This article was published in 2009, in Newsletter 87.
In our last Newsletter I wrote a long article on the Cambridge Gateway scheme – the ambitious scheme to build a well-designed fourth arm leading to the station from the Hills Road/Brooklands Avenue junction (www.camcycle.org.uk/ newsletters/86). As part of this scheme, the road layout over Hills Road railway bridge is to be redesigned to make it more attractive for all users: pedestrians, car drivers, truck drivers, bus drivers and, of course, cyclists. The junction and the bridge are exceedingly important for cyclists as they lie on a cycle route which is used by more cyclists than almost any other cycle route in the whole of the UK. We strongly approve of many aspects of the most recent draft plans for the scheme that we have seen, but a number of the problems highlighted in the article remain unresolved, or only partly resolved, though most are under active discussion by County Council officers, ourselves and other interested parties.
The pinch point problem
By far the most important of these problems is the pinch point outside the Earl of Derby public house at the start of the slope up Hills Road bridge when travelling away from the city centre. At the island at the junction the width of the pinch point is already (at 4.01 m) too narrow for a road shared by very large numbers of cyclists and many buses and heavy goods vehicles. Cycling England recommend a minimum width of 4.5 m for the carriageway of a road of this sort (Design Portfolio, A.04, pages 4 & 5 –www.camcycle.org.uk/jumpto/nl86ce ). We consider that narrowing the present width by even a few centimetres is entirely unacceptable. It should, if at all possible, be widened to accord with Cycling England’s recommendation.
Since writing about this pinch point in the Newsletter we have received much support from local councillors of all three major political parties who share our concern about this. At a briefing meeting on 12 October a number of councillors spoke out strongly on the issue and since then others have taken the matter up in correspondence.
A possible solution
County Council officers do now fully recognize that this matter needs to be resolved and are actively looking for realistic solutions. Land acquisition to widen the road is not feasible and officers have now ruled out the use of cantilevered signals or signals on a gantry at this junction. The existing island will, we are told, have to be made a little wider to carry the complicated signs that will be needed. The only real remaining option to avoid making the pinch point worse is to remove the existing inbound cycle slip lane together with the island which protects it and to replace them with a new cycle lane without the protective island. With the removal of this island the width of the cycle lane could be increased to 2.1 m, which is wider than other cycle lanes in Cambridge. The surface would be red.
A suggested location for the cycle lane
But where would the lane be? Those involved suggest that the new cycle lane at the inbound approach to the junction should be between the left-turn traffic lane for vehicles turning into Brooklands Avenue and the straight-ahead traffic lane which would also be used by buses about to turn right into the new bus-and-cycle station access road. The location of the cycle lane between two traffic lanes would be similar to the cycle lane and traffic lane arrangement at the junction of Trumpington Road (outbound) with Brooklands Avenue and at the junction of East Road with Mill Road. We and others consider that, if very carefully designed, such an arrangement could work well. It would have the great advantage that it would remove the discrimination against cyclists using the existing cycle slip lane who get far less green traffic light time than traffic using the other two lanes. We do have anxieties about less confident and less experienced cyclists who might feel threatened by being sandwiched between two lanes of moving traffic, but we are encouraged by the width of the proposed cycle lane and by the fact that the similar arrangements in Trumpington Road, East Road and elsewhere in the city do seem to operate successfully. With such arrangements cyclists do not have to cut across traffic lanes with fast-moving traffic: instead, vehicles turning left have to cross clearly-marked red cycle lanes.
A valuable additional consequence of moving the cycle lane to the new position between the two traffic lanes would be to simplify signal phasing and improve traffic flow. This in turn could permit a short phase to allow cyclists to cross directly from the new fourth arm of the junction into Brooklands Avenue. Draft plans so far prohibit this crossing though they do permit crossing in the other direction – from Brooklands Avenue into the fourth arm which leads to the station. Removing this anomaly would be an important step forward.
Where should the sandwiched cycle lane start? There are basically two views: one is that it should start just after the crest of the bridge. The difficulty with this arrangement is that the sandwiched lane would be so long. Some cyclists would be very uneasy about cycling between two streams of traffic for the whole length of the downhill section of the bridge.
The alternative is to start the sandwiched cycle lane well down the slope of the bridge and perhaps at the toucan crossing to be constructed across the bridge just past the road entrance to City House. We have put forward a possible design in which the traffic signals at the toucan crossing would control the movement of vehicles into the left-turn lane leading to Brooklands Avenue. Cyclists wishing to turn left would, of course, share the left-turn traffic lane with motor vehicles.
The need for a 20 mph zone
Because of the real complexity of the junctions at both ends of the Hills Road bridge and the exceptionally large numbers of pedestrians and cyclists, we believe that this whole area – perhaps including Hills Road alongside the Sixth Form College – should have a 20 mph speed limit. The proposed new arrangements for the bridge should tend to slow traffic without the need for road humps and a 20 mph speed limit should reduce average speeds by a small additional amount. Even if the reduction were to be no more than 3 or 4 mph, there is good evidence to suggest that this would make a significant difference to the incidence and severity of crashes, especially those involving pedestrians or cyclists. A 20 mph limit for the bridge would connect well with the 20 mph limit for the whole of the CB1 station area development which was promised and agreed during the planning process for this development. (We are concerned that some County Council officers now do not accept that such a promise and agreement were made.)
The new toucan crossing
We are pleased to hear that the new toucan crossing is now likely to be lower down the bridge slope than originally planned. This will make the two new shared-use paths leading from it into the station area (which have now been agreed) much easier to design without awkward gradients or sharp bends. Cantilevered signals are, we are pleased to say, now likely to be acceptable for the toucan crossing. This will mean that no road island to carry signals will be needed for the crossing and that the outbound wide hybrid cycle lane will be able to start outside the Earl of Derby.
The out-of-town end of the bridge
There has been less discussion so far about provision for outbound cyclists at the southern end of Hills Road bridge. There are suggestions that a cycle lane between the two traffic lanes might be desirable there, but we have not yet formulated our views on this matter. We hope and expect that there will be detailed discussions in which we will be able to participate. One issue which must be clarified is how cyclists should turn right there. At present there is no provision at all for them and the traffic signals misleadingly indicate ahead only.
The city side of the Hills Road/Brooklands Avenue junction
More work has been done on designs for the new pedestrian crossing on the city side of the Hills Road/Brooklands Avenue junction. We favour a straight-across crossing rather than a staggered one. This would be likely to be more popular with pedestrians and would allow the road-centre island to be a little narrower, giving more space for a proper approach lane for outbound cyclists trying to reach the advanced stop box at the junction. The planned demolition of two houses could, we believe, also make a little more road space available for the approach lane if the location of trees to be planted on the pavement could be appropriately adjusted.
So matters are moving forward and we await the final proposals with both hope and some trepidation.