Cycle lanes worth the name are coming to Gilbert Road

This article was published in 2010, in Newsletter 91.

The new, wider advisory cycle lanes will bring an end to selfish car parking and make the road more cycle-friendly.
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Every vehicle stationary in a cycle lane forces cyclists into the main carriageway, exposing them to the very real danger of a collision. This also causes cars to slow, frustrating their drivers. While there is less traffic off-peak, the manoeuvre becomes even more dangerous because cars travel at higher speeds. Conflict should be designed out of the road layout, not built into it. Such environments put many people off cycling and displace others, especially younger cyclists, onto the footway, where cycling is in conflict with the law and they are at danger from cars reversing out of driveways.

15 years of campaigning for proper cycle lanes on Gilbert Road

Environments where there is conflict between cyclists and cars put many people off cycling and displace others, especially younger cyclists, onto the footway, where cycling is in conflict with the law

This situation is particularly bad on Gilbert Road, a wide road, three-quarters of a mile long, with a Traffic Regulation Order that defined an advisory cycle lane where parking is also permitted. Gilbert Road sees about 1000 cycle journeys per day with potential for many more. Campaigners’ and the Council’s efforts to make this road more cycle-friendly had stumbled for decades over opposition from some Gilbert Road residents, who wished to extend their generous off-street parking into the cycle lane. Cycling England (an independent body funded by the Department for Transport) offered Cambridgeshire a major contribution to the funds necessary to improve this road for cyclists and pedestrians. It could provide a welcome improvement for commuters and 1800 children at schools along the road.

The route of the fact-finding cycle ride for Councillors along Gilbert Road (with local schools marked). Base map from OpenStreetMap licensed CC by SA
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Gilbert Road is also an important link, as cyclists, unlike motorists, can continue their journeys straight on westwards through Oxford Road to the Observatory and the University’s West Cambridge Campus and south-east towards the Grafton Centre, Anglia Ruskin University and other popular destinations. For residents of Cottenham, Histon and Impington this road is part of the Northern Fringe cycling development and a popular route as they cycle into Cambridge. Making this link more cycle-friendly will persuade more people to cycle who currently don’t feel safe to do so.

Wider cycle lane, redmac, no parking

The scheme largely funded by Cycling England proposed a 1.7 m-wide advisory, redmac, cycle lane with parking restrictions indicated by double yellow lines. Loading restrictions will apply during the day, covering a period after 3 pm to avoid conflict during the time school children cycle home. While mandatory cycle lanes (MCLs) are the better option in theory, they could only have been 1.5 m wide. Also, MCLs can only be enforced by police, who do not retain personnel for this task, while an advisory lane with ‘double yellows’ can be enforced by LAPE (Local Area Parking Enforcement).

‘Measured speeds’ are 34 miles/hr

Current average ‘measured speeds’ on Gilbert Road are 34 miles/hr. Therefore, in addition to the removal of parking, 13 modern speed cushions with a physical separation from the cycle lane plus three raised tables at junctions were part of the package, in order to manage speed. The proposed traffic-calming is not to be confused with the old-fashioned type of road bumps. Instead, it is the type recently used on Cromwell Road, which causes no damage or discomfort to people driving sensibly.

Public consultation showed majority support for the Gilbert Road scheme

55% of people who responded to the Council’s consultation were in favour of speed reduction measures

The Gilbert Road scheme underwent a thorough public consultation process. Of the total of 566 people who responded to the Council’s consultation, 55% were in favour of the speed reduction measures. During the first half of the year it also received considerable attention in the press.

At Cambridgeshire Cabinet in February, Dr James Woodburn spoke for the Cambridge Cycling Campaign in favour of the Cycling England funded scheme, while Dr Henry Tribe spoke for a group of Gilbert Road residents petitioning to keep the parking and to leave the road as is. It looked as if the majority of the members of the Cambridgeshire Cabinet, none of them residing in the City of Cambridge, favoured parking over the safety of cyclists, and the Cabinet decided to postpone the decision for further consultation. Back in February 2010 it also seemed that most of them were not familiar with Gilbert Road. The Council’s position at that time is best expressed in a statement by its deputy leader, Cllr Mac McGuire: ‘It is right and proper that we should encourage cycling, but we should not do this at any cost.’ As the scheme will largely be funded by Cycling England and not the Council, it has to be asked if ‘cost’ refers to the ‘inconvenience’ caused to motorists who would no longer be allowed to park in the cycle lane.

