The Cambridge Gateway: proposals for Hills Road bridge and the Hills Road/Brooklands Avenue junction

This article was published in 2009, in Newsletter 86.

Trial lanes over Hills Road bridge are primarily to confirm traffic modelling which indicates that a motor traffic single lane up each side of the bridge will not cause serious additional congestion. If successful, the central reservation would be removed so that cycle lanes can be accommodated both up and down the bridge as well as lanes for motor traffic.
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The County Council is currently drawing up provisional new designs for what they call the Cambridge Gateway, which is the road and path layout for Hills Road bridge and for the Hills Road/Brooklands Avenue junction including the new road from the junction which will lead into the station. These proposals are for the permanent changes which will follow the trial of cycle lanes on the bridge which, at the time of writing, has just started (see later in this Newsletter). Public consultations on the permanent proposals were held on 8th and 10th September.

Recently representatives of the Campaign attended a briefing for councillors and stakeholders and an additional on-site meeting just for us at which a number of our concerns were raised and discussed.

In general, we greatly welcome the proposals which will at last address the lack of provision for cycling on the bridge. Many cyclists, especially children, the elderly and other less confident cyclists, have for years found cycling over the bridge very intimidating. The situation has of course been worse over the last year during the engineering work to construct the guided busway beneath the bridge, but a real problem existed long before then and possible solutions were discussed as long ago as 2006 (see, for example, Newsletter 65).

In general, we greatly welcome the proposals which will address the lack of provision for cyclists on the bridge

The Campaign has long stressed that cycling provision on the bridge should be on-road and that off-road provision shared with pedestrians would not be satisfactory here where the numbers of cyclists and of pedestrians are so high. According to County Council figures, around 4,000 cyclists cross the bridge every day, which is one of the highest figures recorded anywhere in the UK.

The proposals which we have seen start with a basic layout which is similar to that described in our article in Newsletter 83, which is for three traffic lanes (one in each direction uphill as far as the crest of the bridge and two downhill from the crest of the bridge) in place of the present four lanes. This reduction from four traffic lanes to three coupled with the removal of the reservation all along the centre of the road will leave enough space for a two-metre-wide mandatory hybrid cycle lane along each side of the road. The proposed layout should not, the County Officers inform us, significantly increase traffic congestion and tailbacks over what they were before work started on the guided-bus alterations to the bridge. The trial of cycle lanes which has just started will be a rough-and-ready test of whether congestion will be increased.

A simplified sketch of the County Council’s proposed permanent design on which they are consulting (comments are ours).
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Hills Road/Brooklands Avenue/station access junction

The proposals are that the present cycle lanes at each end of the bridge should remain much as they are at present, but there are to be major changes to the Hills Road/Brooklands Avenue junction. A fourth arm to the junction is to be constructed opposite the end of Brooklands Avenue.

This new road will lead into the station as envisaged in Ashwells accepted CB1 planning application. The new road will be only for authorised buses and for bicycles. The present proposals allow cyclists travelling north over the bridge to turn right with the buses into the new road. However, both we and the planners recognise that this manoeuvre is suitable only for confident cyclists. The expectation is that the majority of cyclists coming over the bridge and heading for the station will pull up onto the pavement just past the entrance into the Unex (City House) development and cross the road on a new light-controlled, single-stage Toucan crossing from the end of which a new three-metre-wide shared-use path will provide an alternative route into the station.

The majority of the small Campaign group which attended the briefing and/or the on-site meeting strongly support the principle of these measures which represent, in our view, a major step forward in provision for cycling in this area. However, we believe that there are still some serious snags, listed below, which urgently need correction before current designs become set in stone.

Serious snags

It is proposed to narrow the section past the Earl of Derby pub into the critically bad range for bikes: 3.1 m instead of the current 5.4 m. This undermines the excellent proposals for the bridge itself.
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A dangerous pinch point. This is the most serious problem. The cycle lane on the southbound side of the bridge will not start at the Earl of Derby pub but will instead only start after the Toucan crossing which is to be some way up the bridge. In the stretch from the pub to the crossing, cyclists will be dangerously squeezed. At present the single traffic lane here, shared by cyclists and motor vehicles including many heavy vehicles, is 5.4 metres wide (measured at the southern boundary of the pub land).

We are told that, not merely will there be no cycle lane here in spite of the fact that there is currently plenty of space to construct one, but that the traffic lane will be narrowed to 3.1 metres which would be a thoroughly unsatisfactory, even dangerous, width for cyclists. Government guidance advises against traffic lanes of this width where they are shared with cyclists (see TAL 15/99, cited in LTN 02/08, Cycle Infrastructure Design ( pgr/roads/tpm/ltnotes/ltn208.pdf) which advises that:

gaps of between 2.75 metres and 3.25 metres over any distance should be avoided, as car drivers may attempt to overtake even though there is insufficient room to do so safely.

Since work on cycling improvements on the bridge is promoted by Cycling England, it would be bizarre to create a pinch point directly contrary to their advice. They advise against traffic lanes with buses and heavy goods vehicles which are shared with cyclists of between 2.75 metres and 4.5 metres wide (Design Portfolio, A.04, pages 4&5 –

We suggest that, if this pinch point remains in the plans, all the other new provision for cyclists on the bridge will fail to attract those less confident cyclists who are at present understandably hesitant to use the bridge. The reason for the narrowing of the traffic lane (and the failure to plan for a cycle lane) along this stretch results from the proposal to insert two islands for traffic signals.

