The saga of the roads round the new Arbury Park development seems to run and run. Houses and flats are going up quickly and some internal roads are in place, whilst the off-site road works are largely complete. It’s now pretty obvious that the off-site road design has been dictated by the extra cars that will pour out of Arbury Park every day.
King’s Hedges Road and Cambridge (Histon) Road have both been made wider and more urbanised. With this, comes increased vehicle speeds and a more dangerous environment for on-road cyclists. The developers, Gallaghers, were advised of the problems inherent in the new layouts in the first two safety audits in 2004. Many crucial recommendations were not acted upon by Gallaghers. Their failure to do so angered many cyclists and local and county councillors, who last summer called for a meeting with the relevant Cambridgeshire County Council officers. This was finally held in October. Amongst the dangers discussed were:
- The lack of signs alerting motorists on the A14 slip roads to the presence of cyclists and the absence of signals for cyclists on the A14 roundabout.
- No on-road cycle lane for southbound cyclists on Cambridge Road, between the A14 roundabout and King’s Hedges Road – this has long been promised and should be a priority given that two thirds of cyclists heading for the city centre choose to stay on the road.
- The junction of King’s Hedges Road and Histon Road is now very wide – heading west from King’s Hedges Road, on-road cyclists find there is no advance reservoir and reaching the west side off-road cycle path involves a sharp right bend (not an easy manoeuvre if it’s wet, dark or icy). The alternative for off-road cyclists involves no less than 4 toucan crossings.
- Using the off-road facilities heading south at this same junction involves 3 toucan crossings and a wholly inadequate sheep pen.
- On the south side of King’s Hedges Road, the off-road shared-use path veers off down Arbury Road with no exit for those heading straight on (and no entry point on the other side of the junction).
- And finally the most glaring example of poor design is the series of pinch points on King’s Hedges Road.
Video footage, taken from the back of a bike travelling through the pinch-points, was shown at the meeting by Ben Brierton and David Hembrow (you too can experience the thrill).
Campaigners came away from the meeting disheartened – the message from chair, Richard Preston, head of Network Management at the county council, was that no funding was available to correct mistakes. But he did agree about the need to review the Safety Audit process and the vetting procedure for developers’ designs.
Frustrated by the continuing lack of accountability, especially over the pinch points, Des Phillips wrote to Gallaghers. The reply from their Engineering Director, Andy Hawkes, showed a reluctance to admit responsibility.
He claimed that Gallaghers and WSP Consultants (the off-site road designers) responded positively to the safety audits and the county council. Furthermore, the ‘detailed designs took due cognizance of recognised published guidance and provision for cyclists… current at that time’. This is difficult to accept when the safety audits repeatedly recommended avoidance of kerb-to-kerb widths in the range 3.1 m to 3.9 m, as does Cycle-Friendly Infrastructure, published in 1996.
Andy Hawkes asserts that the cycle path which will run alongside the future Guided Bus Route ‘influenced the offsite road design’. This will indeed help those cyclists who wish to commute between Histon and Cambridge Regional College or the Science Park (and who won’t mind cycling along it in the dark, in the winter, with no lighting, no oversight and dazzling bus headlights to contend with). This attitude fails to acknowledge the number of east-west cycle journeys made, from Arbury, West Cambridge, Girton and the proposed NIAB development to CRC and the Science Park.
Cyclists have a legal right to be on the road… or so they think. But ‘The intention is that off road footway/cycleways be provided where possible. Providing signing on the carriageway for cyclists could cause confusion to both motorists and cyclists and lead to more cyclists on carriageway which the scheme is trying to prevent’ (Nick Leppard of WSP’s response to B7.6 of the safety audit in a letter to Jeremy Smith, Senior Transport Officer, Cambridgeshire County Council, 1 June 2004). So there you have it: don’t provide on-road facilities, so conditions become really hostile, and cyclists will use your lovely, safe off-road facility or risk ending up as traffic calming measures.
The new year began with the local press picking up on the story of the pinch points: The Arbury Park Subgroup’s press release pinpointed the main issues.
Now that the safety audit is in the public domain, developers and the county council will find themselves on thin legal ice if a collision occurs and they are taken to court.
It cannot be right that changes to the public highway that have huge effects on road users are not subjected to democratic scrutiny.
At the monthly meeting of the Castle Community Action Group, the dangerous conditions around the A14, King’s Hedges Road and Histon Road junctions were discussed (especially for children on their way to Impington Village College) and it was decided to ask the Cycling Campaign to help sort out the problems!
So what’s next? There is a second meeting in January to try to resolve the on-road problems. Cyclists will also push for a permeable, coherent off-road facility running along the north side of King’s Hedges Road. Mind you, this will still entail crossing four Arbury Park entry roads and the Guided Bus route, so whether Gallaghers like it or not, many cyclists will opt to stay on the road and get to their destination quicker.
The second meeting to discuss the mess near Arbury Park was held on 11 January. It was attended by a number of Histon and Impington parish and county councillors and by the developers, Gallaghers, who were represented by Steve Riley and Andy Hawkes (Engineering Director).
Richard Preston (county council) fully acknowledged the problems and apologised for the mistakes made by the county council. He stated that issues raised by the Safety Audits were not followed up in the way they should have been, mainly because there was no-one co-ordinating and making key decisions.
King’s Hedges Road was discussed first.
- Graham Lowe set out plans for widening all but one of the pinch-points by narrowing and remodelling the central islands. The new kerb-to-kerb widths will be increased to 4.0 m with a 1.2 m ‘redmac’ cycle lane going through the pinch-points. 1.2m is lower than best practice (at least 1.5m should be provided), but is a step forward. At last! The pinch-points were named as the first priority when funding is released.
- The islands at the King’s Hedges Road-Cambridge Road junction are to be widened and the sheep pens made bigger.
- It is hoped that some of the next lot of ‘Section 106’ money will be spent on cycle facilities on the south side of King’s Hedges Road, especially round the Arbury Road junction.
- The nasty right turn west out of King’s Hedges Road into Cambridge Road was discussed (perhaps an advance reservoir and better lane markings would help).
- The on-road, southbound red cycle lane between the A14 and King’s Hedges Road-Cambridge Road junction will be reinserted the next time there is sufficient ‘redmac’ work in the area to justify the cost – who knows when this will happen.
The A14 Histon roundabout seems an intractable problem – nothing was agreed upon, not even signs highlighting the presence of cyclists. Denis Payne argued that S106 money that had been earmarked for a bridge or tunnel should be used on improvements. Sustainable Infrastructure will look at this. But the general opinion seemed to be that, with the future widening of the A14, any current solution would be short-term.
The repairs are going to be expensive. Cambridge Cycling Campaign needs to be kept informed on this. Des Phillips doesn’t pussy-foot around and, at the end of the meeting, he pointed out that Gallaghers had ‘broken’ the road and the moral onus was on them to fix it.
The third meeting has been scheduled for 7 March – by then, plans are to be refined and the funding issue explored.