Bell School Development: Babraham Road survey

On Wednesday 31 October 2007 I carried out a survey with Dr Neville Silverston (of Babraham Road Action Group) of pedestrians and cyclists going along Babraham Road during the morning and afternoon peaks (7 am – 9 am and 4 pm – 6 pm), the results of which are shown in Tables 1 and 2. It was a pleasant autumn day, reasonably warm and not raining, and the only obvious factor which might have affected the numbers of pedestrians and cyclists using this stretch of road, which is part-residential and part-rural, was that most of the afternoon peak period was in darkness because the clocks had been put back the previous weekend. Some people may have been deterred by worries about personal security.

Map of Bell School area

Table 1: Babraham Road pedestrian and cycle survey – morning peak. Taken next to the location of the proposed access to the Bell Site, that is adjacent to Nos. 6 & 6b Babraham Road. Wednesday 31st October 2007.
Time Pedestrians inbound (ie towards city centre) Pedestrians outbound (ie away from city centre) Off-road cyclists Inbound Off-road cyclists outbound On-road cyclists inbound On-road cyclists outbound
Pave-ment on Bell School side Shared-use pave-ment on other side Pave-ment on Bell School side Shared-use pave-ment on other side Pave-ment on Bell School side Shared-use pave-ment on other side Pave-ment on Bell School side Shared-use pave-ment on other side
7.00-7.15 am 3 2 Nil Nil 1 Nil Nil Nil 1 Nil
7.15-7.30 am 4 3 Nil Nil Nil 7 Nil 1 2 Nil
7.30-7.45 am Nil 2 Nil Nil 2 7 Nil 1 3 Nil
7.45-8.00 am 1 18 Nil 1 1 19 Nil 4 4 3
8.00-8.15 am 3 10 Nil Nil 1 26 Nil Nil 2 1
8.15-8.30 am 4 15 Nil Nil 1 30 Nil 1 2 2
8.30-8.45 am 7 18 Nil Nil 1 24 Nil Nil 1 Nil
8.45-9.00 am 2 14 Nil 1 Nil 21 Nil Nil Nil 1
Total 24 82 Nil 2 7 134 Nil 7 15 7
Total pedestrians: 108 Total cyclists: 170 (off road 148 (87%) on road 22 (13%))

Most of the pedestrians and cyclists using this stretch of road are travelling between the Babraham Road Park and Ride site and Addenbrooke’s Hospital and are walking or cycling in preference to taking the bus. For this distance, just over a mile, walking and cycling are efficient and healthy choices. The existence of the Park and Ride facility limits quite serious traffic congestion on the Addenbrooke’s site and at the two overcrowded roundabouts leading to it.

Table 2: Babraham Road pedestrian and cycle survey – afternoon peak. Taken next to the location of the proposed access to the Bell Site, that is adjacent to Nos. 6 & 6b Babraham Road. Wednesday 31st October 2007.
Time Pedestrians inbound (ie towards city centre) Pedestrians outbound (ie away from city centre) Off-road cyclists inbound Off-road cyclists outbound On-road cyclists inbound On-road cyclists outbound
Pave-ment on Bell School side Shared-use pave-ment on other side Pave-ment on Bell School side Shared-use pave-ment on other side Pave-ment on Bell School side Shared-use pave-ment on other side Pave-ment on Bell School side Shared-use pave-ment on other side
4.00-4.15 pm Nil Nil 1 11 1 2 Nil 6 1 1
4.15-4.30 pm Nil Nil Nil 9 Nil 1 1 7 1 1
4.30-4.45 pm Nil Nil 1 6 Nil Nil Nil 9 2 2
4.45-5.00 pm Nil 1 2 14 Nil 2 Nil 17 Nil 1
5.00-5.15 pm Nil Nil 2 17 Nil 1 Nil 15 1 3
5.15-5.30 pm Nil 2 1 13 Nil Nil Nil 17 Nil Nil
5.30-5.45 pm Nil 2 Nil 12 Nil Nil 1 14 2 Nil
5.45-6.00 pm Nil Nil 1 2 Nil 1 Nil 15 1 Nil
Total Nil 5 8 84 1 7 2 100 8 8
Total pedestrians: 97 Total cyclists: 126 (off road 110 (87%) on road 16 (13%))

We carried out the survey at the location (outside numbers 6 and 6b Babraham Road) where the developers of a site owned by the Bell School wish to construct a road junction to provide access to their site on which they intend to construct 347 dwellings and 100 units of student accommodation. (The City’s planning website lists the relevant material under the heading ‘Documents’). It is anticipated that a significant proportion of the pedestrian and cycle users of the Park and Ride facility going to or from Addenbrooke’s would go through the development because it could provide a more direct route than the present one. Both the Cambridge Cycling Campaign and the Babraham Road Action Group vigorously oppose this proposed access route and have submitted strong objections on the grounds that a satisfactory road junction and access route cannot be constructed at this location because there is insufficient space both on Babraham Road and along the access road. We favour instead an access route at the existing Worts Causeway junction where there is sufficient space to construct a much better access route and junction. However the owners of the Bell School are opposed to this suggestion, apparently mainly because it would bring the access road closer to their own school buildings.

