortium in the past proposed a similar route, but with ultra modern, ultra expensive articulated vehicles using special guidance (buried cables, white lines or ‘grooves’), even on roads within the city. The publicity made these vehicles look like trams, but they weren’t – they were simply enormous buses which would certainly have made the streets of Cambridge less pleasant for cyclists and possibly more dangerous. The Campaign might well have found it necessary to oppose their introduction.

We’ve also had the Cambridge to Huntingdon Multi Modal Study (CHUMMS). Basically this reported that, before the A14 was upgraded, a viable public transport alternative should be provided for the many people who commute from the Huntingdon area to Cambridge. Even with such a system, there is still a probability that increased congestion within Cambridge will be caused by the extra capacity of an upgraded A14, and that some form of traffic restraint would be advisable.

What’s new this time?

These guide wheels run along the edge of a concrete trough when the bus is in the guideway. They protrude only an inch or two from the side of the bus in normal driving.
Guided Bus wheels

Last year the County Council submitted a bid for a modified scheme to Government as part of its annual progress review of the Local Transport Plan (LTP). As this was only an appendix of a report, it received little publicity at that time. The scheme they submitted broke many of the links with the previous consortium, and proposed an open scheme using conventional buses. In an open scheme, any suitable vehicle can use the guided sections for some charge. A conventional bus just needs to be fitted with small guide-wheels to steer itself along the guideway. This means that buses can run directly from villages to any other destination, but they can use the guideway to reduce journey times and avoid much congestion.

What’s this got to do with cyclists?

Clearly anything that reduces the number of motor vehicles, or at least slows the increase, must be good for cyclists. However, if you’ve seen the consultation you might have been alarmed to see little reference to a long-anticipated cycleway alongside much of the bus route. We believe that the Council has designs for helping cyclists but that they are hardly mentioned in this first round of consultation due to the legal process.

Because the guideway cannot be used by normal vehicles, it is deemed necessary to have a maintenance and emergency access strip about 3 metres (10′) wide along nearly all of its length. For most of the route, no additional land outside the existing corridor will be required, but there are some locations where small pieces of land will need to be obtained via the TWA. I understand that a separate bid will then be made (via the LTP) to ensure that this strip is raised to a standard that will allow its use for walkers, cyclists and horse riders, because the TWA itself cannot be used for a cycle scheme.

So if all this goes ahead, we should have some 20 km (12 miles) of new cycleways, meaning that the city, the Science Park and Addenbrooke’s will be within comfortable cycling distance of thousands more people. We’ll have new links under the A14 near Histon and a route from the railway station, under Hills Road Bridge and on to the south. All we will need then is a cycle link alongside the rail line from Cambridge Station to Chesterton Junction. We will be objecting to the suggestion that there is no demand for a cycle route through the cutting from the Trumpington Road Park & Ride site to Shelford Road: it appears that the wrong questions were being asked at the wrong place.

What’s the catch?

The guided bus scheme would mean pressure for more bus lanes in areas where routes are on normal streets, and there would be more buses in the city centre. Little detail is available on the bus lanes proposed, but don’t expect any of the following roads to become easier to cycle along:

  • On Milton Road, bus lanes would be introduced between Elizabeth Way and Ascham Road (where there is already an outbound bus lane which the new one might replace), between Elizabeth Way and Arbury Road (which would involve road widening and removal of some parking spaces) and between Lovell Road and the start of the new busway where the level crossing is now.
  • On Histon Road, a short bus lane would be introduced between King’s Hedges Road and Blackhall Road.
  • On King’s Hedges Road, a short bus lane would be introduced at the western end.
  • On Station Road, parking would be removed to provide room for a bus lane for the whole length.

Some of the council papers on this subject talk about ‘queue relocation’ and extra control of lights. These are measures that can speed up all buses without the need for dedicated bus lanes. Unless the bus measures as a whole reduce the number of private motor vehicles entering the city, cyclists could be seriously disadvantaged. The Campaign will resist changes that make conditions worse for cyclists.

Jim’s rule of thumb says that the occupants of a one kilometre queue of cars will fit easily into two buses, so which would you rather have? On the other hand if no real attempt is made to reduce private car use at the same time, the new bus passengers may be ex-cyclists rather than ex-motorists, and ‘sustainability’ then becomes ‘madness’.

Jim Chisholm