More on the Corn Exchange Street contraflow

This article was published in 2004, in Newsletter 57.

The long struggle to obtain a cycle contraflow in Corn Exchange Street continues but the outcome remains uncertain. The local City and County Councillors for the area, Colin Rosenstiel and Anthony Bowen, are both strongly in favour as are a clear majority of the Councillor members of the City Planning Committee and of the Area Joint Environment and Transport Committee, the elected decision-making bodies.

The problem is safety. Any new road scheme has to meet certain safety standards. Whether any particular scheme meets acceptable safety standards is determined by a process known as safety audit. For local road schemes both the designers of the schemes and the safety auditors are employees of the County Council though they are independent of each other. Designs for the contraflow in Corn Exchange Street so far submitted to the safety auditors have all been rejected as unsafe. A particular difficulty for the Campaign has been the fact that the safety audit process has been treated by the County Council as secret. We have been refused access to the documentation apart from a summary of the reasons for the rejection. The process remains mysterious, non-accountable and not accessible to public scrutiny whether by us or by elected Councillors. However, this might soon change under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act which come into effect in January.

The principal safety concern for any contraflow scheme on Corn Exchange Street is where the cars leave the Lion Yard car park.
Image as described adjacent

Through the years of planning and public consultations over the Grand Arcade development which backs onto Corn Exchange Street, a cycle contraflow along the street has always been presented as an important component of the scheme. We believe that it is essential. Without it, the large cycle park in the development will not be sufficiently accessible.

The permeability of the Guildhall and Market Square area to cyclists would also be reduced: at present it is easy to wheel a cycle along the footway under the Lion Yard car park and then to cycle across the car park exits and on into Downing Street. When the Grand Arcade is built this ground-level footway will be removed. There will be a 1.2 metre footway alongside the Corn Exchange on the other side of the street but this will not be wide enough for pedestrians and people wheeling bicycles.

To wheel a bicycle along the roadway against two lanes of on-coming traffic is such an unpleasant prospect that cyclists heading for Regent Street and beyond may even have to consider the daunting alternative of diverting via Bene’t Street, Trumpington Street, Pembroke Street and Downing Street. For a city and county with policies which are supposed to prioritise cycling, a scheme which creates such a long diversion is quite simply unacceptable. A way must be found to design a contraflow which is safe in Cambridge conditions. One would hope that the safety auditors would take account of the fact that there is evidence to suggest that where the number of cyclists is as high as it is in central Cambridge, cycling is safer than where cyclists are rarer.

Two recent meetings indicate a greater willingness to consider Campaign views about possible designs for a contraflow. The first was with the developers and their transport consultants. At the second (with councillors, the developers, city and county officers) county transport officers presented new, much improved designs which incorporated many of the suggestions developed in our discussions with the developers.

The main points that the safety auditors had raised over the previous design for the contraflow (a design which we also considered to be unsatisfactory) were:

  • Pedestrians: Poor provision.
  • Wheeler Street Junction: Carriageway too narrow to accommodate a contraflow cycle lane. Traffic needs to be slowed because of potential for conflict at the junction.
  • Car park entrances: Drivers entering the car park may be concentrating on the choice of entry lane and not give way to cyclists using the contraflow lane.
  • Car park exits: Exiting drivers have limited visibility of cyclists approaching in the contraflow lane. Exiting drivers may concentrate on the green exit light and be anxious about clearing the exit route for following vehicles queuing to exit and may not give way to cyclists using the contraflow lane.
Grand Arcade: proposed Corn Exchange Street frontage.
(Reproduced by kind permission of Grosvenor Developments Ltd)
Image as described adjacent

It is generally agreed that the greatest problem is at the car park exits. We find it strange that cycling across the car exits should be considered a new scheme because such cycling has always been legal and has always occurred without, as far as we are aware, significant problems. However, we do agree that safety for cyclists crossing the exits could and should be improved. The new designs incorporate many of the suggestions we made in December last year and additional points progressed in our discussions with the developers. In particular, the exit barriers are to be moved back to leave more than a full car length before the junction with the public highway so that drivers will make separate decisions about going through the barriers and going out onto the street. There will be rumble strips in this area. The stop or give-way line in front of the exits will be moved forward into the street to give greater visibility. The green lights at the barriers which imply that the way ahead is clear will be replaced by rising arms. A raised table at the highway boundary will slow drivers as they emerge and approaching contraflow cyclists.

The proposed solution at the car park entrances is not satisfactory for cyclists. Present designs indicate that contraflow cyclists going straight ahead should give way to cars turning right across the contraflow lane to enter the car park. This is counterintuitive, contrary to normal practice and implies that the rights of cyclists are secondary to those of motorists. At the meeting we suggested that the normal rule of the road should be followed, that is right-turning vehicles should give way to cyclists going straight ahead, but that both cars and cyclists should be slowed down by another raised table. This table would also slow down vehicles going straight ahead along Corn Exchange Street just before the point where cyclists would be turning right into the new cycle park. More work remains to be done on the design of the entrance and exit for the cycle park. We think it important that cyclists should be able to ride in and out.

The problems at the Wheeler Street junction should be resolvable by adjustment of footway and carriageway widths and by a third raised table. More work is to be carried out on pedestrian routes and provision for pedestrians. We have asked for cycle lane widths of 1.5 metres throughout but it is doubtful whether we will get this width everywhere because the constraints are so great.

What matters above all from a cycling point of view is that we should get a contraflow and that the design should be the best possible in the circumstances. Whether we do or not will in the end depend on the secret processes of the safety audit. We are pleased that this time council officers have promised that we will be able to see and to comment on the final designs before they are submitted to the safety auditors.

James Woodburn