Mill Road reclaimed for humans – a vision

This article was published in 2008, in Newsletter 78.

Ian Jackson gives his personal vision for Mill Road. What do you think? Would it work?

Imagine Mill Road as a pleasant city street where people have space to wander, get their groceries, window shop, and socialise, and which can also form part of the city’s sustainable transport network. Impossible ? Here is how it could be done:

Close the railway bridge to motor traffic
Image as described adjacent

Ban motor vehicles except for access. Widen the pavements where possible, to leave a carriageway of 5 m width with centreline at 2.5 m; that is enough for oncoming cyclists to pass easily, or small cars or vans to pass with care. Paint bicycle symbols in the middle or slightly to the right of each lane; this will emphasise that it’s primarily a cycle route and show where cyclists should ride; that keeps cyclists from cycling near the kerb which is bad for both the cyclist and pedestrians. We will need to add a few passing places (for vehicles much wider than 2m to pass each other) and a few delivery bays.

Reduce the speed limit to 15 mph. Remove most of the signage, and move the remaining sign poles to just by the edge of the carriageway (rather than the 0.5 m into the pavement – which is currently the official standard for poles because drivers run into them otherwise). Traffic management signage is ugly, makes a street feel like it’s primarily for cars, and the poles get in the way of pedestrians. After we’ve done that there may even be room for an extra tree or two.

Abolish the pelican crossings and replace them with twice or three times as many zebra crossings
Image as described adjacent

Close the railway bridge to motor traffic. Its steepness and width lead to conflict between drivers and cyclists; the pavements are already too narrow; and a closure will be needed to help enforce the access restriction. With cycles as the only vehicles we can widen the pavements to leave a 4.5 m carriageway split into 2 m and 2.5 m bike lanes (a 2.5 m lane will be just wide enough to overtake a slower cyclist); we’ll use an ordinary dashed white centreline rather than formal overtaking restriction, to reduce clutter. A simple set of bollards on one side of the bridge will do; the other side of the bridge can make do with a `no flying motorcycles’ sign.

Abolish the pelican crossings and replace them with twice or three times as many zebras – although we can probably do away with the Belisha beacons. Abolish the traffic lights at Gwydir Street, of course. Traffic lights cause delay to everyone, and can be particularly frustrating for pedestrians and cyclists – many of both groups are tempted to ignore them. In particular, those cyclists who won’t give way to pedestrians at a zebra won’t stop for a light either, so pedestrians are better served by a larger number of more informal crossings.

Retain the kerbs (and the tarmac surface on the carriageway). If we intend Mill Road to retain its role as a through route for cyclists, we need to make clear to pedestrians the area where they shouldn’t be walking without looking. The painted cycle symbols on the road will help cue pedestrians to look as well as listen. Kerbs also mark out the pavement as space for pedestrians, deterring encroachment by cyclists and drivers. If the pavements are wide then the kerb becomes an asset to the pedestrians, rather than a liability.

Widen the pavements where possible, to leave a carriageway of 5 m and abolish the traffic lights at Gwydir Street
Image as described adjacent

Vigorous enforcement will be needed, certainly at first. We can use the CCTV to prosecute drivers who use the pavement to pass or for parking, or who rat-run, or who drive over the bridge past the prohibition sign (to get stuck at the bollards), or who collide with the repositioned poles. Taxis will have to use Gonville Place to get between the station and points north rather than rat-running; those taxi drivers who forget the new rules can get a reminder from the licensing office.

The lorries from the builders’ merchants on Devonshire Road are the biggest real problem. I think there’s really not much of a good solution for them given the location, which is becoming ever more part of the heart of the city. If we define the for-access zone to include their site, they at least get the choice of which way to go – although there is of course the difficulty with the way the Carter Bridge joins Devonshire Road which I know many members of the Campaign would like to see improved.

If Cambridge ever manages a tram system, there would be room enough for a line in each direction if we use continental-style trams-for-narrow-streets, rather than enormous ‘supertrams’. We can expect tram drivers to actually obey the lowered speed limit. As anyone who’s been to Amsterdam will know, trams, pedestrians and cycles can mix mix remarkably well even in narrow and crowded streets.

Of course much of this is politically difficult for various reasons; it would require cooperation and approval from many officials and quite a few politicians. But I thought I’d present an idea of what a non-car-centred Mill Road might look like. We – all of society – should be looking forward to this kind of bright future.

Ian Jackson