New route into South Cambridgeshire

This article was published in 2006, in Newsletter 69.

Addenbrooke’s to Great Shelford cycle route

One of the difficulties many less confident cyclists have is that ‘final’ bit into or from Cambridge where you have to mix with large volumes of busy traffic. A few years ago, with help from Sustrans, a new route was created from Newmarket Road across Ditton Meadows and Stourbridge Common, and this is now well used both by leisure cyclists and by commuters who are much happier with a slower route away from traffic.

Now another route has been opened, again with help from Sustrans, and partially financed by Addenbrooke’s, this time going from Shelford to Robinson Way on the Addenbrooke’s site.

This route is shorter, quicker and more pleasant cycling for many in the villages south of Cambridge, especially those working on the Addenbrooke’s site, or at the nearby Long Road Sixth Form College. Although only open for a couple of months it is already attracting users, with 65 cyclists passing the wooden bridge over Hobson’s Brook between 08:00 and 09:00 on a recent day. It also gives easy access for cyclists to the ‘Nine Wells’ nature reserve (see Two changes have occurred in the short time since this route opened, over which users and others may, like me, have mixed views.

Firstly, this section is the ‘ten-thousandth mile’ of the National Cycle Network, and it was decided an appropriate place for Public Art. Even more appropriately because this route links the Medical Research Council Labs in Cambridge with the Genome Campus at Hinxton, a Human Genome Theme has been chosen, and the work funded by the Wellcome Trust.

Right down the middle over the whole mile, except across Granham’s Road, over ten thousand stripes each 600mm long have been laid, representing the BRCA2 gene. Interpretation boards and ‘double helix’ towers are also to be placed at suitable points. The stripes are made of a thin thermoplastic material incorporating, so I’m told, both an anti-slip and reflectorised component. Tests of the material were made over a short stretch of Sustrans path in Bristol to test for acceptability, and durability. I applaud the vision and the subject, and hope we have a long lasting, and thought provoking piece of art.

The Shelford path also has solar powered lighting studs.
Image as described adjacent

Secondly, solar powered LED road studs like those near Girton have been installed by the County Council. I’d ridden this route in the dark on a number of times in the dark before the LEDs with little trouble, but understand that some had concerns for safety. Ideally this route would be properly lit, but when lighting of cycle paths elsewhere is refused, even when next to a floodlit all-weather playing field, and Park and Ride sites are lit, we’ll have to accept second best. Unfortunately the LEDs have been placed at the edge, rather than a line down the centre, so they will soon be covered with vegetation, and on the sharp bends the path ‘disappears’ as the lights are very directional. More seriously the line of lights deceives one about the position of the wooden posts designed to stop vehicle access at several locations, and I’m concerned that a speedy night time cyclist might hit one.

Of course I’ve an axe to grind here, as I first proposed this route over ten years ago, and am now the ‘Sustrans Ranger’ who keeps an eye on this section. There is still work to be done on this route, both in the short and the longer term. In the short term the final bit in Shelford is still narrow, but is due to be widened to 2.5 m, although cycling is now permitted. The delay here is due to confusion over long term ownership of the land. On the Addenbrooke’s site short term improvements for cycle routes are proposed, but we’ve yet to have sight of these. In the longer term, a more direct route into Cambridge has always been proposed but the completion of Addenbrooke’s expansion and other developments in the area will determine the final route. In Shelford a continuation over mainly redundant land next to the railway has always been an aspiration.

Is the standard good enough? I’d say a resounding no, as two metres is insufficient and three metres is needed. With the current width a parent cannot cycle alongside a child, or two friends talk, and allow a cyclist to pass easily. Given the flows you are likely to meet a number of cyclists in the peak even if going with the flow. In addition pedestrians tend to walk in the middle giving any cyclist approaching from the rear a difficult decision. Do you squeeze past and make them jump, or risk them changing course at the last minute, or do you ring your bell and risk them thinking you aggressive?

Let us have more routes like this, but to a higher standard. There are opportunities to create similar routes, from Hauxton and Haslingfield, as well as from Bar Hill via Dry Drayton, as parts of ‘fringe’ developments around the city, and some of these are already shown as ‘indicative’ on the Local Plan. Cycling on main roads should always be permitted but hundreds if not thousands more would cycle regularly (and abandon their cars?) if such routes were available, and if cycling into and out of Cambridge were a quicker more pleasant way to travel.

Jim Chisholm