On 23rd February Cambridgeshire County Council Cabinet considered the proposed improvements to Gilbert Road put forward by the Council’s Cycle Cambridge team. We submitted a well-supported petition in favour of the proposals and were allowed three minutes to speak. Many Gilbert Road residents were opposed to the proposals and they submitted an opposing petition and were also allowed their three minutes.
After discussing the issue, members of Cabinet decided to defer their decision in order to allow further consideration at a private meeting of the Growth and Environment Policy Development Group on 17th March. The matter will then come back to Cabinet on 27th April. They will have to make a decision then between three possible outcomes: to leave Gilbert Road as it is now, to accept the proposed developments in full, or to accept modified proposals.
We shall continue to press for full acceptance. The County Council received 566 responses – an exceptionally high number – to their consultation. Of these, 73% supported improved cycle lanes and prohibition of car parking in these lanes. Nearly twice as many respondents preferred 1.7 m lanes with double yellow lines to rather narrower mandatory lanes. 55% supported the proposal to reduce speeds by means of raised tables and speed cushions. So the full proposals that Cycle Cambridge proposed and we supported were backed by very clear majorities of respondents. The two county councillors representing the area both supported the proposals.
The difficulty for Cabinet members was the opposition by many Gilbert Road residents, a number of whom attended the Cabinet meeting. In their responses only 36% supported improved cycle lanes, though 53% did support the proposed speed reduction measures. Our view is that policy for a road like Gilbert Road should not focus primarily on the views of residents. Here very large numbers of people – pedestrians, cyclists and motorists – who do not live there use the road as a route to and from the city centre and as a route to and from very many other places including the station and Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Gilbert Road is both a place of residence and a road link. It will become even more important as a link when the huge NIAB developments are constructed.
In his speech at the meeting, the residents’ representative cited daily figures of some 6,000 cars and 850 cycles using the road and suggested that this indicated that priority should be given to cars. I would interpret these figures quite differently. Given the fact that Gilbert Road lies in the catchment area of three schools – Chesterton Community College, Milton Road Primary School and Mayfield Primary School, attended by a total of more than 1,800 children and young people – the figure for the number of cycle journeys (including those to and from school) and those of all other cyclists using the road seems surprisingly low for Cambridge. It suggests to me that something is wrong. Illegal pavement cycling along Gilbert Road is frequent and this points to what is rather obviously wrong – cycling on the road is unpleasant and intimidating, even at times dangerous. On-road cyclists have to pull out around parked cars into relatively fast traffic. The road design favours cars at the expense of cyclists. This is what Cycle Cambridge’s proposals are designed to correct. They seek to treat cyclists more fairly and in this way to encourage less confident cyclists to cycle more often and on the road. Balancing provision for motorists and cyclists reduces traffic congestion by stimulating cycling and reduces the incentive to use a car for short journeys.
Although in their responses to the County Council questionnaire a majority of residents had supported Cycle Cambridge’s proposed speed reduction measures, their spokesman at the Cabinet meeting proposed instead a 20 mph speed limit without other speed reduction measures. We too strongly support 20 mph limits provided that they are area-wide, actively promoted, sustained and monitored throughout the area, and effectively and visibly policed . Since these criteria are not sufficiently satisfied in this instance, the speed reduction measures proposed by Cycle Cambridge are, we believe, both desirable and necessary, though we think that they could, now or later, be coupled with a 20 mph limit.
If motor vehicle speeds are reduced and the more popular of the two cycle lane options – 1.7 m wide high-quality smooth red tarmac lanes with double yellow lines to ban parking – is implemented, this will so encourage cycling that we are likely to see a large increase particularly in the number of schoolchildren who cycle to school. In this whole affair the needs of children are what matter most of all.
Residents are understandably worried about loss of their on-road car parking. But almost all have off-road car parking on their own premises and our counts show that if the verge parking by commuters near the exit onto Milton Road is discounted, there are usually only around twenty cars parked along Gilbert Road and it is these that are causing such difficulties for those who cycle. We have checked the availability of parking along the side roads and established that it should normally be easy to find a space nearby. If more children cycle to school, the side road congestion at times when parents deliver their children to school will be reduced. Car parking will almost certainly continue to be easier in this area than in other areas a similar distance from Cambridge city centre.
We would like to reassure residents on another important matter. There is a great deal of illegal pavement cycling along the pavements on both sides of Gilbert Road. We do not criticise this where the cyclists are very young children but we deplore it when others break the law. It is intimidating for elderly pedestrians and especially for all who are blind, partially sighted or otherwise incapacitated. If on-road conditions for cyclists are improved, we confidently predict that the illegal pavement cycling menace will cease to be the problem that it is today.