Cambridgeshire Guided Bus: Letters of (no) comfort

This article was published in 2004, in Newsletter 57.

First to clarify Cambridge Cycling Campaign’s position about the Cambridgeshire Guided Bus (CGB) scheme. The Campaign does not object to CGB or to the alternative CAST.IRON rail plans as a whole, and we do not support the plans except on the principle of improved public transport. Our objections in the Public Inquiry are only to those aspects of the proposed scheme which affect cycling. We are trying to negotiate improvements to the plans from the point of view of cycling in the area: to reduce the bad effects and enlarge the good ones. Our formal objections have been to areas where the scheme as proposed might make cycling unsafe or where it would not be able to deliver on its promise to provide a new cycle route. Our support has been specific to the parallel cycleway and to any aspects of the scheme which should bring benefits for cycling.

The Campaign does not object to CGB or to the alternative CAST.IRON rail plans as a whole, and we do not support the plans except on the principle of improved public transport

The Campaign has been in negotiation with the County Council over the objections we have raised to the CGB scheme. Some issues have been clarified or resolved, but following letters from the Council we still have two major items and some minor ones that we’ll take to the Public Inquiry.

We’ve been told that the route for cyclists and pedestrians under Hills Road Bridge will be available. This was our main objection to the scheme to the south of the station. We’ve also seen that it is proposed to use ‘Toucan’ style lights at points where cyclists on the maintenance track will cross roads or the maintenance tracks cross the guideway. This means that at times of little traffic, confident cyclists will be able to cross at any time they deem it safe to do so, yet lights will be of use for others. It is not illegal for cyclists or pedestrians to cross against the red light on Toucan crossing but they do have a duty of care.

So what are the outstanding items of importance, remembering that the sections nearest Cambridge could easily carry around one thousand cyclists per day?

Lack of any lighting

We’ve been very disappointed that the authorities seem so unaware of the problems caused by this omission. Most cyclists are ‘environmentally’ aware and understand the problems of light pollution, and we’ve never asked for ‘floodlighting’ – only sufficient to make the route usable by cyclists at all times.

We believe the authorities fail to understand three principal problems.

Firstly that when in the dark a cyclist meets a vehicle, such as a Guided Bus, with full headlights, or with ‘dipped’ lights if passing to the right, it is not possible to see for a short time after the vehicle has passed especially if no other vehicles are within sight. A cyclist travelling at just over 10 mph (18 kph) will travel 50 m in 10 seconds. Even with a good quality ‘British Standard’ bike light a cyclist could be partially blind for much of that distance. On one lightly trafficked unlit road which I not infrequently use during the hours of darkness, I’m sometimes forced to stop almost completely when approached by a vehicle that fails to dip its powerful headlights, lest I cycle off the unmarked edge of the road.

Secondly there will be no law requiring cyclists, pedestrians, or horse riders to use lights on this route. No doubt responsible cyclists will have and use lights, but such lights as are required for road use are not designed for good illumination and a bike light is in fact limited to the same wattage as the rear light on a car!

Thirdly much of the route within the Urban Fringe is adjacent to areas with lighting such as adjacent roads, security lighting in premises, and even floodlit playing areas. South Cambridgeshire has recently granted planning permission for eight 15 metre high towers to light an all weather playing area at Cambridge Regional College. Far from aiding cyclists this produces areas of high contrast that make seeing more difficult.

Given the levels of existing light pollution in these areas it seems totally unreasonable to penalise the safety and convenience of cyclists who wish to use this route by refusing to consider any form of lighting.

Lack of a sealed and durable surface

These routes in the Urban Fringe will not primarily be leisure routes, but ones used by commuters, students and shoppers (so-called utility trips). The planners of developments in these areas are asking for 25% of trips to be by bike. The Southern Fringe alone is expected to have an additional 3,000 dwellings. The proposed surface, although initially hard and smooth, will not be tarmac or similar. Those who have used leisure routes with similar surfaces will know that they soon become eroded, uneven and covered in debris. Cycling such routes in wet weather results in mud splashes, not what I want on my smart work clothes, and the vast majority of cyclists doing utility trips are wearing their normal clothes.

Although there are suggestions that a different surface could be introduced at a later date, this could conflict with the Environment Agency’s requirement for Sustainable Drainage. Any change from a porous surface to a tarmac surface could result in a veto from the Environment Agency to the provision of tarmac surface unless major changes to drainage are undertaken.

I find it both bizarre and paradoxical that we are being denied a good quality cycle route, when cycling is surely the most environmentally friendly and sustainable mode of transport, because the provision for cyclists will supposedly damage the environment. So perhaps we’d all better start using cars and buses, obviously the only way to save the planet?

Jim Chisholm