A tale of two bus lanes

This article was published in 2003, in Newsletter 51.

Our campaign against the installation of new bus lanes in Hills Road and Milton Road continues and is so far having some modest success. We argue that, if these two bus lanes were to be installed, any advantage to bus passengers would be outweighed by damage to pedestrian and cycle facilities.

Hills Road

The initial Hills Road proposals were withdrawn and a new less drastic proposal has been substituted (Newsletter 49). Our carefully-recorded bus censuses cast doubt on whether delays to buses along Hills Road are sufficiently frequent or severe to justify any bus lane scheme at all there, given the manifest problems that any scheme would cause for pedestrians and cyclists. Councillors have asked council officers to obtain additional data to justify the proposal and our understanding is that these new data, if ready, will be presented at the next meeting of the Cambridge Environment and Transport Area Joint Committee on 26 January. No public consultation on the new scheme has taken place yet, and none is planned before the January meeting, so we think that no decision to implement the new scheme could be taken at this meeting. We will watch the situation carefully and, at the same time, continue with our own monitoring of the scale of bus delays along Hills Road. If a date for public consultation is announced, we aim to prepare and distribute leaflets to those who would be most affected by the proposed scheme.

Milton Road

For the Milton Road proposal the situation is different. A new public consultation was held in September and we submitted a detailed letter of objection. The issue came before the Area Joint Committee on 20 October and council officers recommended that the bus lane proposal be approved. Before the meeting we sent a letter to all of the City and County Councillors on the committee setting out our objections to the proposal. (Our letter is shown below.) We also sent the results of a detailed bus census we carried out on 13 October during the afternoon traffic peak from 4 pm to 6 pm. Although it was during the school and university terms and at one of the times of the year when traffic levels are high, the traffic, including buses, flowed freely along the length of the proposed bus lane. There were no traffic queues and no delays. The slowest bus took only 1 minute 29 seconds to cover the length of the proposed bus lane. Installing a bus lane could not have speeded up any of these buses. The issue is, of course, how frequent are such bus delays as could be reduced by a bus lane. We were pleased when at the meeting Councillors decided to defer their decision and asked for more data on delays. Officials will collect more data and so will we. A final decision on whether to go ahead with the scheme is due to be made on 26 January. We will do our best to persuade Councillors to reject the scheme.

James Woodburn

Milton Road: excerpts from our letter to Councillor Members of the Area Joint Committee before the October meeting at which they decided to defer their decision.

Cambridge Cycling Campaign strongly opposes the proposal to install a new length of outbound bus lane along part of Milton Road because of the adverse impact the reduced lane widths will have on cyclists.

The evidence suggests that the advantages provided to bus users by this bus lane would be limited and largely restricted to short periods during the morning and evening peaks. On the other hand the reduced lane widths in both directions, and the inadequate alternative provision proposed, will have a significant negative impact on cyclists for the whole day, not just during peak periods. Milton Road already carries large numbers of cyclists, and this number will increase further when the Milton cycle bridge is opened. The bus lane will not have enough benefits for bus users to justify its negative impact on so many cyclists.

In addition, the forthcoming extra lane approaching the A14 roundabout is likely to reduce delays to buses, rendering any existing figures outdated.

We ask you either to reject this scheme entirely or to defer it until the effect of the additional lane approaching the A14 roundabout has been assessed and the increase in cycling following the opening of the Milton cycle bridge has been measured.

We actively support, and have always actively supported, improved provision for buses. But we believe that in a city where 28% of people cycle to work, as compared with a national figure of only 2%, particular care is needed to avoid measures which create unpleasant and discouraging conditions for cyclists on major cycling routes. We did not oppose the provision of bus lanes along Trumpington Road and Newmarket Road and concentrated our attention on seeking improvements to their design. Milton Road is different. It is notorious among cyclists because the introduction of the inbound bus lane made the outbound lane width very narrow, leading to harassment of cyclists by some drivers. The new proposal would extend this unpleasantness to a new length of the road.

Obviously the problem is the constraints of the site. We fully acknowledge the need to keep the trees. Our argument is that, given the serious limitations of the site, a bus lane should not be installed here. Each bus priority scheme should be considered on its merits and in this instance a convincing case for a bus lane has not been made.

We are particularly concerned about the lack of evidence of the scale of the delays to bus users and the number of cyclists who would be affected. Our observations are that long delays are infrequent, intermittent, and rarely extend for very long, even during the peak periods. We believe that it is unacceptable to install a bus lane until detailed figures on bus delays and the number of cyclists are provided.

There is, we believe, a strong case for deferring collection of this data for the present. The forthcoming changes to the road layout near the Science Park, particularly the new traffic lane to the A14, may reduce delays to buses. The Milton cycle bridge across the A14 will increase the number of cyclists. The relevant figures for a sensible decision on the bus lane proposal should be gathered only when these substantial changes have been implemented and the new traffic pattern has become established.

In Germany prioritised cycleways go straight across side roads (see end of letter).
Image as described adjacent

Whether or not the bus lane scheme is approved, we support the development of high-quality pavement cycleways along Milton Road for the benefit of those cyclists who prefer them. We welcome the innovative proposal to give cyclists using the cycleways priority over two of the side roads. However, the benefits of such priority are negated by the tortuous diversions that cyclists crossing these side roads will be expected to make. We do not accept that these diversions are necessary on safety grounds, given that side road crossings which have priority and which are also direct are widespread in northern Europe without giving rise to unacceptable risk (see photograph).

Our petitions: please sign and return

We will present petitions to the County Council on both the Hills Road and the Milton Road proposals. Copies of each petition are enclosed with this newsletter. If you support our case, please sign them and gather as many other signatures as you can, and send them to us at the Campaign address by 31 December. These petitions will give us speaking rights before the Area Joint Committee.