Update on two-way cycling in Trinity Street

This article was published in 2004, in Newsletter 56.

On 7 September 2004 the Cabinet of Cambridgeshire County Council, senior Conservative Party councillors from all over the county but, as it happens, none resident in Cambridge or representing Cambridge wards, met in Shire Hall to consider whether to approve two-way cycling along Trinity Street and St John’s Street during the 10am-4pm period when few motor vehicles are permitted to use these streets and when there is no acceptable alternative cycle route through the city centre to northern Cambridge. Council officers were recommending that the proposal for an experimental scheme be rejected on the grounds that, if a collision were to occur between a northbound cycle and a southbound motor vehicle, it would be difficult to defend any claim against the County Council because the road width is insufficient.

We feared that the Cabinet would accept the advice from their officers and reject the proposal, but instead they referred it back for further consideration of ways in which the proposal could be implemented without such a risk of litigation. It will now be re-examined by the Cambridge Environment and Transport Area Joint Committee consisting of equal numbers of city councillors and county councillors and with a Liberal Democratic majority. They had considered and approved the proposal in July and it only went to Cabinet for decision because of the concerns of county officers.

I believe that there are possible solutions and am reasonably hopeful that in the end two-way cycling may be approved. Shona Johnstone, the influential Cabinet member for Environment and Transport, has told us that she supports two-way cycling in these streets.

At the meeting I put the case for two-way cycling on behalf of the Campaign. To obtain the right to speak (for just three minutes), we had at short notice to obtain fifty supporters for a petition in favour of two-way cycling. Remarkably, no fewer than 170 people responded. The degree of support was very encouraging.

For Against Uncertain Total
On-street questionnaire 150 (66%) 70 (31%) 6 (3%) 226
Letters and email responses to the consultation 107 (75%) 28 (20%) 8 (6%) 143
Stakeholder responses 8 (89%) 1 (11%) 9

After explaining who we were, I put forward the following case:

I drew attention to the considerable support for the experiment brought out in the County Council’s own consultations (see table).

I pointed out that the term ‘Historic Centre Pedestrian Zone’ within which the streets concerned are located is misleading. It is in part a zone for cyclists as well as for pedestrians. During the 10am-4pm period – the period of restriction – cycling is, and always has been, permitted on more than half of the length of the roadways within the zone – one-way cycling in Trinity Street, St John’s Street and Green Street, two-way cycling in Trinity Lane. The proposal being considered was a modification of this to deal with the fact that there is no satisfactory south to north cycle route through Cambridge between 10am and 4pm. It was not a major change of use of the so-called pedestrian zone.

The permits already limit vehicle speed to 10 mph and give priority to pedestrians.
Image as described adjacent

I said that we believed that with two-way cycling Trinity Street and St John’s Street would be safe – much safer for all road users than most roads. In spite of the very large numbers of cyclists who use these streets, no injury accidents at all involving motor vehicles, cyclists or pedestrians had been recorded by the police during the last three years – no pedestrians injured by cyclists and no cyclists injured by motor vehicles either during the restricted hours or at any other time. Two-way cycling should be safe because:

  • Relatively few motor vehicles are permitted to use the zone during the hours in question and those who hold permits make limited use of them. Permit holders are subject to a 10 mph speed limit and have to give priority to pedestrians (see illustration of permit). The Pedestrian Zone Management Team had told me that they enforce the 10 mph limit with a speed camera. If the present proposal were approved we suggested that the wording of the permit be altered from ‘You must give priority to pedestrians’ to ‘You must give priority to pedestrians and cyclists’ (or, if preferred, ‘You must give priority to pedestrians and to cyclists in the streets where cycling is permitted’ in which case the names of the streets should be given).
  • Two-way cycling is permitted in a number of other Cambridge streets (inside and outside the pedestrian zone) which are in places very narrow and in which a large vehicle cannot pass a cyclist coming in the opposite direction. One or other has to give way. These streets include Trinity Lane, Bridge Street and Hobson Street. The evidence indicated that two-way cycling in these streets had not given rise to significant difficulties. In the narrow streets of central Cambridge the need to give way is self-evident to cyclists and to drivers.
  • Although some pedestrians understandably feared injury in collisions with cyclists, the statistics are clear, both in Cambridge and elsewhere. The number of injuries and deaths resulting from cyclist/pedestrian collisions is very low indeed and was most unlikely to be significantly increased by giving approval to this proposal.

Given these circumstances, I said that we did not believe that the courts would accept that the Council would be acting unreasonably in promoting such a scheme. If the view of the Council’s legal officers remained that there was a danger of litigation, we asked for consultations with ourselves and others about possible changes to the permits and other measures to further reduce any risk of litigation.

Cabinet members gave every impression of being interested and asked questions. Afterwards the Cambridge Evening News reported that the Cabinet had been ready to reject two-way cycling but backtracked because of our efforts. Of course I wish that this was correct, but actually I think that Cabinet members had probably decided on their course of action before they knew of our views. However, I welcome the fact that we were able to make our views known in so public a context and that they were well received. The Evening News supported our case. In an editorial on 9 September they said, ‘Cambridge, a city that prides itself on being cycle-friendly, is full of narrow streets. Prohibiting two-way cycling amidst concerns over legal action is surely a step too far.’

We must now prepare for the next stage. Help from interested lawyers or others with relevant specialised knowledge would be particularly appreciated.

James Woodburn