Snow and Ice

This article was published in 2009, in Newsletter 83.

We think that the interpretation of ‘busy roads’ needs to be changed
so that it does not refer purely to motor traffic. Areas like Riverside are
busy roads for cyclists.

Snow and ice reappeared shortly after the article in the previous Newsletter (no. 82). Once again, we were inundated with people complaining about how most key cycle routes were being completely ignored by the County Council’s gritting regime.

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

Their website says:

‘Priority is given to maintaining safe driving conditions on an agreed network of roads, which will normally include all busy roads.’

We think that the interpretation of ‘busy roads’ needs to be changed so that it does not refer purely to motor traffic. Areas like Riverside, for instance, are ‘busy roads’ for cyclists and walkers.

Our survey

In an attempt to capture the many stories that we were receiving about the problems, we quickly set up an online survey. At the last count, 139 responses had been received – thanks to everyone who responded.

We asked:

  • What roads/paths/areas do you think should be prioritised for gritting/salting during icy periods?
  • If you or someone you know has had an accident or near-miss, please describe this.
  • Summarise in one sentence what your message to the County Council would be on this issue.

All the results, naturally in anonymised form, are on our website.

We presented the survey results to Councillor Matt Bradney at a press event covering Robert Oeffner’s petition (see below).

Survey results: priority areas

The main areas which came up time and again in our survey were the bridges and the paths across the Commons:

  • Riverside and the new Riverside Bridge
  • Jane Coston Cycle Bridge (over the A14 at Milton)
  • The other bridges (e.g. Green Dragon, Elizabeth Way, the ends of the Station Cycle Bridge) and their approaches
  • Paths across the commons (e.g. Coldham’s Common, Parker’s Piece, Stourbridge Common, Jesus Green, Midsummer Common, Lammas Land)
  • Coton Footpath/cycleway (town end in particular) and Burrell’s Walk
  • Paths from the villages (e.g. the NCN routes, ‘genome’ path to Shelford)
  • The most heavily-used local streets such as Gwydir Street
  • Major cycle paths such as alongside Milton Road

Survey results: personal experiences

Many respondents to our survey described accidents that they, or people known to them, had experienced. Here is a selection of the comments received:

‘I have seen a lot of people slip over, both cyclists and pedestrians. I also saw a nasty collision between two cyclists because one slipped into the other.’

‘Fell off on Coldham’s Common and on Stourbridge Common. Got whiplash and bruises. Unable to cycle on subsequent days.’

‘Colleague riding to work along Riverside, icy surface caused him to fall just before Green Dragon bridge. Broken femur! This was an experienced cyclist turning at slow speed.’

‘I took great care crossing New Street on Tuesday as it was very slippery even with me wearing walking boots. Shortly after a car turning from York Street into New Street spun through 180 degrees narrowly missing parked cars.’

‘Slipped while pushing bike over Green Dragon bridge and fell hard onto bike frame, injuring leg. I also saw 2 other people fall off their bikes in the same location within less than 5 minutes. Reported this to county council but was told no footpaths/bikepaths are gritted due to lack of manpower!’

‘I have seen many people struggling over the ice on these routes. Riverside, in particular, has been almost impassable in places.’

‘I fell off on Midsummer Common and on Riverside. Both of these routes have more cyclists on them than many gritted roads.’

‘I have seen school children falling off bikes on ice at the Histon roundabout, also walking on the slip road with cars rushing past at 60 mph.’

Survey results: messages to the County Council

We had a great response to our request for one-line messages to the County Council. Here is a selection:

‘25% of people go to work by bike – it is criminal that those used most by cyclists are ignored.’

‘Cyclists pay Council Tax and deserve some of your roads budget!’

‘The County still treats cycling as a mildly amusing, eccentric hobby rather than a means of commuting or generally getting around.’

‘We cyclists do you a massive favour all year in keeping congestion down by not driving; please do us the courtesy of remembering we exist when we need some assistance from you during the few days a year there’s snow and ice around.’

‘If the County Council is in any way interested in reducing car dependency and increasing cycle use it must be prepared to back it with action, and that means funding.’

‘Main routes for cyclists aren’t the same as main routes for cars.’

‘Why are bikes second-class to cars, when you are more likely to fall off on a bike?’

‘Cyclists need more support in freezing conditions than motorists do, because they balance on only two tyres.’

‘Current gritting policy is not Safer Routes to School or Demonstration City status.’

‘Learn what Risk Management means.’

‘26% of the commuting public in Cambridge deserve better!’

‘In my opinion, absence of gritting is criminally negligent.’

‘CCC planners need to up their game and proactively develop and plan cycling as a major transport and health-related activity.’

‘It costs more to fix a broken arm from a fall on the ice than it does to put down a bit of salt once a week.’

‘Bicycles are as important as cars in icy conditions – we are being discriminated against.’

‘It’s no use shifting cyclists onto the pavement unless you’re going to grit it.’


Robert Oeffner (left) presents his petition of over 1,200 signatures to County Councillor Matt Bradney (right). In between are County Councillor Julian Huppert, Martin Lucas-Smith, and Abbey ward Councillors Caroline Hart (City), Paul Sales (County) and Margaret Wright (City).
Image as described adjacent

We also circulated details of an independent petition by local resident Robert Oeffner. It read:

‘We, the undersigned, call on Cambridgeshire County Council to grit all major cycle routes in Cambridge during winter to ensure safe travelling conditions for the quarter of people who cycle to work in Cambridge.’

We congratulate him on his initiative, which resulted in 1,233 signatures.

Conflicting County Council policies

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

However, we received an e-mail from City Councillor Margaret Wright of Abbey Ward (which includes Riverside, the highest-profile area for problems) in which a residents’ association contact had helpfully noticed that the ‘Winter Maintenance’ heading in the Pedestrian section of the Local Transport Plan says, for footways (not cycleways):

The County Council shall set specific footway gritting routes for all category 3 routes and above. Gritting shall be undertaken whenever there is snowfall or if the temperature is forecast to fall below 0 degress for more than four hours.

(A category 3 route is a ‘link footway’ through urban areas and busy rural footways.)

Clearly this is more stringent than the main policy, and it seems as if inadequate scrutiny took place of this other (and for us, more helpful) policy, targeted for implementation by 2006!

Next steps

Councillor Matt Bradney has commissioned a review of the winter maintenance policy. Given his welcome and helpful support expressed at the Cycling Demonstration Town meeting we attended recently, we hope that gritting of cycle routes will be improved in future years.

Martin Lucas-Smith