Grand Arcade plans

The developers of this very large city centre development (see www.grandarcade.co.uk and www.cambridge.gov.uk/planning/grandarc.htm) have submitted a new planning application to Cambridge City Council. The Cycling Campaign has written a letter of objection making the case for improvements to the way that the scheme makes provision for cyclists.

There is much that is good about the scheme from a cycling point of view: city centre shopping facilities will be much more accessible for cyclists than out-of-town shopping, and, apart from new Park and Ride capacity, levels of car parking will not be increased. We particularly welcome the fact that a large, on-site, secure, sheltered cycle park and a cycle contraflow along Corn Exchange Street are planned as part of the scheme.

Background

The developer’s consultants estimate that the Grand Arcade will generate 95,000 additional cycle journeys each year, about 300 per day. We think this will prove to be an underestimate.

The application proposes an underground cycle park with 511 cycle spaces close to Corn Exchange Street and a further 26 spaces elsewhere which are presumed to be for the Magistrates Court. The consultants predict that the larger cycle park ‘will be used mostly for long stay cycle parking e.g. by workers in the City Centre’ as ‘a secure sheltered facility will be very attractive to such users…’

Cycle park access

The planned location for the cycle park is far from ideal given that the City Council’s Cycle Parking Standards specify that cycle parking should be located on site and close to the main entrances of new buildings. Despite this, we believe that a cycle park in the planned location could be made to work by the following measures:

  • Implementation of a cycle contraflow in Corn Exchange Street. Direct cycle access should be provided to the cycle park from both Downing Street and the Guildhall area. We are therefore very pleased to see that a contraflow cycleway along Corn Exchange Street has been designed into the scheme and is shown in the most recent drawings. It is essential that this contraflow be implemented. Without it, a cycle park at this location would be very unattractive to cyclists. A main cycle park accessible from St Andrew’s Street (where there would be two-way street access for cyclists) would be needed instead.
  • Relocation of the entrance to the cycle park. The proposed entrance would require cyclists to dismount and wheel their cycles either along Guildhall Place or along a passageway from Corn Exchange Street which is less than two metres wide. Both of these routes are likely to be congested with pedestrians during peak shopping hours and this would deter cyclists from using the cycle park. We have therefore asked that the entrance be relocated to Corn Exchange Street so that cyclists will be able to reach the entrance without the need to dismount or mix with pedestrians.
  • Redesign of the access ramp. The application proposes a stepped ramp which requires cyclists to wheel their cycles along a groove. This is not a viable option. Elderly and disabled cyclists, cyclists carrying young children on their cycles (of whom there are many in Cambridge) and those with heavy shopping, would have such great difficulty in using a stepped ramp that they would be likely to avoid the cycle park.

If cars can be provided with a ramp with easy gradients, similar provision should be made for cyclists so that they can access the park easily without dismounting. This should not be difficult as the drawings show that the proposed floor level for the cycle park is little more than a metre below the level of Corn Exchange Street.

Access provision for cyclists to the Magistrates Court cycle spaces is unclear.

Corn Exchange Street: The Grand Arcade and the cycle contraflow.
Image as described adjacent

The number of cycle spaces to be provided

The City Council Cycle Parking Standards are very specific about how the number of cycle spaces required for a development is to be calculated. The calculated number is a mandatory minimum and no provision is made for negotiation between the Council and the developer over a lower figure, as is the case with car parking spaces. In our letter we asked that the number required by the Standards should be calculated and made public. Our calculations indicate that the proposed provision falls far below the amount required, so approval of the present application would constitute a serious breach of these Standards.

The proposed number of on-site cycle spaces to be provided is 537. However, the plans envisage the removal of well over 135 existing cycle spaces, resulting in a net increase of less than 400 spaces, a totally insufficient number given the scale of the new development:

  • 58 spaces would be removed from Fisher Square. These are particularly heavily used by cyclists going to the Central Library and Lion Yard
  • 40 spaces from Corn Exchange Street
  • 20 spaces from St Tibb’s Row
  • 12 private spaces from within a yard behind Robert Sayle
  • five private spaces from beneath the Norwich Union building
  • many other informal (or private) spaces in sheds, yards and along walls and railings in the St Tibb’s Row area would also be removed.

As everyone who cycles to the area knows, this figure of more than 135 existing spaces is much less than cyclists need at present. Any calculation of cycle parking needs should take into account the spaces that will be lost and the scale of present underprovision as well as the new requirements that will be generated by the scheme.

We were also concerned about hints in the application that the developers might press for the removal of the existing cycle parking along the frontage of the scheme in St Andrew’s Street (10 spaces outside Robert Sayle and 16 spaces outside the Post Office). These spaces may have to be temporarily removed during the construction phase but we have objected strongly to any suggestion that they should not be reinstated when the construction is completed. They are among the most heavily used cycle spaces in Cambridge.

We argued that, in considering the amount of cycle parking needed, the council should consider the multiple purposes of the cycle parking, long and short stay, which will be used by:

  • employees of the Grand Arcade,
  • shoppers visiting the Grand Arcade,
  • Magistrates Court employees and visitors,
  • those visiting the Central Library and the rest of the western part of the Lion Yard (whose cycle parking in Fisher Square and Corn Exchange Street this scheme removes), and
  • people employed elsewhere in the City Centre, as stated in the transport assessment.

We welcomed the fact that the cycle park, like the car park, is intended to cater for the wider city centre and not just the Grand Arcade.

The layout of the cycle parking

The application does not contain enough detail about the layout of the cycle park to enable us to determine whether the space between adjacent cycle stands and between rows is adequate. A minimum of one metre between stands is essential and it is not clear that the designated cycle parking areas are sufficient to accommodate the proposed 511 and 26 bicycles.

The control and operation of the cycle parking

We expressed our concern that no indication is given in the application about whether the two cycle parking areas would be available for 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, whether a parking fee would be charged, whether they would be staffed and whether they would be covered by CCTV. These matters need to be clarified before planning permission is considered.

Conclusion

If these matters are satisfactorily resolved, we believe that the cycle parking at the Grand Arcade and the proposed contraflow in Corn Exchange Street could be valuable for cyclists. Obviously it would have been better to have the main cycle park close to the St Andrews Street frontage where the cycle parking need is greatest, but the Corn Exchange Street location is a reasonable alternative provided that the contraflow is installed.

We are concerned that so little attention has been given to the need for cyclists to be able to cycle into the cycle park, and that the number of cycle parking spaces is well below that required by the City Council’s mandatory Cycle Parking Standards. The best solution would probably be to add another cycle park in a different part of the site closer to St Andrew’s Street. We must not end up with the same kind of underprovision that occurred before the Cycle Parking Standards were enacted and which the Standards are designed to remedy.

James Woodburn

Stop Press (13 November)

We have just learned that the proposed contraflow in Corn Exchange Street has failed a safety audit and might not be constructed. We consider it unacceptable that safety issues should be considered so late, years into the design process and after public consultations have been completed.

Without the contraflow the main cycle park could easily become a white elephant, little used. Cyclists would have to make long diversions either when entering or leaving. Even wheeling a bicycle to avoid the diversion would not be easy because the footway on the Grand Arcade side of the street is to be at first floor level. We consider that the Council and the developers should either provide a narrow strip of land to widen the street and make the contraflow safe, or else provide a large on-site cycle park with access near the main entrance in St Andrew’s Street as the Cycle Parking Standards require.