Demonstration Town starts to get real

John Grimshaw, former head of Sustrans and now with Cycling England, acknowledges Cambridge’s successful Demonstration Town bid with a plaque presented to County Councillor Matt Bradney (right) while Patrick Joyce looks on.
Image as described adjacent

We reported last time on Cambridge’s successful application to become one of the eleven Cycling Demonstration Towns to be allocated Government funding from Cycling England. Things are moving rapidly to put some of the £3.6 million to work in combination with the same amount again already earmarked from local funding.

Apart from the big bridge projects, we have rarely seen funding on this scale specifically for cycling. If it was ‘only’ money, though, we might not be so optimistic. Cynics might argue – indeed have argued on our mailing lists – that more money might lead only to even more rubbish being built. But it is more than money: we are optimistic about the project because it offers the possibility of a step-change in how cyclists are provided for in the Cambridge area.

Active promotion

Firstly, the project isn’t just about infrastructure. The Cambridge area is facing growth equivalent to maybe doubling the city’s population in the next ten years. This poses all sorts of problems. If most of the newcomers drive, Cambridge will grid lock. Newcomers are less likely to be cyclists, less likely to have the ‘cycling culture’ of the city. So one of the key aims is to try to keep cycling levels up and to stop them being ‘diluted’ by people new to the area.

‘Soft’ measures like training, person-to-person approaches, marketing and promotion, and signage will form part of the programme.

So a large part of the proposed programme consists of what might be called ‘soft’ measures. These are things like training, person-to-person approaches, marketing and promotion, and signage. We’ve been asking for some time for marketing of cycling to be taken as seriously as it is for Park & Ride for example, so it is pleasing to see that this is included.

Quality and innovation

Secondly, there will be a number of high-quality routes built. These will be both within the City and connecting to necklace villages. The amount of money, though large, is not that large, so the project will only be able to fund a few.

Councillors, representatives of Cycling England and other interest groups accompany senior County Council officers for a whole day on bikes in and around the City looking at proposals.
Image as described adjacent

All parties accept that there is a need to raise the currently rather low standards of construction. Quality perhaps boils down to a small number of key factors: width, smoothness of surface (including dips from driveways), directness (no wiggles), lack of interruptions (giving way at side roads, for example) and lack of obstructions such as chicanes. So often in the past, minimum widths have been treated as maxima to aspire to and motorists have, as a matter of course, been given priority. In demonstration projects, land is likely to be purchased – something that has hardly ever been considered before – and possibly road space reallocated to achieve a much wider facility.

In town, some kind of ‘hybrid’ facility will be built to deal with the interruptions problem. This will offer an ‘off-road’ feel for those who need that security but should also satisfy those who wouldn’t normally use an off-road facility. And it definitely won’t be shared with pedestrians! We’ve covered this in some detail before – see Newsletter 74 for more background. We think that Gilbert Road is the ideal candidate for demonstrating this and have been saying this to the County Council; but where it actually gets built is still an open question.

We have also asked for various experiments at traffic lights to give exceptions for cyclists, better visibility of the lights and a fairer share of time especially at busy crossings. Some of this will depend of the co-operation of the Department for Transport, which maintains a stubborn and extremely tight control over what signs are allowed.

Can the Department for Transport be persuaded to allow a cyclists-only left filter light, commonplace in Germany?
Image as described adjacent

There is a serious possibility that before Hills Road bridge reopens next year, some of the space may be reclaimed for cycling under the badge of this project: perhaps with only three traffic lanes, with the space acquired from the fourth lane and the old central reservation being used for hybrid lanes on each side.

Compromise has too often been a characteristic of schemes in the past. It isn’t going to go away with these proposals, but we hope the larger amounts of money, the political will, the demonstrative purpose of the project, and the prestige factor will all reduce the compromises that need to be made. We can’t force Network Rail to rebuild the bridge on The Tins path, for example, but we can probably achieve a wide route leading up to both sides of it to the same kind of standard as past the nearby leisure centre. Cyclists aren’t the only people involved, of course. Everything will need to involve public consultation. Some compromise may be forced on the Council because many people don’t like change, people who don’t cycle don’t like giving up any car parking space (a political hot potato as well) or road space.

A tale of two cycle routes: The Tins (see cover) is a likely candidate for major improvement between Cherry Hinton and Mill Road to the same kind of high standard as this section past the sports centre
Image as described adjacent

Those bridges will have to be crossed. Our aspiration is to see in Cambridge construction to the standards expected by the Dutch. We think that those delivering the project within the County Council also want to achieve this if they can.

Fixing small problems

Thirdly, there will be money to put small things right. A team should be available to fix niggles. Though it initially appeared that the scope of this team might be rather limited, we are hopeful that other teams can be brought in to deal with things like undergrowth clearance, red and white painting and fixing unintended timing delays on signalled crossings.

We are optimistic about the project because it offers the possibility of a step-change in how cyclists are provided for in the Cambridge area.

Cycle parking is also included in the programme. We’re going to be recruiting you to help with this. We want to identify locations in suburbs and villages where there is currently no or substandard or inadequate bike parking. For example, there are a few bike racks in Fulbourn by the shops, but they are all of the wheel-bender variety – even the brand new ones at the village’s new community centre.

Involvement

Steve Garidis from Cycling England and Patrick Joyce, Cambridgeshire County Council’s Cycling officer, considering the Guided Busway at Histon, which will provide more than 20km of new cycle route alongside.
Image as described adjacent

Fourth, as partners in the project, we are hopeful that we can look at details – and the devil is in the detail – before things are as far advanced as they often are now before we see them. Many of the ideas we were developing for Cycling 2020, which you should all have received, were incorporated in the original bid. Things like promotion, which we have long advocated, have a good chance of becoming reality.

One scheme we can’t achieve as part of the project is the Chisholm Trail, the north-south route alongside the railway linking homes, schools, employment areas and hospital that we have been promoting for years. Among other things it would probably cost as much as the whole budget, not least because it involves a bridge. However, we are hopeful that the first step for this can be undertaken – a feasibility study to show what would be needed. Funding would probably then have to be handled as a one-off, like the guided bus (though not nearly so expensive!).

As I write, we are taking part in a series of meetings with Cycling England and the County Council to consider the specific programme of work that will implement the rather more general bid proposal and this will be fleshed out more in the next few weeks.

What won’t happen as a result of this bid is a new A14 bridge along the Histon Road corridor (though there will probably be improvements on the roundabout along with improvements through Histon out to Cottenham if this is one of the selected schemes). A bridge is way outside the budget. This really should be funded as part of the A14 rebuild, but the Highways Agency will almost certainly save small amounts now only for someone to have to pay a much higher bill to solve the problem later. Blanket 20 mph speed limits are unlikely now, though the subject came up in the discussions. Really major road space reallocation will have to wait for whether the big TIF project (congestion-charge-related project) proceeds.

Growing Cambridge’s ‘Cycling culture’
Image as described adjacent

We have recently been approached by lots of people in many of the villages around Cambridge about improving routes into the city, some of whom had heard about the Demonstration Town project. Some will be disappointed, as only a few demonstration schemes can be built.

However, we really hope that one result of the project will be raised aspirations for future schemes – raising the bar for the future. That would, perhaps, be the most positive outcome of the project overall.

We will let you know about some of the specific proposals and locations as they become firmer over the next few months. We are enthusiastic about the prospects for this project. So far at least it is really good news.

David Earl