My way: a Histon to West Cambridge commute

This article was published in 2009, in Newsletter 85.

Histon resident Guy Pooley shares his route in the latest instalment of our occasional series of personal cycle journeys.

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For more years than I care to remember, I have cycled from Histon to Cambridge University’s West Cambridge site (just south of Madingley Road, near the Vet School). I thought that it was time to put down a few of my observations.

I live near the middle of Histon, and for the first mile or so there are two obvious options: straight down the B1049, or the parallel route through Histon and Impington, joining the main road just north of the A14 junction. The B1049 is none too friendly for bikes, so I nearly always avoid it, although if I were coming from the eastern side I might not. What is bad about it? It is busy; the speed limit is 40 mph until you get to the bridge, when it is 60 (or maybe 70, you could argue: the road is divided on the bridge). Southbound, there is no cycle lane until New Road, and there are (I think) six sets of assorted traffic lights between Histon Green and the A14. Northbound, there is a shared-use path running from Cambridge Road by the A14 over the bridge, then an on-road lane up to the war memorial; the shared-use path is much too narrow, especially by the New Road crossing where it is difficult to cycle through and the surface is rubbish.

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So what about the ‘scenic’ route, Station Road/Cambridge Road? Well, that is busy, too, including HGVs and cars going to the packaging plant or the Chivers site and lots of school-time traffic. It boasts a variety of ‘calming’ measures: raised sections at junctions, speed cushions and posts stuck in the roadway to force single-line traffic. In reality, parked cars do that quite well, and the posts not infrequently get uprooted by cars (probably a side-effect of the mediocre street-lighting). The surface is scrappy (see the repair work near Poplar Road, for example), and the HGVs near Chivers Way don’t help. You do get a splendid view of the Impington windmill, though.

Once I reach the B1049, I use the shared-use path up to the dreaded A14 flyover. Crossing two of the slip-roads is fine, as there are traffic lights; the other two are uncontrolled and you just have to wait for a clear gap. No use relying on the drivers to indicate! One of the crossing points has the distinctly unhelpful ‘Cyclists dismount’ notice (we don’t).

The red tarmac cycle path leading to Kings Hedges Road (F) seems to have a useful effect on drivers’ awareness.
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Once past here going south, there is the choice of the wide (3.5 m!) shared-use path, which would be wonderful if it did not involve three sets of lights and labyrinthine fencing at the King’s Hedges Road junction. I prefer the red tarmac strip on the main carriageway, which I believe has a useful effect on drivers’ awareness of the cyclists’ route. Shame they couldn’t have made the red stuff a bit smoother, and it still takes some nerve when you get overtaken by cars on both sides at once. Then down Histon Road, which has mandatory cycle lanes both ways (1 m wide: my handlebar span is 61 cm, so lots of room there …). The problem here is that there isn’t enough road left for the vehicles, particularly trucks and buses which have no real option but to edge into the cycle lane. Can be quite scary. There are various poor-quality road repairs along here, as well – a particularly nasty one just north (on the northbound side) of the Gilbert Road lights. I’ve tried complaining.

The good, the bad and the ugly: Impington windmill (C), a truck edging into the cycle lane on Histon Road (D) and poor quality road surfaces on Histon Road and Station Road, near Poplar Road (E).
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The cycle lane vanishes just before the Gilbert Road crossing. Soon after that I turn down Windsor Road, through the absurd pinch-point (why didn’t they include cycle by-passes?), via the snicket to Richmond Road (avoids the severe bumps in Oxford Road), across Huntingdon Road to Storey’s Way. More bumps, and a poor surface, here.

Lumps and holes that give a little bump to a car driver can be dangerous to a cyclist

Turn right at the chicane into the spur off Storey’s Way, along a dreadful bit of (unlit) track, and on to a good, tarmac, illuminated path round the back of the Institute of Astronomy. Full marks for this bit of the route. Then down the Madingley Rise access road (dodgy surface again), across Madingley Road (wide islands make that easier) and we are there. The West Cambridge site probably deserves a whole article to itself.

Improvements could be made to the two uncontrolled crossings on the A14 flyover (A) and the ‘wooden post’ style calming measures through Histon (B).
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What could be done to make the route better for cyclists?

  • General maintenance of the road surface. Lumps and holes that give a little bump to the car driver (so fall outside the list of faults that get fixed promptly) can be dangerous to a two-wheeler.
  • The A14 crossing: wouldn’t a cycle bridge be wonderful?
  • The much-used but very tatty track from Storey’s Way to the Institute of Astronomy needs some lights and a proper surface. I don’t know the legal status (or ownership) of this track, but the University-owned path around Astronomy is signed as a cycle route to Storey’s Way.
  • Speed limit on the whole of the B1049, preferably 30 mph (and 20 on Station Road/Cambridge Road?).
  • One day the NIAB site between Histon and Huntingdon Roads will be developed; I hope it gets a top-quality cycle route. Currently it is just a footpath, so cycling is not legal. It would be a valuable link in a ‘ring-road’.
  • Remove the wooden posts in the road – I think they do no good.

Guy Pooley