This article was published in 2003, in Newsletter 49.
The £175,000 scheme to improve safety at the Mitcham’s Corner one-way gyratory system is now complete. It’s been a long time coming, and we commend County Council officers and councillors for their tenacity and persistence in getting a good scheme agreed and implemented.
Mitcham’s Corner has long been a serious barrier and obstacle to cyclists coming into Cambridge from the north. Confident cyclists have always used the big roundabout, but even for them it was a tricky and hazardous experience, with long detours for some journeys. Safe passage used to rely on the ability to cycle at high speed, weaving between lanes as the car traffic does.
Less confident cyclists tended to ride on the pavements and crossings, or to use adjacent side streets. The down-side of those were illegality, and the inconvenience (for example, if using Carlyle Road you are met with a zebra – not legal to cycle across – and Jesus Lock bridge – not permissible or really possible to use on a bike).
The recent changes put several traffic lights on the key entrances and exits from the roundabout. This means that cyclists largely don’t have to contend with weaving traffic streams and having to look in lots of directions at once. (Nor do motorists – not all motorists are confident at fast moving criss-crossing traffic gyratories like this ether). Advance stop boxes allow cyclists to put themselves in very visible positions at the lights, and the amount of red surfacing in general shouts ‘Bike!’ at motorists.
Numerous shared-use pavements have been designated for those who prefer not to stay on the road. One group forms a segregated route across the middle of the junction making the direct north-south desire line much easier than in the past – and legal. The new route relied on the removal of a small number of car parking spaces, and this was one of the sticking points which had to be overcome before the whole scheme could be agreed. Ironically Friends of the Earth proposed a very similar route to this as much as ten years ago, which was rejected as impossible at the time.
Secondly, cycling to and from Staples in the centre of the roundabout is now legal on the pavement, and a raised table helps to cross the road to shorten the Victoria Avenue to Chesterton Road manoeuvre. There’s possibly a problem with priorities here: the ‘elephants feet’ markings might imply cyclists have priority when in fact they do not. Of course we would advocate moving the car give way line back so cyclists genuinely do have priority, but painting such lines is probably considered too revolutionary.
|Removal of a small amount of on-street car parking has allowed a segregated route between Victoria Avenue and Milton Road to be introduced, recognising a widespread manoeuvre that was already happening.
|The north-south route runs up the island at the Milton Road end, helped across the gyratory by traffic lights.
There are of course some niggles and concerns about the scheme. The main one is the inevitable conflict between safety and convenience: traffic lights slow everyone down, including cyclists. Pedestrians have to wait for lights instead of having priority at zebras (though not all the zebras have been removed, and two entirely new crossings make east-west and west-east movements for pedestrians much, much easier). However, some initial feedback has been quite favourable.
Paul Robison, who lives by the junction, says: ‘Overall, I think it’s been an improvement, but with reservations. Cycling from Victoria Avenue to Victoria Road is now even worse than it was before, unless you are prepared to stop and wait at the crossing outside the Boathouse (I don’t think I’ve seen anyone do it). If you stay on the road (between the two lanes outside Staples) the lanes are narrower than before and there is a bit of a Milton Road effect with drivers assuming that if there’s a bike lane (a very bright red one) then you should be in it. This seems to be particularly so for bus and coach drivers.’
Stefan Kaye, who negotiates this junction frequently on the road, says: ‘I had been dreading the introduction of all the traffic lights, but I have been pleasantly surprised by how well it all seems to work. The entry from Milton Road, on which there are no traffic lights, has been made somewhat easier by there being only one traffic lane plus a decent wide cycle lane. On rounding the corner, you tend to come upon the lights controlling entry from Chesterton Road (east) rather sharply, but once through these lights, the next set (at Victoria Avenue) have been on green on all but one occasion, and I have never yet been stopped by the lights on the exit into Chesterton Road (west) since these are effectively a pedestrian crossing. On my return journey, going from Chesterton Road (west) to Milton Road, the only lights I have to go through are on the entry to the junction, and I actually find these very helpful – I’ve never had to wait long, and once green, you are protected from traffic screeching round the corner.’
Several people have commented that it is not always clear where you are allowed to cycle on the pavement and where not. Some of the push buttons aren’t very easy to reach on a bike.
|Advanced stop lines with good approach lanes at the new signals on the junction itself are standard.
|A raised table makes getting to and from Staples easier, but who has priority?
Stop gap measure
We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that this is a relatively cheaply implemented safety scheme. It attempts to plug some of the causes of crashes and casualties at this fast and busy junction.
Nevertheless, the long term aim must be to abolish the gyratory completely.
It is interesting to note that the Rapid Transit maps still envisage the buses going round the junction. Even if cars still have to, a direct, prioritised route across the middle from Milton Road to Victoria Avenue and vice-versa for cyclists and buses must surely be the answer for sustainable modes. Redevelopment in the area will also have an effect on traffic patterns in the future.
Nevertheless breaking up and slowing down the traffic here, even if it is not reduced, is very welcome and the scheme as a whole stands out from many others where unsatisfactory compromises have been the order of the day.