Cambridge Cycleways Report 1975

This article was published in 2007, in Newsletter 71.

A page from the 1975 report showing density of cycling. The most noticeable difference from now is the Addenbrooke’s area.
Image as described adjacent

Much of the established cycleways infrastructure that we ride in Cambridge today was recommended by this 32 year old report. Back then I was riding to school every day on my Raleigh Chopper along the busy A47 in Leicestershire, despite having a free bus pass. It was only two years after the ‘oil crisis’, private car ownership was rising dramatically, bicycle use was dwindling nationally and Jasper Carrott’s ‘Funky Moped’ was clattering around the ‘Hit Parade’.

Z. Z. Top

Here is the promising opening remark:

‘1.1 There has been a growing realisation in recent years that the unrestrained use of the private car is no longer a feasible option in most cities and attention has therefore been focussed on alternative forms of transport, notably improved public transport and the greater use of the bicycle, as a means of reducing congestion and over-use of the motor car.’

I find it remarkable that this sort of thing was being said back then. The report delves into a sensible and seemingly methodical approach, but here is the first sentence of their headline recommendation:

‘7. 1 The most effective way of improving conditions for cyclists in the City is to proceed with plans for the construction of relief roads.’

This is the first mention of the manipulative term ‘Relief Road’ in the report, and it’s in their headline conclusion. What went wrong? Looking back, do we really think that building the M11, the A14, King’s Hedges Road, and extending and widening the ring road was the most effective way of improving conditions for cyclists?

REO Speedwagon

The report studied these four ways of improving cycling:

  • Segregated Cycle Networks
  • Traffic management schemes
  • Alternative Routes on Minor Roads
  • Cycle Lanes on existing carriageways

Stevenage and Peterborough were cited as good examples of option (a), and although it was considered to be probably the best solution for Cambridge, cost and lack of space ruled it out. Option (b) referred to the then recent closure of through motor traffic from Trinity Street to King’s Parade. This had resulted in much reduced traffic in central streets and eliminated the chaos at Senate House Hill. Option (c) permitted through cycle traffic on roads that were closed to through motor traffic – such as at Gwydir Street.

In 1975 they recognised that the most immediate problem of lanes is one of contravention by other road users. It still is.
Image as described adjacent

Option (d): Painting ‘Cycle Lanes’ was identified as being cheap at only nine new pence per metre (compared to £5 for cycle tracks), and easy to undo. But even then the problems that we now know only too well were anticipated:

‘The most immediate problem is one of contravention by other road users.’

‘The second serious problem is one of parked vehicles… this is a danger for cyclists… parking would need to be prohibited…’

Although the terminology is a bit muddled at this point in the report there is recognition (from experience in Scandinavia) that cyclists who have been removed from the traffic stream either by cycle lanes or tracks alongside the road are

‘… much more prone to accident at this merging point…’

when they need to rejoin it. Regrettably we have come to realise this, as vehicles turning left across the path of cyclists riding along a cycle lane is one of the most common types of injury-collision.

Mud on Road

Its quite difficult to tell from the black and white maps what was actually recommended. But thanks to some high quality scans from a fellow committee member I have been able to produce the summary listed in the table overleaf.

The Downing Street contraflow lane was one of the earliest recommendations from the 1975 report to be implemented. This is one of the most useful cycling facilities in Cambridge.
Image as described adjacent

Looking back where this report recommends ‘Cycle Tracks’ what we’ve actually ended up with is ‘Shared Use.’ The crucial difference between them has been lost. In Scandinavia motor vehicle drivers are usually very careful to slow down to give way to riders in a cycle track as they turn into a side road. This is backed up by laws that put the presumption of blame onto them if there is a collision. Rather than ending up with proper segregated cycle tracks, of which there are very few good examples in Cambridge, we’ve got shared-use pavements.

This report recommended the contra-flow cycle lanes in Downing Street and Pembroke Street. These have been absolutely vital to keeping cycling levels high in the city. We still hope for a filter phase at the lights from St Andrew’s Street. These cycle lanes, though, are regularly violated by delivery vehicles and we find ourselves having to be perpetually vigilant there.

The report also recommended more traffic restraint in the city centre, which has brought us rising bollards and the Core Traffic Scheme. Traffic has not been restrained in Mill Road but an alternative route from Cherry Hinton was created with the opening of the cycle bridge over the railway at Cambridge Station.

The Clangers

‘The V-grip type of cycle rack is preferable.’
Image as described adjacent

It recommended:

  • cycle lanes 1.2 metres wide (one way), 2.2 metres (two way) !
  • cycle parking: ‘the V-grip type of cycle rack is preferable’ (Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.) [Editor’s note: the authors mean it is preferable to the dreadful concrete slots, better described as wheel-bending racks, which were normal at the time.]

Detailed maps were provided showing where banks of cycle racks were to be placed, and at what angle: 25º, 45º or 90º. It was my pleasure to replace most of them with Sheffield style racks in 2001 in an attempt to reduce theft.

