Improving Gilbert Road for cyclists and pedestrians

This article was published in 2006, in Newsletter 64.

On any list of the Cambridge roads which are most difficult and dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians, Gilbert Road would be near the top. It is a residential road much used by motor vehicles as a cut-through from Histon Road to Milton Road. The road is straight and vehicle speeds tend to be high. The accident rate is also high, especially for cyclists.

The existing advisory lanes on Gilbert Road are always occupied by parked cars.
Image as described adjacent

Among local cyclists this road is notorious for its useless cycle lanes. In Cambridge most cycle lanes are mandatory. Car parking is prohibited. The cycle lanes in Gilbert Road are non-mandatory (advisory). Parking is permitted and parked vehicles are numerous, especially near the junction with Milton Road where commuters now take advantage of the fact that Gilbert Road parking is some of the closest free parking to the city centre. In practice cyclists have to constantly move out of the cycle lanes to overtake parked vehicles. In the process the cyclists themselves become a form of traffic calming which is for them unpleasant and at times alarming. Vehicles should slow down for cyclists to allow them to overtake parked vehicles, but not all do so.

In December 2004 Cambridgeshire County Council Cabinet approved a scheme intended to reduce the high rate of accidents along Gilbert Road. This had two components:

  • Street lighting improvements. Many of the reported injury accidents occurred during the hours of darkness.
  • A segregated cycle track on the south side between Milton Road and Carlton Way, built partly on the verge and partly on the carriageway. This was intended to replace the existing advisory cycle lanes.

However, in the event, the available funding proved insufficient to finance this scheme in the 2005/2006 programme. The Officer’s Report for the Cabinet Meeting held on 20 December 2005 recommended (in paragraph 2.5) that the scheme should have first call on the budget for 2006/2007.

The Campaign has always been strongly in favour of an accident reduction scheme for Gilbert Road but opposed the proposed cycle track which does not make sense in cycling terms. There are four reasons:

  • The verges are an amenity which should not be reduced unnecessarily.
  • The proposed cycleway is only on one side of the road and would mean that cyclists, including child cyclists, cycling towards Milton Road would have to cross and re-cross Gilbert Road if they wish to use it. This could easily increase rather than reduce accidents.
  • The proposed cycleway is only in the half of Gilbert Road which lies within the West Chesterton Ward. Nothing is provided for the rest of Gilbert Road where conditions are very similar.
  • A simpler system would, we believe, work better, especially for young people who are the main focus for our concern.
New buildings due for Milton Road School and Castle School will further emphasise the needs of young people on bikes in the Gilbert Road area.
Image as described adjacent

Since the original scheme was drawn up much has happened. The need for an effective accident-reduction scheme has increased for a number of reasons of which the most important is, we believe, the construction of new buildings due to open in September 2006 for Milton Road Primary School (in Ascham Road) and Castle School (in Metcalfe Road). We believe that these developments are likely to increase the number of young people cycling, and walking along and across Gilbert Road. The number of young people attending the whole range of schools in the immediate vicinity of Gilbert Road will, from next September, be about 2720, an extraordinarily high figure for an area this size (County Council data). Probably well under half of this number will be regularly walking or cycling along Gilbert Road, but the actual figure will still be very high indeed in comparison with other Cambridge localities. The Campaign actively supports the County Council’s promotion of walking and cycling as better means of travelling to school than the private car, and improving road safety has an important role to play in this initiative.

The Campaign became concerned that the County Council Cabinet might simply approve the original scheme and not permit any modification of it. So before the Cabinet Meeting on 20 December, we lobbied Cabinet members asking them to support the allocation of the funds already set aside for the scheme but to permit them to be spent on an improved accident reduction and traffic calming scheme appropriate for the changed circumstances of 2006/2007. I am very pleased to be able to report that this has, in effect, now been agreed. Council Officers have been asked ‘to contact those groups in favour and opposed to the scheme and to seek an acceptable solution within the allocated budget and which also met the stated objectives.’ We shall be working hard with all concerned to try to find an acceptable solution. Cabinet have stated that if no such solution can be found, a scheme for a different location will be brought forward in place of this one.

What kind of scheme do we favour? We want a scheme that enhances the attractions of Gilbert Road as a residential area and makes the road safer for pedestrians and cyclists, especially for the young people travelling to and from the schools in the area whose needs should, we believe, be given priority.

The components of any scheme will require detailed consultation, analysis and costing. It is, we believe, important that whatever is done covers the whole length of the road and not simply the section within the West Chesterton Ward. Our suggested provisional listing of components is as follows:

  • We strongly support the need for better street lighting but would like to see proposals which do not take up too high a proportion of the total budget.
  • We believe that the time has come to convert the advisory cycle lanes running along the whole length of both sides of Gilbert Road into red mandatory cycle lanes in which parking is prohibited. We believe that they should be 1.6 m wide, fractionally wider than existing lanes. Government guidelines specify 1.5 m as the recommended minimum width for such lanes. We have measured the width of the road in a number of separate locations to establish that there is sufficient space for such lanes along the entire length of the road. The visual effect of such coloured lanes actually would have a significant traffic-calming effect because it would make the road appear narrower to motorists. At the same time this suggested change would make the road much more suitable for cycling, especially by young people. Almost every house along Gilbert Road now has off-street car parking and in the great majority of instances there is provision for more than one car. The loss of on-street car parking is, in this case, counterbalanced by the need for road safety and an improved road environment for vulnerable users.
  • We would like the traffic speed of most traffic to be further reduced by other traffic-calming measures and a 20 mph limit. Current County Council policy permits the introduction of a 20 mph speed limit only in areas in which the speed of most vehicles is already below this. Reduced speeds would greatly enhance the amenity value of Gilbert Road as a residential area and as a safe zone for pedestrians and cyclists. Dramatic reductions in road casualties are achievable through 20 mph limits and government guidance now favours their use.
  • We favour advanced stop lines at the junctions with Milton Road and Histon Road.
  • We consider that there should be tighter radii at road junctions to slow down the speed at which vehicles turn left on a green light.

We look forward to a cooperative and constructive period of consultation with the aim of achieving a satisfactory scheme that will meet the Cabinet’s objectives (which we support). The recent death of a cyclist in a collision with a motor vehicle on Gilbert Road underlines the urgency of an effective accident-reduction scheme.

James Woodburn