Much has happened since our article on the Grand Arcade development in Newsletter 51 in November. In that article we showed how necessary the long-planned cycle contraflow in Corn Exchange Street is for effective access to the proposed 511-space cycle park to be constructed as part of this very large city centre development. As the Newsletter went to press, we heard that the plans for the proposed cycle contraflow had failed a safety audit and that the transport authorities at Cambridgeshire County Council had decided that the contraflow could not be installed.
The final Planning Application for the development came before the City Council’s Planning Committee on 3 December. We wrote to all the members of the Planning Committee before the meeting and then spoke at the meeting urging that planning permission should not be granted because cycle access to the cycle parking area, and to and through the development more generally, depended on the Corn Exchange Street contraflow. The cycle park was, in any case, too small – much smaller than the City Council’s own mandatory Cycle Parking Standards required.
Many of the Councillors on the Planning Committee are active supporters of cyclists and cycling and, after much discussion, a clear majority agreed with the Campaign’s case. They took the decision to reject the Council Officers’ recommendation and voted to defer consideration of the planning application so that the cycle access issues could be examined in more detail.
The City Council then arranged a ‘Workshop’ on 17 December on cycle access to the Grand Arcade which was attended by City Council and County Council officials, by Councillors, by representatives of the developers and by representatives of the Cycling Campaign. Discussion focused on the proposed cycle contraflow.
We were given the opportunity to present a detailed document that we had prepared showing the necessity for the contraflow and suggesting ways in which it could be safely installed. Here are the main points that we put forward.
- The proposed cycle park and the proposed contraflow are interlinked. Without the contraflow the cycle park would be considered remote and inaccessible and would be likely to be underused.
- The contraflow would at the same time increase the permeability of the city centre for cyclists by providing a new southbound cycle route from the Guildhall and Market Hill area to Regent Street and beyond.
- Corn Exchange Street is at present drab, gloomy and car-dominated. Its character should be changed to reduce vehicle speeds and to make it attractive to pedestrians and cyclists like the rest of the city centre. If the character of the street is changed to make it less car-dominated, the provision of contraflow cycling becomes much simpler.
- Speed should be restricted to 20 mph and perhaps to 10 mph at the junction with Wheeler Street.
- In Wheeler Street and the northern end of Corn Exchange Street, which are heavily used by pedestrians, a formal contraflow lane is unnecessary. As in nearby Bene’t Street, contraflow cycling should be permitted without any demarcated contraflow lanes. This whole area should be re-paved with something other than black tarmac. Raised tables should be used to slow down traffic. Loading restrictions should be introduced requiring vehicles to unload in Peas Hill rather than in Wheeler Street.
- Along the middle section of Corn Exchange Street, where the Grand Arcade building is to be constructed, a mandatory, red-surfaced, contraflow cycle lane, 1.5 metres wide, should be installed. The marked-out lane is needed here to give the clearest possible indication to motorists turning right into the car park that contraflow cyclists are legitimately present and entitled to priority.
- The southern end of Corn Exchange Street along the side of the Crowne Plaza Hotel is already a two-way street used by cyclists as well as motorists. We do not believe that a segregated cycle track is necessary or appropriate here. But changes are needed to the car park exits to ensure that cyclists travelling towards Downing Street are given priority over cars coming out of the car park. The raised footway in the centre of the road should be removed as it is no longer useful now that the street-level footway on the Grand Arcade side of the street is to be replaced by a high-level walkway. This would allow the stop line in front of the car exits to be brought forward, so motorists can see contraflow cyclists more clearly. The car park exit barriers should be moved back into the car park so that drivers have to make separate decisions about going through the barriers and going onto the public highway. The present traffic light system should be changed because the green light wrongly suggests to motorists that they have priority when they go out onto the street.
Our suggestions were very well received at the workshop and there was general agreement that they provided a way forward. The developers were obviously in favour of installing the contraflow and made some very useful suggestions, particularly about the car park exits. The developers and the transport experts at County Hall will now look at the issues in detail and try to take matters forward.
On 7 January the planning application came before the Planning Committee again and this time it was approved. There was no doubt about the determination of Councillors to ensure, if at all possible, that the contraflow will be installed. There is no guarantee that it will be, but we are hopeful that the current impetus will be successful.
However, Councillors were not willing to require that the developers increase the number of cycle spaces in the cycle park up to the number specified in the Council’s own Cycle Parking Standards.
The contraflow issue will now come before the Transport Area Joint Committee, which has both City and County Councillors as members, on 26 January. If they give their strong backing to the contraflow proposal, the chances of eventual success will be much greater. People are keen that the matter should, as far as possible, be resolved before the public enquiry into the Grand Arcade compulsory purchase orders opens on 20 April.
Members of the Campaign have put much time and effort into campaigning on this issue and have learned much about the operation of local government decision-making in the process. We are reasonably hopeful that we will in the end obtain a contraflow but we are unlikely to know for certain for months, or maybe even until construction starts in some years’ time.