The Regent Street squish

This article was published in 2007, in Newsletter 70.

Regent Street: bypass lane followed by build-out is a perfect recipe for disaster.
Image as described adjacent

As part of the long-term plan called the Core Scheme to restrict traffic in Cambridge city centre, a fourth set of rising bollards was introduced, in Regent Street just on the city centre side of the Park Terrace junction. The restriction of the street to buses and taxis that the bollards will enforce hasn’t come into operation yet. This isn’t expected until the spring.

Unfortunately the new bus gate has caused a serious problem for cyclists, as we briefly reported in ‘Your streets this month’ in the last Newsletter. At the time of writing, and despite letters to the County Council and an on-site meeting, nothing has been done to reduce the hazard here. We think it is only a matter of time before there is a serious casualty here unless the problem is addressed.

The bus gate has been constructed very much like the ones in Bridge Street, Emmanuel Road and Silver Street, all of which now work reasonably well, having long since had their teething troubles ironed out. At those places, bus lanes with rising bollards restrict traffic, and bypass lanes for cyclists are separated from the buses with a kerb and a thin post. The Regent Street closure is similar, except that it only operates in the inbound direction (so no doubt the odd rogue motorist will dodge round the island once operational).

Cyclists are deflected straight into the path of vehicles using the bus gate

We thoroughly applaud the principle of the core scheme, which over the last few years has reduced traffic in the central area. Other cities such as Norwich, for example, which still allow unrestricted through traffic into their central areas, are choked.

The problem in Regent Street is in the detailed design. The cycle lane comes to an abrupt halt immediately after the bus gate, where a large build-out has been placed. Ironically, this has been used to provide much-needed cycle parking spaces, but its main function is to delineate car parking spaces just beyond. This means that cyclists are deflected straight into the path of vehicles using the bus gate.

While taking photographs for this letter, we witnessed one cyclist crash

Once operational, this problem may be reduced, as traffic will be limited to buses and taxis, which will be travelling much more slowly because of the bollards. At the moment, though, anyone and everyone is allowed through. Despite the somewhat narrow gap, many vehicles do not reduce their speed. Most do not give way to cyclists: nor are they required to. At the same time, many cyclists simply continue along the indicated path without looking behind them, unaware of the danger that has been created. This is a perfect recipe for disaster. It is a road design guaranteed to put cyclists and fast moving heavy vehicles in the same place at the same time.

Image as described adjacent

Even when the full scheme is operational we are not confident about safety here. This is because, as all of you know only too well, some bus drivers are highly aggressive and the most-complained about class of road user. However it is the immediate situation that is most worrying.

After an email exchange, we wrote to Cambridgeshire County Council in November (the letter is on the Campaign web site) demanding immediate closure of the cycle bypass to avoid a serious crash. While taking photographs for this letter, we witnessed one cyclist crash. Fortunately this did not result in injury. The cyclist ran into the kerb of the build-out in taking last-minute evasive action to avoid being hit, and came off the bike.

No changes have been made. No safety audit has been forthcoming.

The County Council has tacitly admitted the problem, telling us ‘many cyclists might prefer to use the traffic lane’ until the bollards are turned on. Closing the lane might just move the same problem further back, we were told. We disagree. By closing the lane before the bus gate, cyclists can move over into the traffic lane over a much longer distance: they aren’t forced into the traffic stream at a single point. Furthermore, many of the cyclists approaching the gate have arrived there from the crossing leaving Parker’s Piece by the Pizza Hut and would not need to have moved over to the kerb at all.

It is so terribly dispiriting to find such appalling and obviously hazardous cycle provision being built in Cambridge, and as we have reported over recent months, this is by no means the only example.

David Earl