The new developments at the Arbury Camp site have taken us somewhat by surprise. There has been little, if any, public consultation about the plans, but the development marches on regardless. While many of the effects of the Arbury Camp development will be felt within the city, it is situated a few metres outside Cambridge City Council’s boundary, so is subject to South Cambridgeshire District Council for planning, and of course Cambridgeshire County Council for highways and rights of way.
In the last month I have tried on several occasions to get details of what is happening from the County Council. Just in time for this article, I received a partial reply, but have yet to get details of exactly what is happening. From various other sources I have managed to get paper copies of the plans dated 28 October 2004 and a small electronic section of the plan. I’ve also taken many photos.
We do not yet know if the on-road or off road provision will meet any national standards for cycle provision. Cambridgeshire has yet to adopt a standard for cycle facilities. However, the London Cycling Design Standard states that on-road cycle lanes should be 2 m in width wherever the proportion of cyclists as a part of the traffic are more than 10%. It also says that lanes on roads with 40 mph or higher speed limits ‘should preferably be wider than 1.5 m.’ Both these criteria are met by this junction. For a road which has just been doubled in width, there is surely room for such good provision.
For the off road path, the London standards give 3 m as the ‘desirable minimum width’ with the addition of a 0.5 m safety strip should the path be adjacent to the road, rising to a 1 m strip where the speed limit is 40 mph or above. Again, as this is a new development, it is not unreasonable to expect at least such minimum provision.
The Scottish Executive’s Cycling By Design document gives similar figures, as do other similar documents. Cambridge Road is being doubled in width.
Unfortunately, the design of the new side roads is completely opposite to modern advice as laid out in the London standards. These suggest that where slip lanes exist, they should be ‘removed completely’ or the taper should be made sharper. Along Kings Hedges Road, we are seeing the addition of several sets of such long and dangerous slip lanes. Kings Hedges Road is also being substantially increased in width.
The design of the crossings for pedestrians and cyclists also seems to be from another age. The number of toucan crossings to be installed is staggering – as will be the delays due to them for anyone who uses them.
It is also of note that all the paths for cyclists in this plan are of the shared-use variety. This is referred to in the London standards are being for ‘Green cycle corridors away from the public highway, for example alongside the canal, or through parks.’ Given the number of cyclists in Cambridge, cycle tracks separate from pedestrians are appropriate.
The A14-Cambridge Road Junction
The westbound exit lane from the A14 is to be expanded from two to three lanes at the junction. This is to be done without providing a set of lights to assist cyclists and pedestrians on the shared-use path. The County Council does not appear to believe there is a case for changing these lights in order to improve safety. There is also no intention to provide gaps in the timings of the lights to allow intervals where cyclists could cross the junction. The designers think this is likely to have ‘a knock-on effect which would adversely affect traffic flow on the A14.’
The Kings Hedges Road-Cambridge Road Junction
Kings Hedges Road westbound is being increased from two lanes to three. Histon Road southbound after the junction is being increased from one lane to two, part of the space being made available by removal of the cycle lane. However, their latest email to me says, ‘The on carriageway cycle lane will be retained after the implementation of the development.’
Note the number of toucan crossings intended to be installed at this junction. At present, the most common direction for pedestrians crossing the road is between points A and B on the sketch of the junction. Unless a more helpfully designed crossing appears at the southern side of this junction, a diversion north and a wait for no fewer than four of the five new toucans will be part of crossing this road in future !
Such inconsiderate design can only result in pedestrians and cyclists ignoring the red lights on toucan crossings.
From Histon to Cambridge
Until the last minute, it appeared that the on-road cycle lane providing for cyclists heading into Cambridge along Cambridge Road was to be removed. This is no longer the case, though we have not been informed yet of the design of the expected on-road lane.
The left turn into Kings Hedges Road has been made with a much larger turning radius than was previously the case. This will increase the speed of cars around that corner and increase danger for cyclists and pedestrians. There appears not to be any intention of installing any kind of side road entry treatment to slow cars to a safer speed at this point.
Cyclists using the shared use path for this journey will find themselves having to stop and press buttons on no fewer than three toucan crossings between C and A in order to end up on a shared use path next to Histon Road. They will then have to manoeuvre themselves back onto the road after the junction.
From Histon turning left into King’s Hedges Road
Cyclists making this journey are better served than others by the new shared-use path. At least it provides a way to avoid the traffic lights. However, it looks very much like those who are on the path are going to find it difficult to leave it. If the intention of the cyclist is to turn into St. Catherine’s Square, for instance, they are expected to ride past the junction and then cross at the reverse L shaped feature and the central reservation on King’s Hedges Road. Crossing the road will then involve either two or three waits for toucan crossings, depending on whether one is installed in the guided bus track. The cyclist is then expected to ride back along King’s Hedges Road on the southern side before making a left turn into St. Catherine’s Square.
Access to Arbury Road from the path is also uncertain. A crossing is shown on the October 2004 map on the eastern side of Arbury Road, which would provide a way for shared-use cyclists as detailed later.
The new shared-use path alongside Cambridge Road will surely be of much better quality than the old. The one alongside Kings Hedges Road is a welcome development. However, once cyclists are travelling along this path they will meet four new side road before they get as far as Cambridge Regional College. Hopefully, the design of the path won’t require cyclists to give way each time.
