This article was published in 2004, in Newsletter 55.
A new cycleway and accident reduction scheme on King’s Hedges Road was completed last month after a long delay in construction. This is one of five schemes around the city that were approved last year with the express aim of increasing cyclists’ safety, but which the Cycling Campaign opposed as being of inadequate quality.
The biggest change is along the built-up section between Cambridge Regional College (CRC) and Milton Road.
The change on the eastern side, for cyclists heading towards Milton Road, is fairly straightforward and generally beneficial. Parking has been banned and a mandatory cycle lane, surfaced in red, has been introduced for the entire length from the Regional College to Milton Road. The lane has a bright red – though slightly uneven – surface and starts off at a good width but becoming rather narrow further along. There were three cars blocking the cycle lane on the day we visited to take photographs; it looks as if some residents (or their visitors) haven’t yet got used to the idea that they now need to park on the other side of the road. But even so cyclists are clearly benefiting from the removal of most of the parked cars from this stretch.
On the other side of the road, for cyclists heading from Milton Road towards the Regional College, the changes are rather more complicated and of much less obvious benefit. The biggest change is that the entire length of pavement along this section has been designated as a shared-use cycleway. However, no attempt has been made to widen or resurface it and it remains simply a narrow, bumpy pavement but with white cycle symbols painted on it. It’s something of a throwback to the 1980s when the local council simply put up blue signs on pavements and claimed them to be cycleways. The poor quality of this path means that few cyclists will be attracted to use it. But the change has legalised the position of any cyclists who in the past have ridden illegally on the pavement here.
There is, however, one interesting innovation here which makes this cycleway different from those that were introduced in the bad old days. Each time the pavement cycleway comes to a side road (and there are quite a few, some of them quite busy) a short piece of red tarmac has been constructed across the verge which allows cyclists to rejoin the road and cross the side road without having to give way. Once past the side road, another short link across the verge allows cyclists to rejoin the pavement. To help cyclists make this manoeuvre, a short section of red-surfaced cycle lane has been marked out across each side road, ending at the point where cyclists are expected to go off-road once more. These on-road sections can only be used by northbound cyclists.
The result is a pavement cycleway which allows cyclists to maintain priority over side roads by hopping onto the road and then back off again. It’s an interesting attempt at addressing a major weakness of pavement cycleways and we give the council credit for trying. But ultimately it fails because they did it on the cheap, with a narrow, bumpy path and a tortuous, weaving route at side roads. This path simply isn’t good enough to make many cyclists want to switch to it. It will be interesting to see if cyclists who do decide to use the pavement bother to use the on-road sections or whether they will remain on the pavement and take their chances at the side roads.
There’s a germ of a good idea here, and we hope its failure here won’t put the council off trying to do it properly somewhere else, on a road where a pavement cycleway is appropriate and there is adequate provision on the other side of the road for cyclists going in the other direction. We’d like to see the council try building a high-quality cycle track with adequate width, a smooth surface, and which turns into a cycle lane at side roads without the cyclists having to deviate from a straight line. We’ve seen it in Denmark. They can do it here if they want to.
Finally, what’s it like for the cyclists who will choose to remain on the road all the way from Milton Road to CRC? They’re no better off than before and might even be worse off. The main problem is that apart from the short section of cycle lanes across side roads, this entire section has been designated for parking. The cycle lanes across side roads are useless to cyclists who want to stay on the road since they lead straight into the back of a line of parked cars. And riders who cycle further from the kerb to avoid this are more likely to be hooted at by drivers who think they should be in the cycle lane.
There is one other change worth mentioning. Beyond CRC, the junction with Northfield Avenue has always been difficult for cyclists because the long slip road for left-turning traffic means that straight-ahead cyclists feel very exposed and vulnerable. A long red cycle lane now takes cyclists across the junction and makes it more obvious to drivers that they are crossing the path of cyclists. But not all the lane is marked with white lines, making it invisible in the dark. And nothing has been done to help cyclists at the similar junction with Arbury Road further along. Cycling along King’s Hedges Road between CRC and Histon Road remains a dismal experience, with high traffic speeds and wide fast junctions. It’s even worse for pedestrians who don’t even have a pavement. It’s a complete disgrace that a road like this, constructed within the built-up area of the city only a few decades ago, was designed only for cars. Let’s hope the traffic planners don’t make the same mistake when they build the new suburbs on the Trumpington side of the city.