Cambridgeshire County Council’s Cabinet are expected to consider in the near future whether or not to give their support to the construction of the access route and junction at the location favoured by the developers. We will be arguing against. We consider that the County Council should accept the implications of the comment of their own Safety Audit team in the Stage One Safety Audit: ‘The audit team have severe concerns that the proposal will need to compromise either safety or capacity. If the capacity of the junction is made paramount then there are likely to be several areas of potential conflict. On the other hand if safety is made paramount then the capacity of the junction could suffer to the point of gridlock.’ The County Council should oppose the proposal to build the junction here.

The Bell School developer’s proposed access route from Babraham Road
Image as described adjacent
The developer’s proposed Babraham Road junction site (the access route is behind the gate to the left)
Image as described adjacent

From a cyclist’s perspective the main difficulties with the proposed junction and access route, which derive largely from the inadequate space available, are as follows (greater detail is given in our formal objection.

  • In the original proposal one of the options suggested was to remove a length of the shared-use path and to force off-road cyclists to cross Babraham Road at a two-stage crossing followed by a third button-press crossing of the access road. This totally unacceptable severance of the path now seems to have been dropped.
  • The access road into the development would be too narrow (two 2.75m traffic lanes) and would have no footpath on the out-of-town southern side, breaching the County Council’s own standards. Some pedestrians would in practice walk in the road causing difficulties for both cyclists and other vehicles at congested times. A city planning officer has suggested a possible alternative way to and through the development for pedestrians and cyclists from the Park and Ride site via a new toucan crossing and an upgraded footpath alongside the southern boundary of the first house on the western side of Babraham Road. However upgrading this path would be environmentally sensitive and the attitude of the County Council and the developers to the additional crossing and an upgraded path is unclear at the time of writing. Even if this suggestion were to be adopted, the inadequacies of the proposed access road into the development would still cause such problems for the many pedestrians and cyclists (including the 100 student residents) who would still use it that it would remain unacceptable.
  • The junction would create unacceptable pinch points for cyclists on Babraham Road.
  • The tight radii for turning lorries would endanger cyclists.
  • The residents of numbers 6 and 6b Babraham Road would have to get into and out of their properties by car via the uncontrolled central section of the crossing endangering both themselves and other road users especially pedestrians and cyclists.
  • The proposed two-stage staggered toucan crossing of Babraham Road is difficult for both cyclists and pedestrians. There should be a single-stage crossing. Both the developers and the County Council’s Officers misread government guidance in suggesting that the government recommends in LTN 2/95 that for a road 12.5 m wide there should be a two-stage crossing. On the contrary, the guidance only specifies that a two-stage crossing should be considered. In our view strong factors against two-stages to be taken into account in this consideration are the problems that the wide and fenced island in the centre of the road creates for on-road cyclists, for ambulances and for turning HGVs together with the probable conflict between pedestrians and cyclists using the crossing given the relatively high expected numbers of cyclists.

What is the relevance of our survey?

1. It shows the high levels of pedestrian and cycle usage of Babraham Road which must be adequately provided for. On 31 October between 7 am and 9 am and between 4 pm and 6 pm there were 205 pedestrian journeys and 296 cycle journeys past our survey point. Both pedestrian and cycle usage are expected to increase very substantially as the planned expansion of Addenbrooke’s Hospital from around 6,000 to 17,000 employees takes place.

2. It shows that both pedestrian and cycle usage are concentrated on the shared-use path on the opposite side of the road from the proposed development. Some 84% of peak time pedestrian journeys and the same percentage of cycle journeys were made along this path. Members of the Campaign may be surprised that so high a proportion of cyclists choose to use this shared-use path which for most of its length is around 1.8 m-1.9 m wide. It could not be argued here that at present cyclists are forced off the road by narrow traffic lanes as they are on Milton Road. The road is however unattractive for all but relatively confident and experienced cyclists because of a dangerous junction with Granham’s Road, rather fast traffic for the locality (a 40 mph speed limit then 30 mph), much stop-and-start traffic at congested peak periods and the usual silly no-entry sign at the Park and Ride site which exempts buses and coaches but not cyclists who, to be legal, have to go past the sign on the pave-ment rather than using the road. In contrast the shared-use path is made attractive by the absence of side roads between Worts Causeway and the Park and Ride site, by the fact that there are few driveways and give-ways, by the striking absence of on-path obstructions (lamp-posts, telephone boxes etc) and by the outstandingly smooth machine-laid surface. But the shared-use path will need to be widened and the shortage of space alongside the proposed junction would preclude this.

3. On-road cyclist journeys, though a minority, were significant in number. We counted 38 during the peak periods on 31 October and it was strikingly obvious that cyclists using the road were usually travelling fast, too fast for safe use of the shared-use path. They need safe on-road passage though the junction. We do not believe that there is sufficient space to provide this.

James Woodburn