Hills Road Bridge – a vision for its future

This article was published in 2009, in Newsletter 83.

Sketch of layout before the roadworks
Image as described adjacent

As many members will know, Hills Road Bridge has been reduced to two lanes of traffic since early last year. The narrowness of these lanes has caused many problems for cyclists, particularly attempts by a minority of inconsiderate motorists to overtake (despite multiple signs telling them not to), a situation not helped by the complete refusal of the police to do anything about this illegal and dangerous behaviour. We accept, however, that there really has been no option but to reduce Hills Road to two lanes, and that the space constraints have meant that they have to be very narrow lanes.

Hills Road Bridge as a barrier to many cycle routes

It has long been recognised that Hills Road Bridge is a real barrier to cycling for a great number of cycle routes. This is especially worrying given the high number of sixth-form students needing to use it.

Speaking as a ‘confident cyclist’ myself, Hills Road Bridge is one of a small number of areas of the city which I find scary. I can only imagine how it feels to less confident cyclists or those who are unable to cycle relatively fast. During its four-lane operation, going up the bridge, with many vehicles overtaking fast and very close, felt very unsafe.

Sign on Hills Road Bridge works

The bridge is far from being a cycle-friendly structure which children and parents would actively want to use, a scenario which is my ‘benchmark’ for streets around the city.

How to improve Hills Road Bridge in ‘peacetime’

A few years ago, the County Council undertook consultation on how to make Hills Road Bridge more cycle-friendly (under normal conditions rather than the current exceptional conditions). All the possible ‘solutions’ would have resulted in cyclists being put onto pavement cycle paths, perhaps with an additional side-bridge built on. They were all also very expensive changes, with a side-bridge costing perhaps £5m, which would be a poor use of the money.

When it comes to improving cycling, we have always argued in favour of the ‘Hierarchy of Provision’, as set out in several pieces of national government guidance or policy. This is as follows:

Consider first Traffic reduction
Speed reduction
Junction treatment, hazard site treatment, traffic management
Reallocation of carriageway space (e.g. bus lanes, widened nearside lanes, cycle lanes)
Cycle tracks away from roads
Consider last Conversion of footways/footpaths to shared-use cycle tracks for pedestrians and cyclists

At the bottom of the list is what the County Council previously consulted on. At the top of the list is traffic reduction. In practice, that means reducing the number of traffic lanes.

And traffic reduction is exactly what the current changes to Hills Road Bridge have done.

We think it is fair to say that the knock-on effects of the reduction to two lanes on Hills Road Bridge have not been as bad as some people predicted. People have adjusted to the situation.

Three motor traffic lanes rather than four

We wish to see Hills Road Bridge reinstated with a maximum of three lanes when the current works are finished. The current works have proved that Cambridge is not gridlocked, even with two lanes.

This would create space for 2 m+ hybrid cycle lanes on both sides of the road, providing an incentive for new cycle trips, and improving conditions for confident cyclists who already use the bridge. It would provide an ongoing incentive against the alternative option of continued traffic growth.

Proposed five-lane layout after the roadworks finish
Image as described adjacent

Therefore, Hills Road Bridge should, in our view, be reinstated as follows:

  • Go from the current two lanes (or normally four lanes) to three lanes, with one lane going up each direction and two going down. This would reduce queuing at the exit points. Each main traffic lane would be 3 m wide. (Another possible use of the third slot instead of downward queuing lanes could be a directional bus lane, perhaps.)
  • Removal of the current central island.
  • Addition of 2-2.5 m-wide cycle lanes, which approach standard continental widths. These should be of the hybrid cycle lane type, i.e. red surfaced (not lumpy screeding!) with a cobbled dividing line or periodic separators to discourage motor vehicles using them, or slightly raised.
  • On the downward stretches, where the cycle lane goes alongside two lanes of traffic, the (still red-surfaced) cycle lanes would need to be at the same height as the traffic lane, so that cyclists can move across. No specific ‘move across’ location should be marked out – as that manoeuvre will vary depending on other traffic.
  • Some kind of design solution for the ends of the bridge to deal with how traffic merges back at the junctions, but this is not insurmountable.
  • Advanced Stop Lanes (ASLs) at all junctions, longer than standard ASLs, reflecting the larger number of users.
  • A speed limit of not more than 30 mph, possibly 20 mph to connect with the 20 mph limit agreed for the station area.

We urge Councillors to think creatively about ways in which Hills Road Bridge could be made attractive to both confident and novice cyclists, and to make clear to council officers that retaining the previous status quo would not be in the best interests of the whole range of road users.

Martin Lucas-Smith