Our Milton Road bus censuses

This article was published in 2004, in Newsletter 54.

The Censuses

Members of the Campaign carried out six two-hour censuses of bus traffic on a length of Milton Road between Woodhead Drive and King’s Hedges Road, where an outbound bus lane is planned. Our aim was to establish how long buses take at the peak time of day, and at the peak time of the year, to travel the length of the proposed bus lane and whether the proposed bus lane could be expected to significantly improve bus times.

We deliberately chose dates that were in both the university and school terms during the late autumn and winter when traffic congestion increases and is known to be greater than in the spring and the summer. The chosen dates were Thursday 13 October 2003 and Monday to Friday, 12 to 16 January 2004. We carried out the censuses in both wet and dry conditions. We avoided the atypical immediate pre-Christmas period and dates when there were road works. What we were seeking were timings that were reasonably typical for the autumn and winter. Since the proposed bus lane is for outbound traffic, all of our censuses were during the 4 pm to 6 pm period, the peak times for outbound traffic.


Two people with clocks synchronised to the second carefully recorded the times that each bus (including those not in service) entered and left the area of the proposed bus lane. One recorder was stationed at the beginning of the proposed bus lane (at the beginning of the frontage of 287 Milton Road) and the second recorder at the end (the middle of the frontage of 347 Milton Road). After completing each census, the time taken to travel the length of the proposed bus lane by each bus was calculated.


We recorded the timings of a total of 174 peak-time buses during the six censuses. Not one took more than two minutes to travel along the length of the proposed bus lane and 123 of them took less than one minute.

Milton Road: differences in times were caused by whether buses had to wait at the traffic lights at the junction with King’s Hedges Road.
Image as described adjacent

Traffic flowed freely all along the length of the proposed bus lane throughout the peak period on every census day. There were no traffic queues during any of the six censuses.

We observed that virtually no buses or other vehicles had to wait for more than one traffic light change at the Milton Road-King’s Hedges Road junction just beyond the end of the proposed bus lane.

Differences in the times taken by buses were caused not by traffic conditions but by whether they had to wait for the traffic lights at the Milton Road-King’s Hedges Road junction or at the bus stop or the pelican crossing along the length of the proposed bus lane.

Copies of the full census results are available on the Campaign web site.


A bus lane along this stretch of Milton Road could not have allowed buses to reach their destinations more quickly

On the six occasions on which we took our censuses – at times and on dates which we believe are reasonably representative of peak traffic conditions characteristic of the period of the year when traffic levels are high – a bus lane along this stretch of Milton Road could not have allowed buses to reach their destinations more quickly.

Implications for policy

According to a press release on the County Council’s website dated 27 April 2004, Cambridgeshire’s traffic has risen by 30% in the last ten years. However, traffic levels within Cambridge contrast dramatically with this. In Cambridge the number of vehicle journeys is the lowest recorded in twenty years. The County’s policy of discouraging cars and encouraging the use of public transport and bicycles within the city does seem to be working.

If traffic levels along Milton Road have either stabilised or are reducing, creation of this particular length of proposed bus lane, and probably of other lengths of bus lane on Milton Road, is not justified at present and may well not be justifiable in future. We do not believe that the number of guided buses which may in future use Milton Road would create a net increase in traffic. On the contrary, they should produce a net reduction.

We believe that no new bus lanes should be created on Milton Road until the overwhelming need for each of them has been clearly demonstrated. No such need has yet been shown. The problem is that bus lanes on Milton Road severely damage conditions for cyclists by narrowing traffic lanes and making it difficult for vehicles to overtake cyclists comfortably and safely. City and County policy is to encourage cycling but we feel that there is a real danger that the creation of unnecessary bus lanes with narrow traffic lanes will tend to deter some people from cycling who would cycle if conditions were better.

James Woodburn