Mungo Jerry – The Pushbike Song

The style and approach of the report is naturally quite different to what we would expect nowadays. The only external people to have been consulted seem to be the Road Research Laboratory. There is no apparent input from local cyclists, or the police, and all cyclists are referred to as male.

‘this report advocates a widespread decoration of the streets with “Cycling Facilities”‘
Image as described adjacent

Although we are now aware of the problems of narrow cycle lanes, this report advocates a widespread decoration of the streets with ‘Cycling Facilities’ and some areas of traffic restraint which still permit cycling permeability. These must have contributed to Cambridge’s image as a cycling city.

In the five years from 1966, cycling levels in Cheltenham collapsed from 21.6% of journeys to work to 5.6%. In Cambridge the fall was from 36.6% to 30.0% – which is slightly more than the 28% figure the RAC reported in 2005. It seems that even by 1975 Cheltenham was doomed, and so perhaps after all we can hold up this report for saving cycling in Cambridge.

Simon Nuttall

Summary report recommendations (working clockwise from north of the city centre)

The items [in brackets] were deemed too costly or impractical at the time. “Beyond” means further out from the city centre.
Street Cycle Tracks Cycle Lanes Traffic Restraint Junction Proposal What Happened?
Downing and Pembroke Streets Yes Yes Contra flow Cycle Lanes in the late 1970s
Park Terrace Yes Yes Shared use alongside Parker’s Piece
Histon Road Beyond Gilbert Road Narrow cycle lanes north of Gilbert Road
Gilbert Road Yes Yes Traffic Lights with Carlton Way Advisory cycle lanes introduced on both sides.
Stretten Avenue Yes Traffic Calming – raised table and speed humps
Arbury Road Yes Traffic Lights with Victoria Road King’s Hedges Road was extended. A chicane, traffic lights and mini-roundabouts appeared in the 1990s
Carlton Way Yes [Yes] Traffic Calmed in 2004
Campkin Way Yes [Yes] Traffic Calmed mini roundabouts, speedcushions
Milton Road Beyond Chesterton Hall Crescent Beyond Green End Road Island refuges at Herbert Street, Elizabeth Way, Traffic Lights at Union Lane No island refuges were built. Bus and cycle lane created inbound in 1990s. Narrow outbound land, and shared use created “the Milton Road effect”.
Green End Road [Yes] Traffic Calmed in the 1990s
Chesterton Lane [Yes]
Chesterton Road [Yes] Shared use for much of its length.
East Road [Yes] Underpass at Burleigh Street Plans to widen the ring road were eventually dropped. Toucan Crossing in 2005 linking Norfolk and Burleigh Streets.
Newmarket Road Beyond Railway [Out to Railway] Traffic Lights with Coldhams Lane Bus and Cycle lanes introduced in2000s
Victoria Avenue [Yes] [Yes] Bus Lane, and recently Toucan Crossings.
Barnwell Road Yes Cycle track one side, incomplete shared use on the other. Cycle-hostile underpass.
Thoday Street Yes Late 1990s: Speed humps and 20mph speed limit in North Romsey
Vinery Road Yes Late 1990s: Speed humps and 20mph speed limit in North Romsey
Mill Road [Yes] No change, but Cycle Bridge over railway created ‘parallel route’.
Gwydir Street Yes Plugged but permitting cycle access.
St Barnabas Road Yes Access restriction favouring cyclists False one-way street, traffic lights each end.
Tenison Road Yes Access to Lyndewode Road closed to motor vehicles
Station Road Yes Still no agreed changes 30 years on.
Coleridge Road Yes [Yes] Traffic lights at Radegund Road are beinginstalled right now
Radegund Road Yes [Yes] Traffic calming
Perne Road and Mowbray Road Yes Island refuge at Mowbray Road Narrow cycle lanes
Glebe Road Yes
Cherry Hinton Road Beyond Perne Road [Beyond Perne Road] Traffic Lights at Coleridge Road Poor quality shared use along much of the length
Cherry Hinton High Street [Yes] Dangerously narrow cycle lanes
Hills Road Yes [Station Road to Cavendish Avenue] Mix of cycle lanes and shared use over most of length except at railway bridge
Long Road Yes Shared use recently upgraded.
Trumpington Road Beyond Brooklands Avenue Yes Cycle track alongside and cycle lane within a bus lane
Lensfield Road Yes [Yes] Nothing
Barton Road Two-way on North side of Road Shared use cycle track all the way to Barton opened in late 1990s
Queens’ Road Long term Underpass at Burrell’s Walk Pedestrian Crossing upgrade to Toucan in early 2000s
Grange Road Yes 20mph limit, narrow cycle lanes and speed humps
Sedgwick Avenue [Yes] Nothing
Madingley Road Yes Worst example of shared use on both sides of the road.
Huntingdon Road Beyond Storey’s Way Yes Useful cycle lanes along much of the length but they have proved hazardous.