The Chisholm Trail – ten years on

This article was published in 2009, in Newsletter 87.

Those with long memories may remember that I wrote articles for the Cambridge Cycling Campaign’s Newsletter about a ‘Cycle Super-highway’ along the rail corridor through Cambridge some ten years ago. This was definitely aspirational, and some may have thought I wore rose-tinted spectacles.

Base map from OpenStreetMap licensed CC by SA
Image as described adjacent

Of course I didn’t call it ‘The Chisholm Trail’, which was in fact a route used to take cattle to a railhead for slaughter in Chicago, but that’s what the Newsletter editor called it and the name stuck.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, so what progress?

One outer section is already available, if on slightly different lines, as the National Cycle Network route from Shelford to Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Others will become available ‘soon’ as the cycleway/footpath alongside the Cambridge Guided Bus, both north and south of the City. This includes a route under Hills Road bridge, something I thought was almost an impossibility originally. Other sections have been included in revisions to the Cambridge Local Plan, and this gives some protection against development.

When Cycle Cambridge, with extra funding from DfT, started up some 18 months ago, we couldn’t hope that such a route could be planned, let alone built in the timescale or with the money available. What did happen was that an item appeared on the list, as a form of Option Assessment report to be undertaken by consultants.

When Cycle Cambridge, with extra funding from the Department for Transport, started up some 18 months ago, we couldn’t hope that a ‘Cycle Super-highway’ through Cambridge could be planned, but a scoping study has actually happened

Not only did such a scoping study appear on the list, but it has actually happened, and I’ve been given sight of an early copy, which has much positive text, with supportive diagrams: Option Assessment Report: Chisholm Trail Cycleway (Atkins).

Apart from Hills Road bridge, I’d thought that the major obstacle to a complete route would be a crossing of the Cam near the existing railway bridge at Stourbridge Common. Yet without such a bridge, the new Chesterton Station will be divorced from housing in Ditton Fields, which is almost within shouting distance! Surely you can’t build a £20 million-plus station without connecting it for walkers and cyclists with nearby major housing?

A view from Mill Road bridge showing the area of land leading up to the spare arch on the north-west side of the bridge which could be a valuable link on the proposed Chisholm Trail.
Image as described adjacent

Another clearly valuable link could utilise the spare arch on the north-west side of Mill Road bridge to provide a route for cyclists and pedestrians to Gwydir Street, Sturton Street, York Street etc. without the need to cross Mill Road at road level. Should the Council depot move from its current location, an excellent route could be created.

It was very pleasing to see that these two sections got top marks in terms of benefits, although, certainly for the bridge, not the easiest to achieve. The sections on the east of the rail line from Coldham’s Lane to the cycle bridge at the main station, which should not be difficult to achieve, were not seen as having the same benefits, although an eastern entrance to the station associated with a new island platform could easily change that.

As more links are added, the missing links would have more benefits.

This scoping study was mainly a walkabout and desk/map study, as access was not available over Network Rail operational land, although anyone can see most of the required areas by peering over one of the many bridges, if not from Google Earth.

It should be a linear park for cyclists and pedestrians, taking not just the minimum width with fences each side, but opening out, with green space, seats, and even trees

It made clear that the route would be of use for pedestrians, not just cyclists.

I suppose if I’d had a detailed read, I’d have found more faults, but my main initial concern was that it didn’t sell the route as a linear park, taking not just the minimum width with fences each side, but opening out, with green space, seats, and even trees (as long as the leaves don’t fall on the line). I wouldn’t like the route to be like the path approaching Newark rail station from the south, as that looks more like a prison walkway, with minimum width and high palisade fencing for nearly half a mile.

The next step, when the money is found, should be a more detailed engineering study giving cost estimates, as well as more details of the benefits, in terms of shorter journey times, modal shift etc.

To sell the idea that it should be a linear park, of use to all, and giving train travellers a less drab view of the approaches to Cambridge, should perhaps be the job of Cambridge Cycling Campaign. That might excite councillors of all parties.

Jim Chisholm

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