Option C for Hills Road?

This article was published in 2003, in Newsletter 49.

The prospect of losing the cycle lanes on Hills Road leading up to the lights at Long Road has receded a bit.

Cambridge Cycling Campaign thinks that changes to the timing of traffic lights at Addenbrooke’s roundabout could solve the problem – occasional delays to buses along Hills Road – making a bus lane unnecessary.
Traffic lights at Addenbrooke's roundabout

A significant majority of respondents to the County’s consultation exercise opposed both proposed options. Much of that opposition came from Cycling Campaign members and cyclists and residents we canvassed on Hills Road (see Newsletter 46). As a result both of these options have now been withdrawn.

These options involved narrowing the inbound traffic lane to make room for an outbound bus lane. The bus lane would have had either a narrow cycle lane inside it (which required some road widening) or not, putting cyclists who didn’t want to share a narrow bus lane onto a poor quality pavement alongside. Our main concern was the conflict generated between cars and cyclists in the narrowed inbound lane, the Milton Road effect.

County Council officers came up with a third option for a recent meeting of the Cambridge Environment & Transport Area Joint Committee. This is the body which combines councillors from the City and County councils and which decides the details of traffic schemes within Cambridge. However, Councillors decided not to accept the officers’ recommendation. Instead they asked for more timings to be done to clarify the case for a bus lane before taking any further action on another option.

This was the sensible outcome which we had been asking for. There may once have been a bus that was delayed for as long as was being claimed in the original justifications for the bus lane, but it became clear that no systematic effort had been made to look at the typical picture.

We have done several sets of timings of our own since the scheme was mooted, including two more surveys before the recent committee meeting. These showed that there were no delays for most of the time, and most of the year. Even at the short peak time when buses did get held up a bit, delays were nothing like those being suggested officially.

Our figures revealed a couple of other interesting details. Firstly, when traffic was held up, it was frequently a knock-on effect of the traffic lights at the Addenbrooke’s roundabout, or further up Babraham Road. Retiming the lights at the roundabout, and closing Worts’ Causeway in the afternoon peak to allow less red time at its junction with Babraham Road would go a long way to shaving off the extra minute or two’s delay.

Secondly, the bus schedules were bizarrely random and unpredictable. People waiting for a supposedly ten minute frequency bus might have had to wait 25 minutes, or find two arrive very close together. This was the case even outside peak times, and despite the large amount of slack allowed for in the timetables (the C1 often kills time for ten minutes at Fulbourn Tesco, for example).

Time spent waiting at bus stops is clearly a big factor in journey times as a whole. Whether a bus stopped at the stop before Long Road accounted for much of the variation we saw in our timings.

A new Option C

The story is not over yet. Though deferred for the time being, the new option proposed may yet be promoted. This still proposes an outbound bus lane. This would be shorter than originally proposed, but with the possibility of extension later. (Of course, anything might be changed later, whether mentioned explicitly or not).

The road would be widened to allow room for a cycle lane to remain inbound. However, the existing adequate width lane would be reduced to a grossly substandard width of one metre. In the outbound direction, a rather higher standard segregated pavement cycle track would be installed instead of the appalling shared-use one previously suggested (and cyclists could still use the bus lane as many would prefer to do).

So while this is an improvement over what was previously proposed, the scheme still squeezes cyclists. The present model arrangement is degraded to a poor one.

Storm clouds gathering

Two other related matters give us cause for concern. Firstly, the new Rapid Transit proposals (see article) would mean yet more bus lanes being introduced on streets which have cycle lanes at present. We could end up fighting bus lane after bus lane because of the negative impact on cycling, when we would much rather be welcoming buses in conjunction with high quality conditions for cycling. Indeed, at the Area Joint Committee meeting the officer concerned stressed the importance he placed on not abandoning the Hills Road bus lane because of its implications for other routes. It is astonishing that despite the priority cycling is supposed to have in policies, the reallocation of road space to cyclists that we’ve been suggesting for years (for example, in Station Road and Hills Road), and which never happens, is almost taken for granted where buses are concerned.

Secondly, it appears as if officers have quietly changed their Council’s policy. In justifying the new bus lane, they say ‘greater benefits accrue, in modal shift terms, from bus use as opposed to cycle use.’ In other words, they appear to have given up on the part of the Local Transport Plan which gives higher priority to cycling than buses. This is particularly disturbing as it seems to imply that existing cyclists will see their cycling environment degraded if more people can be persuaded to use buses.

Not over yet

Local councillors have said that they don’t like the new option any more than the previous two. We also have to wonder how residents will react to all of their grass verges being destroyed if the new option were to go ahead.

But this fairly short bus lane is perhaps only a skirmish in a bigger struggle to prevent bus schemes squeezing cyclists off all the main roads into the city.

David Earl