Some moments of truth
As indicated in the newsletter, a key council committee met just after Newsletter 70 went to press. The decisions it made are important for the Campaign, so Simon Nuttall has reviewed the meeting for this supplement.
The Cambridge Area Transport Management Joint Committee (known as the AJC) sat for five hours on Monday 22 January 2007. The meeting was attended by about a dozen councillors representing city and county constituencies and by senior officers from both Cambridge City and Cambridgeshire County councils. The public viewed the meeting from the far end of the room, relying on amplification to follow proceedings.
Three items on the centimetre-thick agenda were of fundamental importance to the Cycling Campaign’s aims:
- Two-way cycling in one-way streets
- Experimental revocation of the city centre cycling restriction
- Gonville Place crossing
The first of several petitions wanted to ban heavy commercial vehicles from Lime Kiln Road, because of safety concerns. Following the petitioner’s speech, highway officers said that on a list of roads due for safety work and ranked by the agreed formula, this road is number 152, so no action will be taken, but everybody sympathised with the petitioners.
Forty minutes were then spent discussing yellow lines outside a house in Chesterton.
Following this, there were three petitions about bi-directional cycling in currently one-way streets.
Willis Road petition
The first petition was about blocking the two-way cycling proposals for Willis Road. The petitioner made the case that the one way system had worked well for 20 years, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, more cars might get scratched etc. He said that it was going to cost £100 000 to remove the small section of planting.
During the debate it was pointed out that revised plans meant that the area of planting was not going to be removed and this was going to cut the cost significantly. One councillor turned an apparent absence of any considered view from Anglia Ruskin University students into a reason to reject it. Later in the meeting it was decided by a majority vote not to proceed with plans for two-way cycling in this road.
My personal view was that this was a fairly typical nimby (‘not in my back yard’) petition. In debate it was clear that cyclists had been riding both ways for as long as anyone can remember and there is no record of a safety problem. I think it was the threatened loss of the cherished planting areas in the initially published plans, rather than safety, that doomed two-way cycling in Willis Road. We could perhaps have been more active in this area, by for example raising the issue with Anglia Ruskin University.
Kingston Street petition
The second petition, delivered by a Kingston Street resident and by a prospective councillor, was also about blocking proposals to permit two-way cycling, this time in Kingston Street. The resident’s argument hinged on how dangerous she felt it was to turn right into Kingston Street from Mill Road. A neighbour was worried about reversing out onto the street and not knowing which way to look. She said that there was a perfectly usable alternative route along nearby Gwydir Street.
The prospective councillor appeared to support the resident, but then strangely announced she was a member of the Cycling Campaign. She did not succeed in her attempts to reconcile the two positions.
During debate it became clear that the right turn ban from Mill Road into Kingston Street would remain. One councillor described how unsatisfactory the right turn from Mill Road into Gwydir Street was at the traffic lights because of the very narrow lane in the middle of the road where cyclists are forced to wait.
My view was that this was also another nimby petition but which did not stand up well to the scrutiny of the councillors.
Cycling Campaign petition
The third petition was delivered by James Woodburn and Martin Lucas-Smith representing the Campaign. James began by acknowledging the fears of residents but went on to say that evidence shows perceived safety problems do not materialise in practice. Both James and Martin cited government guidance in favour, the lack of an accident record (despite existing high levels of contraflow cycling) and the fact that 277 local people had signed our petition within 24 hours.
Martin finished, saying ‘What hope is there for cycling in Cambridge if these small changes are voted down?’
There were questions from councillors about which streets the campaign would not consider appropriate for two-way cycling, but those councillors did not want to hear the list of streets where two-way cycling was working satisfactorily. There was a little debate on how bad and inconvenient alternatives were, and the right turn from Mill Road into Kingston Street. The campaign mentioned that arrangements need to be changed at the Hooper Street end to improve visibility for motorists and cyclists at that junction.
When it came to a vote one councillor said that the proposed amendment seemed to have been settled in advance. There were no maps of the revised plans available so it was not entirely clear what was being voted for.
The result was that Willis Road will remain a one-way street, but both Mackenzie Road and Kingston Street will become legal for two-way cycling. There will be a right turn ban into Kingston Street from Mill Road.
The dominant issue was not safety, but a few shrubs and plants in a brick planting area. The loss of that small bit of greenery in the initially publicised plans jeopardised the scheme from the start. The promised survival of the planting in revised plans was not enough to enable the principle of two-way cycling to become more established.
I’m struck by just how hard it has been to win this issue. Two-way cycling is happening in those streets already and so hardly anything will change for non-cyclists. Fears have been raised locally about what might happen, but when challenged with hard evidence those involved just don’t seem to want to listen.
City Centre cycling restriction
By the time it came to the City Centre cycling ban a number of councillors had already left the room. The officer reading from the 34 page report pointed out his surprise that there was not any overwhelming opposition to the lifting of the ban amongst pedestrians. Indeed, on balance from all stakeholder groups there was 50 to 55% support for permanent revocation.
From the debate it was clear that the decision was going to break on party lines. A councillor from the minority party said he’d read the report, and looked at it, but that he was entitled to his own opinion, which was against the findings.
With relatively little debate the decision was 6 to 2 in favour of a request to recommend permanent revocation of the ban to the County Council’s Cabinet at their meeting on 27 February.
Gonville Place crossing
A revised officer recommendation was circulated at the beginning of the discussion on the Gonville Place crossing. It basically proposed revised plans and costings for a parallel pedestrian and cycle crossing (which sounds not too different from what was there before). This item was approved quite quickly.
The last few agenda items were rounded up pretty quickly. Of interest there was the consideration of objections to Traffic Regulation Orders for traffic calming in Windsor Road. Though support amongst councillors voting for this flawed scheme had dwindled to 3, with only 2 against, it will still go ahead.
I think the decisions taken in this meeting have been of fundamental importance to Cambridge Cycling Campaign. Our last-minute petition on two-way cycling did make a difference, but it is clear that we shall have to fight each and every one of the two-way street changes as they arise.
The decision on the ban revocation has taken a back seat to the bi-directional cycling issue, and despite the clear recommendation to lift the ban we just don’t know what the Cabinet will decide. The Gonville Place crossing decision is due to the huge support for our petition and the expert and thorough contributions to Councillors and Officers from members of the Campaign’s crossing subgroup.
Many thanks to all our members and supporters for their help with the petitions and their informed contributions.