Cambourne cycling

Madhatter skyline
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Cambourne is a new town development to the West of Cambridge, just off the main A428 which links Cambridge with St Neots. My firm, IP Access, relocated there at the start of September, and I’ve been cycling there from my home in north Cambridge two or three times a week since.

Getting in and out of Cambourne

Roughing it
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My route to Cambourne takes me up Madingley Hill, through Hardwick and then alongside the busy A428 on a bumpy footpath. The joys and pitfalls of this route will I hope be described in another article some time.

To get into Cambourne, motorists from the north, east and west can use the main A428, which is dual carriageway at this point, and a new by-pass around Caxton from the south. For cyclists, access from the west via Caxton is reasonable, while there is a cycle path from Elsworth in the north. However, cyclists coming from the east such as myself face a very raw deal. The path alongside the A428 stops just past the turning to Bourn (known as Broadway). Continuing this way is only for the very brave – I haven’t attempted it.

Instead, I turn left into Broadway towards Bourn and then, opposite the entrance to Bourn Airfield, I turn right on to a very overgrown but ridable concrete track. The return journey at night requires the use of my powerful off-road light to avoid the muddy bits. The track joins a road providing access to Cambourne’s second primary school, which opened in September. In the morning, I see lots of parents and children cycling, mostly on the paths.

Going green
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Another track from Broadway, which is more useful for cyclists approaching from Bourn village, goes along Monkfield Drive. At the time of writing there is a diversion in force as development is taking place across a part of the path, but all of it is reasonably ridable on a normal bike.

Neither of these access routes is official, publicised or signposted, because access from the Bourn road is a somewhat touchy subject, I’ve been told. I can well understand the concerns that today’s cycle access might become tomorrow’s car access, but it is rather sad that cyclists have a choice between a murderous road and unofficial rough tracks.

Cycling in Cambourne

Still-born cycle path
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Cambourne has numerous cycle paths, many of which are wide and well surfaced. However, almost all are shared with pedestrians, in spite of the guidelines which say they should only be built as a last resort. Where paths cross side roads, there are often pairs of barriers which you have to weave around. I can’t imagine users of wheelchairs and large prams being too chuffed about these, as some look quite difficult to negotiate.

Tight barriers
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The worst of these barriers are on the cycle path which accesses Cambourne from Elsworth on the north side. In order to cross the A428, the path dives down the side of the first slip road, makes a sharp turn, has a very tightly spaced pair of barriers, a push-button crossing, another pair of barriers, another sharp bend and back up the other side of the slip road. This shenanigans is then repeated for the other slip road. How can we be making the same old mistakes on a brand new facility? Surely it wouldn’t take rocket science to design the junction in the first place so that the cycle path simply passes under or over the slip roads, as would routinely be done in Holland.

By contrast, in some other places there is evidence of significant thought going into the design. A gentle S-bend just before a side road crossing turned out not to be for artistic purposes, but to ensure that cyclists cross the junction at 90ยบ, significantly improving visibility.

To cap it all, a cycling age limit?
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In many parts of town there is a 20 mph (or more bizarrely a 19 mph) speed limit on the roads. I’ve encountered little excessive speeding, so cycling on the road is usually fine. I haven’t yet been harassed by any motorists for not using the paths. Maybe that’s the idea – experienced cyclists use the road, the less confident and inexperienced use the paths.

I contacted Maurice Gordon, the resident engineer for Cambourne, to try and clarify both the thinking behind the paths and barriers and the status of the access routes. Unfortunately, for good reasons, he was unable to give me a complete answer before the newsletter deadline, but he did say that ‘…all the footpath and cycleway routes in Cambourne including the barriers were the result of very lengthy discussions with all interested parties at the planning stage. This included Cambridgeshire County Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council.‘ I wonder if ‘all interested parties’ included any cycling organisations – watch this space.

The Business Park

Business or pleasure?
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The business park at Cambourne is part of the Travel for Work scheme, and a great deal is made of the pursuit of environmentally friendly transport policies. Cycle paths in the area are free of barriers, and the roads all have 20 mph limits.

Sheds are provided for cycle parking, though some users complain that they let the rain in. Unfortunately the stands provided in them are of a rather poor ‘wheel bender’ variety (see photo below). Most users prop the bike up beside the rack rather than in it in order to make it possible (just) to lock the bike securely. I’m pleased to say that the business park management are aware of the problem, and are negotiating with the landlords to get replacement Sheffield stands.

Views from other cyclists

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There is a Bicycle Users Group at the business park, and I contacted some who have been in Cambourne somewhat longer than me, to gain their views.

Paul Churchill, who works for Campbells and lives in Cambourne, says of the cycle paths: ‘Most of them are very good… I try to stick to the pathways or smaller side streets since the main roads are fairly narrow and busy – [the barriers] are a bit of a pain since they’re often built too tightly to truly get bikes through without contortion.’

Caroline Henderson, of Citrix, cycles in from St. Neots using the main A428. When quizzed about the safety of this, she replied, ‘I believe that a cyclist should take a positive attitude to cycling and stick to your guns, and make sure you are not at the edge of the road but about a third of the way in as this will force them to overtake you carefully as they will have to ensure that there is no oncoming traffic… I’ve never suffered from impatient drivers either. We have as much right to use the road and use it safely too.’

Ian Hutchinson, of Convergys, makes a similar journey to myself. He cycled in throughout the winter last year and observed that ‘it was a challenge especially when the temperature dropped, also at the time the only way into Cambourne apart from the A428 was via a track that the builders ran their 30 tonne trucks over so sometimes it was 2ft deep in mud.’ And I think it’s tough now!

Finally Simon McIntosh of South Cambridgeshire District Council cycles in from Cambridge usually twice a week on ‘an ordinary, cheap road bike’. He complains of punctures and other mechanical problems from cycling along rough paths and says ‘Roll on the completion of the new dual carriageway, with the old road made into a proper safe route for bikes.

Conclusion

Like most new towns, Cambourne seems to be designed first and foremost to cater for motor traffic – however, it is designed in such a way as to make much of that traffic move quite slowly, improving safety for cyclists on the road and for pedestrians crossing it. Off the road, much of what is there isn’t bad, but could have been so much better, while some is appalling. Getting it changed could be a long and hard process. The encouraging sign is that quite a lot of people in Cambourne do seem to cycle, especially on the school run. Perhaps weight of numbers will ultimately move things along.

Stefan Kaye