City Centre cycle ban to be lifted for trial period

This article was published in 2005, in Newsletter 58.

On 17 January, the Cambridge Environment and Transport Area Joint Committee resolved to:

  1. support, subject to consultation, an experiment to suspend the cycling restriction in the historic centre pedestrian zone for up to 18 months;
  2. delegate the determination of the consultation feedback to the Director of Environment and Transport (or his successor) in consultation with the Chair and Vice-chair of the Area Joint Committee;
  3. support the provision of signing indicating that pedestrians have precedence over cyclists during the 10am-4pm restricted hours;
  4. retain the closure of the gates at the Hobson Street junction to control the entry speed of cyclists;
  5. support further independent on-street research after 12 months to gauge public opinion on the experimental suspension to be jointly funded by the City and County Councils; and
  6. refer the finding of the research to this Area Joint Committee for a final decision on whether the experiment is made permanent.

The proposal was put forward by Councillor John Reynolds (Conservative) and seconded by Councillor Sian Reid (Liberal Democrat). It was passed by eight votes (one Conservative and seven Liberal Democrats) to three (all Labour).

The plan to lift the city centre cycle ban is the most important Council decision about Cambridge cycling for many years. At last we will have the viable all-day south to north route through the city centre for which cyclists have campaigned ever since the cycle ban was brought in thirteen years ago.

The reason why the AJC, which consists of equal numbers of City councillors and County councillors, made this dramatic decision derives from efforts to make two-way cycling legal in Trinity Street between 10 am and 4 pm (see report in Newsletter 56). The AJC had come out in strong support of two-way cycling, but County Council officers were worried that this would be unsafe and could result in litigation if people were injured. The matter was sent for decision to the County Council’s Cabinet. With the support of a petition, we were able to address the meeting and to contribute to the case for two-way cycling. After discussion, the Cabinet referred the matter back to the Area Joint Committee for them to consider what viable options were available for implementing the scheme.

Sidney Street before 10 am.
Image as described adjacent

Council officers continued to maintain that two-way cycling in Trinity Street was not practicable. This led to a search for an alternative way of providing a south to north route and to the emergence of the obvious simple but radical solution – to lift the cycle ban but to maintain pedestrian priority during the 10 am to 4 pm period. We strongly support this solution, which we think is clearly better for both pedestrians and cyclists than two-way cycling in Trinity Street.

Local government opinion on cycling in pedestrianised areas has been shifting recently partly because of successful schemes to permit such cycling in continental cities. Updated advice from the Department for Transport now suggests that pedestrians and cyclists can coexist in pedestrianised areas. We would add that such coexistence is currently demonstrated in Cambridge on Sundays when all-day cycling is permitted in the city centre and when responsible cyclists do give way to pedestrians.

We support the principle of pedestrian priority and the suggestion that clear signing should indicate that pedestrians have precedence over cyclists in the area between 10 am and 4 pm. Council officers say that the police should give greater attention to illegal footway cycling and to illegal contraflow cycling. They ask for ‘a commitment from cycle interest groups to support enforcement action on illegal cycle movements and to promote sensible and responsible cycling throughout the historic centre pedestrian zone.’ We are willing to provide such a commitment: the Campaign’s agreed policy is set out in our Position Paper on Responsible, Legal Cycling, available on line at or on request from our usual contact address.

It is important to remember that much of the historic centre pedestrian zone is, even with the current prohibition, a zone for cyclists as well as for pedestrians. To call it simply a pedestrian zone can give a misleading impression. During the 10 am – 4 pm period, the period of restriction, cycling is, and always has been, permitted on more than half of the length of the roadways within the so-called pedestrian zone – one-way cycling in Trinity Street, St John’s Street and Green Street, and two-way cycling in Trinity Lane. The important decision that has just been made is less dramatic than it might seem to people not familiar with these details. For the future we think that a change of name from pedestrian zone to pedestrian priority zone is needed.

The decision on 17 January is only for an experimental scheme, which will not necessarily become permanent. To convince people that it should be made permanent, much work will be needed by local politicians, officials, ourselves and others. This will not be easy.

James Woodburn