Get Councillors to experience their cycling infrastructure

A road in Assen in the Netherlands of similar width to Gilbert Road..
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Much of Cambridge’s cycling infrastructure is well below standards found in cities where many (probably most) decision-making Councillors cycle regularly, like Groningen, Assen, Bremen, Münster, Oldenburg, Århus and Copenhagen. The Campaign’s Gilbert Road subgroup decided to hold a ‘fact-finding bike ride’ for Councillors at the time when children travel to school. Invitations were sent out (in print as well as by email) with photos

illustrating the situation on Gilbert Road. This helped to start some discussions with Councillors, including the Leader of the County Council. The Campaign is grateful to the officers, Councillors and stakeholders who attended the ‘fact-finding ride’ on Gilbert Road, among them a number of City and County Councillors from the Conservative, Green, Labour and Liberal-Democrat parties (alphabetical order!). Unlike the County’s Cabinet Members, the MP for Cambridge, Dr Julian Huppert, took time in the early morning to join the ride before taking a train to London to attend the opening of Parliament. The Cambridge News sent a photographer and BBC East and ITV both sent reporters who interviewed and filmed extensively. While Members of Cabinet cited other pre-9 am commitments, we think that the ride and publicity surrounding it (radio interviews, Cambridge News coverage and several clips on BBC East and ITV), and the local secondary school following up their support for the scheme with letters to Councillors and many other activities, have helped to change the opinions of some Councillors to something that could be described as: ‘It is right and proper that we want to please residents, but we should not do this at a risk to cycling commuters and school children.’

The group who attended the ‘fact-finding ride’ included the MP for Cambridge, Mr Huppert, who took his seat in Parliament for the first time later the same day.
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PDG recommending the scheme, a Labour Councillor petitioning against it

In a private meeting on 19 May 2010, a county council Policy Development Group (PDG) recommended the approval of the proposed scheme for Gilbert Road. However, Cabinet did not fully follow this recommendation. A last-minute petition tabled by City Cllr Todd-Jones (Labour, Arbury) and supported by some Labour politicians who live on Gilbert Road expressed the fear that the traffic-calming measures proposed would displace traffic onto side roads. It received about 270 signatures from residents of side roads in Arbury and Chesterton. This gave Cllr Todd-Jones speaking rights at the Cabinet meeting on 15 June 2010, where he asked for a further delay to draw up alternative plans without physical speed reduction. Those promoting the petition were aware that further delays seriously risked the funding for the Gilbert Road improvements and thereby any cycle lanes worthy of the name. To balance the new opposition, James Woodburn was invited to speak again on behalf of the Campaign. In this public meeting on 15 June 2010 Cabinet finally decided to alter the plans drawn up by officers and remove the traffic-calming element from the scheme, but maintaining the red-tarmac, 1.7m-wide cycle lane and parking restrictions.

The fact-finding ride attracted plenty of media coverage. Here the BBC and ITV appear ‘in tandem’ with Klaas on Gilbert Road (BBC Look East camera on the rack, ITV reporter with camera on the rear seat).
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Cars won’t be allowed to park in the Gilbert Road cycle lanes

The decision by Cabinet allows all groups to claim some sort of victory, except for the potential victims of speeding. While we all welcome a reduction in ‘road furniture’ and obstacles, many in the Campaign fear that speeds on Gilbert Road will go up; by then the Cycling England funds (which expire in 2011) may have vanished.

If motorists obeyed the law speed bumps wouldn’t exist

Members of Cambridgeshire Cabinet seem optimistic that a visual narrowing of the carriageway on Gilbert Road will suffice to reduce speeding. For the sake of the residents and for the safety of cyclists and the many school children in the area we hope their optimism is justified. We are very much looking forward to the widened, red cycle lane and parking restrictions on Gilbert Road, expected to be implemented by the end of 2010.

Klaas Brümann