If this pinch point remains in the plans, all the other new provision for cyclists on the bridge will fail to attract those less confident cyclists who are at present understandably hesitant to use the bridge
An example of a cantilevered signal at the Gonville Place crossing.
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The first island would be in the Toucan crossing even though the Toucan is, we are pleased to see, to be single-stage with press-buttons at each end and not on the island. In our opinion the island is wholly unnecessary and the traffic signal intended to be placed on it should be replaced by a signal suspended from a cantilevered post on the pavement (on the station side) like the one at the Gonville Place crossing (see photo). The second new island would separate the two northbound traffic lanes which, of course, have different traffic signal phases. Again we consider that the island is unnecessary and that the traffic signal intended to be placed on it should be replaced by a signal suspended from a cantilevered post on the pavement (on the City House side). Mike Davies of the Cycle Cambridge team tells me that he and his colleagues will now look into the possibility of cantilevered signals at these locations.

Whether these suggestions are or are not taken up, what really matters is that the 5.4 metre southbound traffic lane (at the southern boundary of the pub land) should not be reduced in width and that the cycle lane should start at this point. To create a new, seriously intimidating pinch point there would make all the improvements to cycling provision on the bridge largely pointless.

Crossing into Brooklands Avenue. Although cyclists travelling from Brooklands Avenue will be permitted to cross directly into the new road to the station, those travelling in the reverse direction will be prohibited from crossing directly from the new road into Brooklands Avenue. Obviously this will be extremely confusing, particularly for those many cyclists who are not familiar with the details of the local roads and who may not find it easy to work out an alternative route.

Plans for the new junction don’t allow cycles to go from the station into Brooklands Avenue.
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This prohibition will, we believe, have safety implications. There is no simple, obvious, safe alternative way of crossing the road here, even for those cyclists who may choose to get off and wheel their cycles. The Toucan crossing is some distance away up the bridge and using it after coming to the end of the new road at the junction involves an awkward detour. We ask that the traffic light phasing be looked at again to provide a short phase to permit cyclists to make the direct crossing.

To expect all cyclists wanting to cross into Brooklands Avenue to divert via the new Toucan crossing or to use Station Road and the triangle route via Vinter Terrace is unrealistic. However, using the Vinter Terrace route and the existing crossing outside the Royal Albert Homes could be a useful alternative way (particularly if the crossing were to be made into a toucan) for getting onto the shared-use path on Brooklands Avenue.

Advanced Stop Lines. At all the stop lines at the traffic signals at the Brooklands Avenue/ Hills Road junction, Advanced Stop Lines (ASLs) with red surfacing are needed (and designed in accordance with Cycling England’s guidance in their Design Portfolio). It is particularly important that there should be ASLs in the outer traffic lane for inbound traffic which will be used by buses and confident cyclists turning right into the new road to the station. ASLs will give a much-needed indication to bus drivers that cyclists are legitimately turning right there. The road surface marking in the middle of the junction, which on the plans says ‘Buses only’ with a right-turn arrow, must be modified to say ‘Buses and cycles only’ and ideally there should be an area where right-turning cycles can wait in front of the buses.

Signs at the entry to the new road into the station. There are to be rising bollards a short distance along this road to limit entry to authorised buses and to cyclists (there will, of course, need to be a bypass for cyclists). The signs at the bollards and those giving advance warning of the bollards will, we understand, need Department of Transport approval and obviously it will be simplest if the signs are similar to those used at rising bollards elsewhere in the city. The present proposals are to have ‘No entry’ signs at the entrance to the new road with an ‘Except buses’ board below (which curiously is permitted even though ‘Except cycles’ is not). There would be an island and a 1.5 m cycle slipway alongside to let bicycles through. Committee members consider that the board beneath the no entry sign should say ‘Except authorised buses’, but disagree about the desirability of the proposed separate slip lane and island for cyclists here. A 20 mph sign will also be needed as the whole of the CB1 development is to have a 20 mph limit.

Path needs straightening. There is to be a two-metre wide shared-use path from the end of the new Toucan crossing and leading into the station. As currently planned the path has awkward twists and turns and in particular it involves a significant detour for those coming along the guided bus maintenance track/cycleway from, say, Trumpington and heading for Homerton or the Hills Road Sixth Form College. We consider that a better route, either as an addition or as an alternative, would be a more direct route along the signal box boundary, through or alongside the new signal box car park to join the guided bus maintenance track/cycleway.

A proposed alternative route to the Station involves a ramp off Hills Road bridge. Whether this would be a continuous surface with the footway on the bridge or whether the wall would remain is still under discussion. A U-turn would be needed and then, even though the buildings are going to be demolished and there is a clean sheet to work on, the width will be compromised by one of the proposed buildings.
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Alternative routes The proposed improvements to Hills Road bridge form part of a series of initiatives which should improve cycle routes to the station. Firstly, access to the station from the cycle bridge which links Rustat Road with Devonshire Road is due to be improved when Ashwells go ahead with the CB1 development. Secondly, the guided bus maintenance track/cycleway should provide good station access avoiding Hills Road bridge for pedestrians and cyclists from Addenbrookes, from Long Road and from Trumpington (and later from a proposed link through the CUP development in Clarendon Road). Thirdly, the railway authorities plan to construct a new island platform for trains travelling south (towards London) close to Rustat Road. We believe that it is essential that the land set aside at the Rustat Road/Davy Road junction for the creation of a new station entrance giving access to the island platform (and to the station more generally) be utilised. Sadly, there is no indication yet that the rail authorities will construct this new entrance.

James Woodburn