Calming and catseyes: cycling around Girton

This article was published in 2005, in Newsletter 62.

Girton’s traffic calming is part of a multi-million pound preparation for the widening of the A14. At best, then, the impact of local input might be expected to be minor. When the proposed calming measures for Girton were announced the Parish Council held an exhibition at which the plans were explained by traffic engineers. My response can be seen at www.de-lacey.org/england/del2/a14.pdf and in the event, several significant changes were introduced by the Council – changes not themselves, of course, the subject of further public discussion. The major components of the scheme from a cyclist’s perspective are numerous platforms and cushions together with a new mini roundabout at the junction of a prospective housing estate.

The new roundabout has a significant narrowing of Girton Road.
Image as described adjacent

When the construction work began, a build-out appeared at the site of one set of cushions. I queried this with the Council, since it was on none of the plans we had been shown, and I requested at least a cycle escape through it. The engineers responded that they had not at that time realised how wide the road was and that the build-out was necessary to prevent cars avoiding the cushions; they acknowledged that it had to be moved anyway as it had been constructed in the wrong place. They suggested a 1.0m wide escape. I objected that this was well below the minimum recommended 1.5m and requested a re-think. I was grudgingly offered 1.3m, and this was constructed before I had had any time to respond.

The even newer cycle escape.
Image as described adjacent

The roundabout included a significant narrowing of the northbound carriageway, and I objected that this endangered cyclists. At the 2005 Annual Parish Meeting I again pressed for a redesign, arguing that this was an accident waiting to happen. I was assured that it would be both impossible and undesirable to add a cycle escape since it would encourage cyclists not to give way at the roundabout. I pressed several times on safety grounds until it was made clear that cyclist safety had simply not been a feature in any of the decision making. The only consolation was a concession that the overall workmanship was shoddy and an investigation would be put in hand. The platforms are certainly most uncomfortable to cycle over.

The final construction has a 1.3m cycle escape.
Image as described adjacent

It happened a few weeks later that I was hit by a van speeding through the roundabout, and reported the incident to the PC and the County Councillor, requesting a reaction. The reply was that the impossible had already been decided, and a 1.5m northbound escape has now been constructed. There remains a similar restriction at the High Street-Cambridge Road junction, although this is less of a problem since the geometry pretty much obliges traffic to stop here anyway.

At junctions following the apparent path of the catseyes could be a recipe for disaster.
Image as described adjacent

Meanwhile, in an unrelated development, the shared-use path between Girton and Oakington (where there is no street-lighting) has been slightly widened, and fitted with solar-powered catseyes to mark the path edges. These are a remarkable combination of hi- and very lo-tech: as the photo shows each catseye is enhanced with two crude dollops of paint, perhaps to prevent blinding path users.

This combination of catseye and bridge represents an obvious danger.
Image as described adjacent

The catseyes are very bright – at least, they are in midsummer and where they are not covered with earth (I noted two) or overgrowth (two again) or removed altogether (one). Even so, they do not prepare you for sudden changes in direction of the path, as for instance at junctions, or even of sudden narrowings, since they appear only as a series of point lights giving no illumination at all to the path or anything on it. Nor is there any indication of junctions or Give Way markings. I judge the road remains significantly safer for cyclists.

This composite (by David Hembrow) illustrates well some of
the problems.
Image as described adjacent

P.S. The above was written just too late for the previous Newsletter, and in the last couple of months there have been some developments. The yellow paint appears to have gone, whether by natural means or intentionally. There is now a large sign indicating that this is an experiment. And at least one cyclist has been misled by the orientation of the lights and, despite a powerful dynamo light, cycled off the path and crashed.

Weeds are already encroaching on
the path.
Image as described adjacent

If an experiment of this sort is to be successful, it needs adventurous thought about both the pitfalls (the catseyes make the path and surrounds seem even darker) and possibilities (using different colours for the left and right sides of the path, or to warn of junctions or changes in direction, perhaps). A great deal more work is required before such lighting schemes could be generally welcomed.

A solar catseye.
Image as described adjacent

Douglas de Lacey