This article was published in 2009, in Newsletter 86.
Ranked as the third and fourth most dangerous sections of road in the county, consultation has begun on proposals to change the two stretches of Mill Road on either side of the railway bridge. £400,000 has been allocated for the project.
The proposals are for a 20 mph zone punctuated with a series of flat-topped speed tables at the junctions and interspersed with cushions at 60 metre intervals. Each of the flat-topped tables will be at least 6 metres long to make the bumps gentle enough for bus passengers.
The aim is to achieve a round-the-clock reduction in speed to 20 mph. The consultation proposals include detailed maps showing the number and types of injury-collisions at various points along these stretches of Mill Road. The most significant are at the turns immediately on either side of the railway bridge, but those tend to happen in the small hours when speed and alcohol are larger factors.
Given that most of us are in favour of reducing the speed on this road, I think the most significant questions the Cycling Campaign should be considering are:
- Are the proposals likely to be politically acceptable?
- Will they work?
- Should we ask for any amendments?
In answering the first point, there has been quite a bit of manoeuvring to keep Mill Road on the county’s accident reduction agenda. Many ideas have been considered including plugging Mill Road at the bridge to stop it off as a through route for motor vehicles. Another option, to introduce a 20 mph limit (rather than zone), has been discounted as unenforceable. So this is a compromise proposal that uses physical measures to change the character of the road.
The speed tables will be the full width of the road, and bring the road up to the level of the pavement. These will have fairly gentle ramps and will have a more of a psychological rather than a physical effect on traffic. They will create extended crossing points for pedestrians, who I would think will welcome this. There should be little impact on cycling.
The other main measure is installation of the speed cushions. I saw quite a lot of speed cushions of this type in Newquay (see later in this Newsletter), but they also exist in Cambridge, e.g in Coronation Street. These are humps with a curved top and feathered edge with the road surface. The plan is to put these so that the left hand edge of the cushion starts at least 1 metre into the road from the kerbside.
My anxiety about the speed cushions is that they encourage the dangerous practice of gutter cycling. This is where cyclists put themselves at the edge of the road, effectively inviting traffic to overtake when there is not really enough room. However, drivers of wide vehicles also know that they can avoid a jolt by getting their wheels to pass either side of the cushion. So a bit of competition is created for the space between the gutter and the cushion. Where there are more severe road humps than those proposed here, I’ve seen drivers overtake a cyclist and then cut in to avoid riding the peak of the cushion.
One final thing about the proposals is the slightly radical suggestion of removing the road centre line. This will introduce an element of uncertainty about the line motor vehicles should take, and so should also slow down the traffic. It’s a bit of an unknown, but I think worth trying because it could encourage motor vehicles to give cyclists more room when overtaking.
We’ve not asked for cycle lanes because there is not enough room to accommodate them at sufficient width. But one amendment I would like to see is an exception for cyclists to the banned right turn into Kingston Street – this ought now to be possible given that a speed table for that junction is included in these proposals.
My own experience of Mill Road is that at certain times of day I avoid it because the longer alternative routes via the cycle bridge over the railway station, or via Gwydir Street, are more pleasant and can be quicker. When I do use it, I notice that most other cyclists are riding in the gutter or on the inside of queueing traffic. That makes slow, unpleasant and dangerous progress and I don’t think the proposals address this issue.
All these proposals are necessary because of the unwillingness to enforce the existing speed limits or the loading and unloading restrictions. It is hard to predict how effective these measures will actually be if implemented, but if they create a calmer atmosphere and take away the apparent urgency of all traffic to travel at the max then they will help make Mill Road a more human place and less of a rat run.