A tale of two bridges

This article was published in 2004, in Newsletter 56.

As most of you will know by now, two new, large cycle and pedestrian bridges opened in the early summer. At Milton a blue and white arch crosses the A14 in a single span, conveniently linking the village with Cambridge. And at Coldham’s Lane, a lattice structure is mounted alongside the existing railway bridge between the Beehive Centre roundabout and the end of Cromwell Road.

Both bridges cost well over £1m, nudging £2m at Milton, but as someone at the County Council put it recently: it sounds a lot of money but it’s only the cost of three houses in Cambridge. The A14 bridge – now named the Jane Coston Cycle Bridge – was largely funded by the Highways Agency and much of the money for the Coldham’s Lane bridge (not dignified with a name of its own) came from developers.

So now that they are finished and have been in use for a few months, what are they like to use?

Milton

Thank You! Image: graph showing cycle journeys over new Milton cycle bridge

The very nice leaflet (which we distributed with Newsletter 54) produced by the County Council to promote the bridge says ‘if you live or work near to the bridge, cycling or walking is now easier than ever before.’ The A14 has been a major barrier ever since it was built in the 1970s and the new bridge removes that barrier at one of three key points. Histon and Bar Hill residents have something to be jealous of, but Milton was rightly first priority because of the key destinations on either side; this is put into context by the map in the leaflet.

Clearly the bridge is a success. Recently released traffic counts show that most existing cyclists have transferred to the new route, and many more cyclists – presumably people who used to drive – are now using the route. In addition, there are now pedestrians where few previously existed. We have to take the current figures with a pinch of salt because they do not include seasonal variation. On the other hand the count was done soon after the bridge opened and we can expect numbers to increase further.

Parking for kebabs.
Image as described adjacent

The structure itself has been widely welcomed. It is quite an elegant bridge, it is not excessively steep and, whilst narrower than the bridge at the Station, it carries less traffic. At 2 m for cycles and 1.5 m for pedestrians, it is tolerable but not generous, if one accepts that cycles must sometimes cross the line into the pedestrian side. Segregation is by a raised white line rather than a shallow kerb as at the station.

Problems approaching

There are a few problems at the ends and on the approaches. It is encouraging to see that some of these have already been addressed or are in the process of being addressed.

A flush kerb now lets you out onto old Milton Road, but a post in the middle of the cycle track is bound to meet a cyclist soon.
Image as described adjacent

There is a rather intractable problem at the Milton end where the bridge lands very close to the busy roundabout at the entrance to Tesco, immediately crossing an access road to the nearby industrial estate. Very large trucks use the road and putting in a priority or signalled crossing for bikes is thought likely to cause problems with traffic backing up onto the roundabout; yet cyclists are quite likely to ignore a give-way sign at the bottom of the bridge. Perhaps a ‘cycle zebra’ could be tried here. The problem is compounded by lots of phone and cable cabinets limiting available space, plus a kebab van whose customers park anywhere around the bridge exit in order to avoid taking those few extra steps. There has been discussion about a traffic island further towards Milton to make it easier to get into Tesco from the bridge without using the roundabout.

‘Nice bridge … shame about the bollards!’
– Tim Steele

The most criticism we have received is about the posts installed across the path at the city end of the bridge. One in particular is placed right in the middle of the cycle lane and is a crash waiting to happen. The bollards are there to prevent cars (especially stolen vehicles which are then torched) driving onto the bridge, but surely a single central bollard would achieve that.

The Anglian Water entrance has already seen at least one collision on the path alongside old Milton Road.
Image as described adjacent

Originally there was no access onto the road at the city end. This has been rectified recently, with a smooth dropped kerb. It is questionable why the alternative, a narrow cycle path all the way to Cowley Road, was felt necessary in the first place, since the road, once the main road to Milton, is broad and lightly trafficked. This has been borne out by at least one collision which has already occurred on the path at the entrance to Anglian Water.

