Cycle paths gritted!

This article was published in 2011, in Newsletter 94.

Midsummer Common on Christmas Day 2010: clear paths.
Image as described adjacent

As the New Year unfolds and more wintry conditions are forecast, it’s time to take stock and review the Council’s efforts to keep the city’s major cycle routes open in all conditions. Snow and ice in previous years have been the subject of much anger by cyclists, ‘Once again, cyclists and pedestrians are being treated as second-class citizens when it comes to gritting of key routes’ (Cycling Campaign website) and the feeling was widespread, with a petition created by Cambridge resident Robert Oeffner getting over 1,200 signatures.

So it has been heartening to see the Council react to this pressure: after a consultation last October, a decision was made to purchase a quad bike with a snow plough on the front and a trailer of brine in tow. We understand that the quad bike is being used to treat the primary on- and off-road network of cycle routes within the ring road and is deployed when there is a forecast of five days or more of icy weather. Following a review of this trial in the summer of 2011 a report will be brought to Cabinet regarding the possibility of rolling out the treatment of cycleways and footways across the county.

A first-hand account

My personal experience was of feeling rather annoyed at yet another joy-riding motocross bike charging across Midsummer Common where my boat is moored up. It was only 10.30 in the evening and I looked out of the window to see if was worth calling the police for such an unpleasant disturbance. But this was no ordinary joy-rider! A quad bike, with flashing amber warning light, was motoring quite quickly up and down the common’s footpaths. It took me a few moments to work out what was going on but my initial dismay at the ugly noise quickly turned into happy thoughts of beautifully clear cycle paths throughout the city. Yippee.

Once the euphoria was over in the morning I was able to see what effect the brine spray had had. The timing couldn’t have been better as I was due to be on Radio Cambridgeshire at 7.00 am to discuss how our freight bicycles would cope in the wintry conditions. As I praised the Council, I could feel Jeremy Sallis’ tone of disgust as he assumed I was a Council employee in disguise. On my way into work that morning, I honestly didn’t notice much difference on the tow path as it had been a cold but relatively dry night. But I was keen to give praise after such difficult times last year and I knew this was a welcome change.

It was pleasing to see the quad bike out most evenings after this. On one occasion, the driver had an accomplice who appeared to help him clear the area around the bottom of Cutter Ferry bridge where there is a big cyclist and pedestrian junction. The rather zealous quad bike driver meanwhile was happy doing laps of the common, I suspect well over his speed limit….

Icy paths on Midsummer Common in 2009.
Image as described adjacent

Later in the week it snowed. No quad bike came out on that evening and by the following night, the snow had compacted and attempts at ploughing were totally futile. It meant that the brine spray took a lot longer to react as it needed plenty of foot and cycle traffic to do its work. That said, it did work and within the next 24 hours a clear patch of path had formed (about 60 cm – 2 feet – in width).


A quick look on the Council’s site for gritting tells me that the quad bike is being trialled this year so here are a few of my points to ensure the service is continued and improved upon.

  • This has made a MASSIVE difference to the areas the quad bike has been operating – for Council decision-makers: please continue and expand on this badly needed service.
  • Complaints from Cycling Campaign members have been down but there are areas that are not covered and the service could be extended.
  • Apparently bridges constructed of steel will dissolve with salt (I really can’t believe that any bridge will be seriously affected by a bit of brine?!) and presumably this is why both Riverside bridge and the Jane Coston bridge (particularly bad as it is so steep) were not gritted, causing most of the complaints.
  • Mr quad bike driver should go more slowly across the common. It may be late in the evening but one slower circuit will presumably dump as much brine as three circuits at breakneck speed.
  • The brine is sprayed over a strip approximately 60 cm wide. This is very narrow and it was almost impossible to have two people pass at the same time without going onto the icy sections.
  • It is really important to have the quad bike out as soon as possible after any snow has fallen to clear areas. The snow quickly compacts meaning the snow plough is useless and brine takes much longer to work on heavily compacted, icy snow.

Rob King, Outspoken Delivery