Brrr – it’s cold and icy

This article was published in 2009, in Newsletter 82.

A cyclist braves Lammas Land in the snow.
Image as described adjacent

Have you cycled all through this cold weather, and have you fallen off? We have had reports of a number of accidents, including some serious ones. Particularly hazardous areas seem to be the path under Victoria Bridge and along Riverside near the new cycle bridge. This December and, so far, in January it has been far colder than for many years. In my teenage years I kept weather records through the ’62/63 cold winter, and this doesn’t compare with that, but the weather has raised some issues. I also had cycle races in ’62/63 with friends on a frozen local pond!

Firstly some facts. I’ve used the records published from the automatic weather station at the University’s Computer Laboratory West Cambridge site.

Below are the average and minimum temperatures for December and January in the last six years (please note that the figure for January 09 is for the first half of the month only).

temperature chart

As you can see, although the ‘climate’ is almost certainly getting warmer, the weather has been cold this year. Our correspondent in the Netherlands is surprised we can’t cope, and that the local authority do not salt each day it may freeze.

Winter maintenance

I think there is more than one issue here, but we are pressing for key cycle routes to be maintained to a higher standard and that should include ‘winter maintenance’ to a higher standard. The current county standards say that footway and minor routes should be salted if temperatures fall below zero for five consecutive days. This policy might have been reasonable ten years ago, when local authorities were not able to obtain accurate forecasts of conditions when ice would form, but now there should be few days with false alarms and hence wasted effort.

The current county standards say that footway and minor roads should be salted if temperatures fall below zero for five consecutive days.

I do think we’ve had unusual conditions this year and it isn’t just the cold. I’ve been a commuting cyclist for 35 years and I’ve only had two days when I can remember rain froze overnight, before this year, yet I’ve seen three days so far this winter – or perhaps my memory is failing!

Poor design and maintenance certainly don’t help. Standards say a cycle path shouldn’t have significant crossfall (slope from one side to the other). Many do, for example Hills Road near Addenbrooke’s. If ice forms, with such a crossfall, even a competent cyclist risks a fall. Similar problems occur with poor reinstatement, raised ironwork, or kerbs that are just ‘dropped’ rather than made properly ‘flush’.

If you’ve fallen off because of ice and been hurt, we’d like to hear where, when, how you were hurt, and if hospital was attended.

Let’s hope that by the time you read this we will have had an early spring.

Jim Chisholm