Cycle track to be widened near the bus gate onto Milton Road.
Image as described adjacent

The heavily-used path by the bus gate is being widened and realigned to avoid a bus shelter. This cycle track is a much more useful facility, leading as it does to the cycle subway under the old railway, and the widening will be an enormous improvement. It seems that the guided bus plans do away with the subway, so let us hope an alternative is properly thought out.

The link from the subway to the Golden Hind junction is in desperate need of improvement.
Image as described adjacent

Perhaps the section most crying out for attention now is from the subway to the Golden Hind junction. This miserable stretch of unimproved pavement is pretty much unavoidable if you are cycling to the bridge (or the Science Park) from Green End Road (and thus most of eastern Cambridge).

Finally, there’s not much the authorities can do about it, but the aspiration to make the bridge a landmark gateway to Cambridge is rather marred by the smell from the sewage works!

Coldham’s Lane

Coldham’s Lane bridge stands in sad contrast to the bridge at Milton. It is narrow, steep and bumpy, it does not service cyclists’ desire line, and one end deposits cyclists onto a recently extended roundabout. People travelling out-bound from the Beehive Centre have not been provided for. Our opinion of the bridge has not changed from when it was first proposed.

There is no satisfactory route onto the bridge from the Beehive Centre and the outbound route requires waiting at three separate signals.
Image as described adjacent

The structure itself is similar in some ways to the one at the Station, but it is very much a poor second cousin. The cycle track is well under 2 m so it is impossible to pass another cyclist safely without crossing onto the pedestrian side. Even though slightly more room is available on the approach ramps, the cycle track width is unchanged but the footpath is wider.

The summit of Coldham’s Lane Bridge is an apex and the ramp is unreasonably bumpy.
Image as described adjacent

The surfacing on the bridge section on the out-of-town side is appalling. It is almost like riding on cobbles. This is compounded by a bizarre summit where the two sides of the bridge meet in a sharp apex rather than a smooth curve. The summit is quite a lot higher than the adjacent road bridge giving it quite a steep incline, particularly on the out-of-town side.

One way only served

Nevertheless, heading into town, the bridge is a usable alternative to the busy road bridge and allows cyclists to bypass the, otherwise unavoidable, long queues of cars that often develop there.

‘Why would I stop, cross the road onto a traffic free (and possibly mugger infested) area, then stop and cross the road again once I’ve crossed the railway, instead of cycling in a rapid and straight line over the road bridge?’
– Heather Coleman

Our main criticism, however, is unchanged from when we first saw the plans. The bridge simply does not cater for out-bound cycle traffic adequately. To use it going east, you have to wait at a newly installed signal crossing near the roundabout (or duck across from the road, as I have seen a few people do) and then cross again in two separate stages of lights at the other end. A 30 second journey with a good chance of the light being green at the Cromwell Road junction becomes a four minute marathon with all three traffic lights at red, unless you are very lucky indeed. Then when the last light changes to green, you find you are in the same green phase as vehicles coming from Cromwell Road, something which should never happen at traffic signals. No wonder, then, that so many people stay on the road, and even more cycle illegally on the pavement on the road bridge.

‘It’s the old dilemma: I’m sure the bridges are great for some cyclists, but car drivers seem to think that they’re compulsory… I will not be bullied off the road (a good candidate for my tragically-young gravestone).’
– Paul Robison

There have already been letters to the Cambridge Evening News along the lines of ‘we spend all this money on cyclists but they don’t use it’. As we expected, the number of motorists driving intimidatingly close and overtaking dangerously has increased. Clearly they think cyclists should not be there.

The bridge was built with good intentions and will be well used. But, like the rest of Coldham’s Lane, it is an unsatisfactory and expensive compromise. Given the inability to produce a good solution, the money could have been put to better use elsewhere.

We’re very grateful for the Jane Coston Bridge. It is a huge improvement, shortens the journey and avoids a difficult junction. Teething troubles are being addressed. What a shame the same principles could not have been applied at Coldham’s Lane. No doubt there will be those reading this who think cyclists should be grateful for anything they get and accept anything that’s thrown at them, however poor and badly conceived. We would like to have helped find a solution that we could be grateful for, but on this occasion no one at the County Council was interested in listening to cyclists.

David Earl