The congestion charge and the £500m transport package

The County Council have started their consultation on this, and have also issued a 183-page document – the formal bid to the Government – giving details of the scheme, including analysis of the underlying figures.

Full details can be found online at: www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/congestion/ and the County have been running a series of roadshows, as published in the last Newsletter.

Cyclist riding past traffic jam

The December monthly meeting was the third at which members discussed this issue, to determine our policy on this important and huge set of proposals.

The key facts about the scheme and its context are listed below.

Upsides:

  • General traffic reduction; improved safety and air quality, reduced traffic noise, CO2 emissions and injuries.
  • Less congestion is good for all road users.
  • The Chisholm Trail, our long-proposed ‘cycling superhighway’ joining the Science Park to Addenbrookes, is among the proposals.
  • Hybrid lanes, the continental-style approach to cycle lanes which seeks to balance the needs of different cyclists (on-road / off-road preference), are proposed, which we have pushed for.
  • The document recognises reallocation of road space to cycling.
  • Reduction in traffic volume and then reallocation of road space are high up in the hierarchy of solutions that we have often espoused but are rarely observed in practice by transport planners.
  • It will remove the excuse of “no money to do things properly”.
  • There is scope to do very good things to existing and new routes.
  • The proposals will make people think about how and when they travel.
  • Could be good for small traders: saving of 6 minutes twice a day allows tradespeople to break even.
  • Better chance of real innovation being backed the DfT through the Transport Innovation Fund.
  • Chance to ‘fix’ cycle parking problem city-wide.
  • Chance to get problem points like Gilbert Road finally addressed.

Key facts from the County Council

  • Between 1999 and 2016 at least 57,400 new households are planned for the county; approximately 33,000 of these homes are still to be built, mainly in the Cambridge area.
  • In the Cambridge sub-region there would be an additional 33,500 car trips per day (there are currently 273,000 car trips per day). In addition to this, there would be, on average, a 23% increase in travel time and a 16% increase in distance travelled.
  • In the Cambridge area, there would on average be a 46% increase in total travel time and significantly more on many roads, an 11% reduction in average speeds and an 84% increase in delay at junctions.
  • The British Chambers of Commerce estimates that congestion currently costs the UK economy approximately £17 billion per annum. In addition, 1.2 billion hours are lost to congestion every year.
  • The County Council have submitted a bid for over £500m of transport improvements to the Transport Innovation Fund. This is a pot of money from the government to entice local authorities into trying out congestion charging schemes.
  • The congestion charge itself would be a one-off charge for anyone driving into, out of, or within the congestion charge zone (basically all of Cambridge), between 7.30-9.30am, weekdays only. The proposed charge would be in the range of £3-5 per day and all the Park & Ride sites would be outside the zone.
  • If the bid is successful, implementation of the proposed transport improvements could commence from 2008 onwards. Congestion charging would be a further three years away (at least).
  • It is important to note that a decision to introduce congestion charging has not yet been made, despite the County having submitted a business case in autumn 2007. Submitting a business case to government does not commit the Council to introducing it.

Downsides:

We are pushing to ensure that proposals for bus lanes will not harm cyclists’ interests.
Image as described adjacent
  • There is scope for things to be done badly.
  • Danger of increase in shared-use pavement cycleway provision.
  • The funding figure may not turn out to cover everything that’s planned. We need to make sure cycling doesn’t suffer.
  • Some businesses could move out of town or edge of town developments could expand.
  • Proposals for bus lanes: the document says traffic should suffer at the expense of buses and cycles, but experience in the past is that buses impact on cycling if not done correctly.
  • Vast amount of money (as much as for cycling) being put into a non-Cambridge road-based scheme – Ely bypass – and we specifically oppose this.
  • “Mindset” issues – of the sort discussed in this Newsletter – will need to be addressed.
  • We need experience and people – consultants – from Netherlands and Denmark to do the design. We shouldn’t have to keep battling for the “extra 20 cm”.

Areas on which we need reassurance:

Following from those points, there is a range of areas we are going to be seeking reassurance on from senior County Council officials:

The Campaign broadly welcomes the proposals but will be seeking reassurance on a number of points.
  • What are they planning to do to existing routes?
  • Overspend in other areas will not be at the expense of cycling.
  • Potential problems arising on areas such as Perne Road, Brooks Road, Mowbray Road relating to proposed bus priority.
  • Are we sure they aren’t using the incorrect “cyclists travel maximum 5km model” for modelling cycling journeys? (see article)
  • Promotion of fast direct cycle routes to people who don’t cycle at present – this really hasn’t happened much so far.
  • Tackling key ‘mindset’ issues – see above.
  • What design guide will there be?

We also thought that if some innovative way were found to increase levels of enforcement of various kinds, that could prove a highly effective way of improving traffic flows and dealing with danger on the roads resulting from illegal or aggressive motorist behaviour.

Quick wins

If the scheme goes ahead, a series of ‘quick wins’ would help build the confidence of our members and the general public that the cycling aspects are being taken care of. In particular, we would like to see early work on:

  • The Chisholm Trail (see above), in particular the section between Coldham’s Lane and the Station;
  • A link to Bar Hill;
  • An upgrade to the Tins Path;
  • A high quality hybrid route as an early demonstration, on one of the radial routes such as Cherry Hinton Road, which has space constraints and which could usefully show how the political issues associated with reallocation of roadspace would be dealt with;
  • Filling in and making cycle-friendly the Elizabeth Way roundabout in a Dutch or Copenhagen style;
  • Improvements to the Catholic Church junction;
  • City-wide cycle parking, which is in desperately short supply in very many areas;
  • Personalised travel planning (effectively one-on-one promotion of transport alternatives) which nationally has shown to result in cost-effective changes in behaviour.

Press and politics

The issue of congestion charging has been continuously in the local press for the last few months. Sadly, little of this discussion has touched on the proposed enormous package of physical infrastructure measures, instead focussing almost solely on the congestion charge side. We think the press needs to cover much more of the infrastructure side, and the County Council needs to give them more information to enable them to do so. With that information, people across Cambridge might be more welcoming.

The County Council’s advocacy of the scheme has not been helped by the change in political leadership. Shona Johnstone, so far one of the most vocal supporters of the proposals, stood down from her post late in 2007 as a result of another political issue. Nonetheless, the County has continued to press on with consultation.

Many City Councillors have expressed concerns about the way the County has involved them in the development of the proposals, and it is clear that the County needs to work to get the City Council more on side if the proposals are to be accepted. Additionally, we think it is important that every Councillor takes the time to read the County’s documentation before making comments.

At the City Council’s Environment Scrutiny meeting on 8th January 2008, Councillors voted to:

“support the development of a comprehensive transport strategy that includes substantial improvements to public transport, cycling and walking and some form of demand management, probably road pricing”

but with a series of caveats on points they felt the City Council must see addressed by the County Council. These points can broadly be summarised as:

  • The City Council’s desire for residents’ discounts;
  • Evidence to justify the hours of operation and location of the boundary;
  • A detailed programme of the public transport, walking, cycling and traffic management proposals;
  • The need to ensure that frequent, good-quality bus services exist within 400m of every home;
  • A commitment to Quality Partnerships (effectively a relatively new means, one of the few available to Local Authorities, to increase regulation and control of the bus system);
  • Improvement in the climate change objectives of any scheme, effectively discounts based on vehicle emissions;
  • A commitment to ring-fencing to the Cambridge area of funds raised.

Martin Lucas-Smith