Cycling along the busway

This article was published in 2010, in Newsletter 88.

It seems a bit mean for people to be complaining about the cycleway from Milton to St Ives when it isn’t even open yet.

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

Very soon now there really should be an off-road cycleway 4 m wide all the way from north Cambridge to St Ives, via the Regional College and Science Park, Histon, the new town at Northstowe, Longstanton and Swavesey. This will form one of the highest-quality cycleways in the area, if not the whole country.

It was rather unfortunate that the November opening date for the busway was announced before the contractors’ work had been checked. Sadly, there 
were rather a lot of faults to be fixed, 
some quite serious, so it still isn’t open. 
No doubt the wintry weather will not have helped in fixing these. That hasn’t stopped people complaining already about the 
state of the cycleway alongside though! This does, however, show the level of interest there is in the new route: it has been accessible unofficially for some months now and is already being used extensively despite the work which 
remains to be done.

Providing the teething troubles 
really are sorted out, the busway 
should provide 20 km of excellent, high-quality, fast and direct off-road cycleway of a standard never 
before seen in Cambridgeshire

The section from Milton Road to Longstanton will be surfaced as soon 
as the County Council takes over the 
site from the contractors. Though 
west of Histon the surface is already reasonable, the section nearer Cambridge is a temporary surface and you cannot judge the quality of the route from what is there now. Once surfaced this will be an extremely fast route into north Cambridge. When a rail station is eventually built at Chesterton, the junction at Milton Road will be remodelled, making it easier to turn off the cycleway towards town. In the meantime, there is a shared-use cycleway which doesn’t quite link up with the crossing near the Golden Hind, but is otherwise quite good.

The other problem that is immediately obvious to anyone who has tried it in this damp winter is the regular flooding between Swavesey and St Ives. We are assured that this is a fault which will be put right by the contractors before the route opens. Most of the flooding is caused by inadequate drainage, but the worst problem is between the Ouse bridge and the St Ives Park & Ride site where the cycleway has incorrectly been built below the level of the adjacent lake and inevitably fills with water. Indeed, this fault is one of the larger reasons why the busway has not yet opened.

West of Longstanton the cycleway will not have a hard surface. Despite years of asking, the County Council has not agreed to surface it properly. It is pretty smooth as it stands, but the bad weather shows just how quickly it will deteriorate once the water gets at it. We can expect big gullies in it by next winter, I think. The problem is apparently one of drainage, or perhaps more precisely the Environment Agency’s serious concerns about water run-off.

The high-quality cycleway along the route of the guided bus will be ready soon, but there are still problems with flooding between Swavesey and St Ives (top) and some sections still to be surfaced, as the short section past the Regional College has already been (bottom right). The Orchard Park section is complete (bottom centre). The Milton Road junction (bottom left) will eventually be remodelled when the Chesterton rail station is built.
Image as described adjacent

More links

I accompanied John Grimshaw of Cycling England (and Rohan Wilson for Sustrans) along the cycleway in December with a view to identifying where additional access might be needed for cyclists. As the County Council is providing the cycleway as part of its matched funding towards the Cycle Cambridge project, Cycling England has a serious interest in the quality of the provision here.

I think John, like myself, was rather favourably impressed by the route, notwithstanding the present problems.

There are a few links to villages which could do with improving. There is a particular need for a link to the Over to Longstanton road at Windmill Bridge: 
we are fairly confident that Cycling England can make this happen. Getting into Oakington on the road from Cottenham is a bit intimidating, but 
there is an alternative after a short way, 
so building a link there is desirable.

Bike racks are needed at the countryside stop in the lakes area east of the Ouse. 
We are told that the RSPB may provide some. Quite why the County Council can’t is curious. They have everywhere else, with covered, well-lit and reasonably numerous Sheffield stands. Bike-and-ride from Swavesey should be a doddle for those who feel cycling it all is a bit far (though those people should try it – it is such easy and fast cycling that it may surprise them).

The section around Orchard Park (formerly Arbury Park) is also now completed and surfaced, so it is possible to avoid Kings Hedges Road and get to the Science Park and Regional College from Histon Road via the busway.

In the south, the section from the railway station to Trumpington is nowhere near complete yet and it will be in the middle of development even when it is finished, as work on the Addenbrooke’s overflow starts and Clay Farm (south of Long Road west of the railway) really gets going. Linking with the Cycle Cambridge scheme around the back of the Park & Ride site and over the M11, this will form a really good route from Harston to Addenbrooke’s, the city and the station.

Providing the teething troubles really are sorted out, the busway should provide 20 km of excellent, high-quality, fast and direct 
off-road cycleway of a standard we have never experienced before.

David Earl