It doesn’t look easy to leave the path at any point to rejoin the road, nor to leave the road to join the path. This is often overlooked by designers of these paths. This is a shame. Cyclists can rarely complete their journeys completely on such paths, and must be able to get on and off them as often as possible.
At the eastern end of the site, the path takes a turn northwards in the direction of the guided bus path. This may not exist at first. Cyclists need a direct route rather than this detour.
The road will almost certainly still be faster. Just one set of traffic lights rather than the four side roads. Cyclists continuing to use Kings Hedges Road will find that they are faced with more lanes of traffic and considerably more central islands than is the case at present.
It’s worth noting that some of the crossings are labelled as ‘future’ facilities, so they may not appear.
From Kings Hedges Road towards Histon
Cyclists taking this route by road will find that they are faced with a choice of three lanes at the junction instead of the current two. More lanes make conditions more dangerous for cyclists due to the problem of having to cross lanes of traffic to get to the correct lane.
If they choose to use the new shared-use path, first they have to find a way to get onto it. Remarkably few connections are planned between the path and the road network. A cyclist could leave the road to the east of St Catherine’s Street and use the crossing, but this will require waits for two or three toucan crossings before access to the other side of the road is achieved.
Any cyclist wishing to use the path on the western side of Cambridge Road will then have to wait for three more toucan crossings from C to D to cross Cambridge Road.
Cyclists who arrive at the western end of Kings Hedges Road before wanting to join the shared-use path have a choice of using three toucans from A to C to cross to the path on the eastern side of Cambridge Road, or four to get to the western side.
From Cambridge along Histon Road and Cambridge Road
Cambridge Road is to gain a traffic lane near the Kings Hedges Road junction. This will make conditions worse for cyclists on the road. Those who use the path should find an improvement in the quality of the path.
Within the Arbury Camp Development
Inside the Arbury Camp development, shared-use paths are quite common. These appear from the scale plans to be of relatively good size – twice as wide as the pavements shown as two metres (six feet) wide, which allows them to exceed the 3m minimum in London, even allowing for a safety strip.
These paths mainly (but not always) cross side roads without a diversion, and look likely to form a usable route between the houses and school on the site. They are likely to be of less use to confident adult cyclists who will want to continue on the road.
Effect of Arbury Camp traffic on the surrounding area
The Arbury Camp site will have 900 new homes on it. Given that it will be populated largely by people from outside Cambridge, who are not used to the local cycling culture, it is reasonable to expect that commuting by car will be commonplace unless some considerable effort is put into encouraging new residents to do otherwise. It is possible that as many as a thousand extra car commuters will be appear each morning and evening due to Arbury Camp
The main exit from Arbury Camp is two lanes wide in each direction and directly opposite the end of Arbury Road. Drivers emerging from Arbury Camp will inevitably drive straight down Arbury Road. This may well cause congestion and very likely an increase in ‘rat-running’ down St. Alban’s Road and Mere Way. It may well be the case that Arbury Road itself becomes rather less pleasant for cyclists due to the extra traffic.
The increase in width of the A14 slip road and Cambridge Road will funnel more vehicles onto the roads of northern Cambridge. The wider roads and increased corner radius at the south west corner of the new development will surely lead to higher speeds.
The extraordinary level of inconvenience designed into the shared-use facilities (waiting for toucans will take up more time than cycling for journeys using the paths), combined with the design for increased car use, will almost certainly have a negative effect on cycle usage in this area.
The north of Cambridge already has fewer and lower quality cycling facilities than much of the rest of the city.
Making the most of the shared-use links out of Arbury Camp
I edited this picture to show how the claimed links to existing cycle facilities on the plan don’t actually link up to anything properly. The dots were added by me, green/small dots for existing shared-use paths and and red/large dots where additional ones need to be if the shared-use paths are to make up a useful network. Without making the shared-use paths into a network, people from Arbury Camp won’t be able to use them to go anywhere but their neighbours.
I’m quite aware that shared use is not universally popular amongst cyclists, but it is sometimes appropriate. The red bit shown alongside Arbury Road has much to commend it. It provides a useful way for children attending St. Lawrence’s Primary to get to that school, and it provides a fairly direct link for those emerging from Arbury Camp to travel as far as the shops, library and doctor’s surgery around Arbury Court as well as for older children to travel to Manor School.
What can we do?
At this stage, it is obvious that much of the building is going ahead whether we like it or not. We need information about what is actually planned. At the time of writing, this has not been forthcoming.
I suggest the following as a list of items to concern ourselves with:
- Making shared-use paths join up.
- Making sure that proposed on and off-road facilities are of decent standard.
- Making sure it is possible to get onto and off of the paths regularly so that journeys can be made without big detours.
- Making road crossings direct and with a maximum of one button press.
- Addressing likely increased car traffic due to the new development.
The new development does have some good ideas as a part of it. For instance, the internal paths should be very useful for children attending school on the site. It is also positive to see some thought going into a path which will provide an alternative, for many cyclists, to King’s Hedges Road.
However, it is sadly the case that the design of the roads around the site overwhelmingly values the convenience and safety of motorists above that of cyclists and pedestrians, and that those paths to be provided don’t link up with much.