Cowley Road: troublesome Toucans

This article was published in 2007, in Newsletter 75.

Anyone venturing up Milton Road to the Science Park area will be aware that the Cowley Road area has been substantially changed to improve motor vehicle access – there are now two new turnings to access the area from Milton Road, and three independent Toucan crossings in the space of 50m. As the Sustrans Ranger responsible for this part of National Cycle Network Route 11 I am particularly disappointed by the changes, which in my opinion have made the area very hazardous for cyclists, an opinion I know is widely shared among those cyclists and pedestrians who travel through the area regularly.

The Council have indicated that the Toucan crossings that have been installed are intended primarily for pedestrians and therefore they have intentionally positioned the red/green lights that indicate when it’s safe to cross so that they can only be seen by a person facing the crossing, which means that a cyclist following the normal desire line, particularly heading south, won’t be able to see the lights and so doesn’t know whether it’s safe to cross.

Travelling south at Cowley Road, one of several toucans with no detector loops and traffic lights not visible to cyclists. The yellow box is turned away so that you have to go past the pole and look right to see if the light is green for you to cross. Above this is another box (why?) which is also turned in the same direction.
Image as described adjacent

The junction has also been designed without cycle detector loops which means that to request a change of lights the cyclist has to cycle up to the kerb (in some cases this is very awkward, especially if towing a trailer), stop and press the button to request a change of lights. There is no apparent synchronisation of the Toucans, and the timing is poor, so the waits can be very long. Cyclists must cross traffic from up to seven separate directions. Northbound traffic turning right off Milton Road is hard to see, especially at the more northerly, superfluous, turn.

To facilitate cyclists (say the Council) some of the barriers in the design were not installed and some of the kerbs have been dropped to encourage cyclists following the normal desire line to cycle straight across the junction without using the Toucans. This may be acceptable when there is no traffic at all but seems to me to be very brave when any cars are present as there are a number of different (and unexpected) directions from which cars may suddenly appear at speed if the lights are against you. Traffic appears to exceed the 30 mph speed limit on a regular basis.

There are no warning signs to drivers to watch out for cyclists. There are many delivery drivers in this area for the Business Park and Innovation Centre unfamiliar with Cambridge and its cyclist population. There are many cars using the Park and Ride, similarly unfamiliar.

While I realise that many Campaign members will never use this junction I would mention that it forms part of the Sustrans National Cycle Network Route 11 and also is in the path of cyclists using the Jane Coston cycle bridge over the A14.

In summary, although each component of the system apparently conforms to safety rules and guidelines, common sense has not prevailed, and little thought appears to have been given to the practicalities of traversing the junction.

Tim Steele