Madingley Road, one third of a project

This article was published in 2011, in Newsletter 95.

Map of Madingley Road cycleway

Construction of the Madingley Road cycleway has finished – but without fulfilling the original objectives. In fact, only one third of the original project has been delivered, yet all the budget has been spent.

Well constructed slip lane at the eastern end of the new cycleway.
Image as described adjacent

This is not the only project to suffer this kind of fate. For example, the Fen Ditton to Horningsea project was completed without a key plank of the scheme – traffic lights at the A14 slip road (see earlier article). The majority of northbound traffic turns left at this junction. We tried to cross the slip road at 5pm on a weekday. We waited for a full five minutes for a gap in the continuous flow of traffic. Under these circumstances, people will soon give up, choosing to cycle on the road instead – or not cycle at all.

As we’ve discussed at length elsewhere in this issue, the Gilbert Road scheme lost its traffic calming aspect at the eleventh hour. Only the cycle lanes were created and double yellow lines added. Even the flagship guided busway, which promises to be one of the area’s best cycleways, hasn’t been delivered yet. When it is, only half of it will be surfaced, some links, particularly to Over will be missing while others are of poor quality.

Notable for what is missing

The failure to deliver the Madingley Road scheme is spectacular. The outbound half of the project has simply been abandoned. We asked when this will be done, but were told simply that it won’t be. This means there will be no outbound lane on Madingley Road. This should outrage funders of the project, Cycling England, the City Council and the developers – as well as cyclists.

The outbound half of the project has simply been abandoned, which should outrage funders and cyclists

The part of the project that has been completed is woeful. Firstly, it starts a few hundred metres short of the Park & Ride site. Why? Surely linking the cycleway to the Park & Ride – and encouraging cycling – is one of the main targets? The choice between the exceptionally narrow, bumpy footpath or the fast, busy major road is a miserable one and will surely put cyclists off.

Secondly there is no way to join the cycleway at the important junction with Wilberforce Road. There is no flush kerb and opposite the junction is a metre of verge. what were they thinking?

Lazy compromises like putting lines round lampposts epitomise this scheme.
Image as described adjacent

Thirdly and finally, at the city centre end, there is a well-constructed slipway onto the road (given the absence of an outbound lane, it is unfortunate this is only usable in one direction) to the lights at Lady Margaret Road. However, this means cyclists are returned to the road at its busiest section, from the lights to the roundabout at the top of Queens’ Road. This section of road has one of the most vicious central islands in the city. This was immediately evident when I tried out the new cycleway. A car overtook in the gap, where there is barely enough width for a car, let alone a bicycle and a car. This island should have been removed to make way for an outbound lane, but that’s not going to happen.

They still don’t get it

This project could have been a model for this kind of scheme. Instead, it’s a travesty. The irony lies in the construction of the expensive aspects and the omission of the cheaper, promised parts, which would make the scheme complete.

The construction work is largely to a reasonable standard, but it manages to look like a wider pavement, rather than a cycleway. There is none of the consistency, segregation or kerbing that characterises Dutch cycleways. Given the lack of an outbound lane, many cyclists will want to use it in both directions. Consequently its adequacy is questionable, plus the Storeys Way junction design doesn’t work for those heading out of town.

One feature in particular perhaps most epitomises the lack of thinking and the continued lack of understanding. It is the lamp-posts in the middle of the cycleway. They should have been moved out of the way, instead white lines have been painted around them. Yes, viewed in isolation, this is a minor point, but we had high hopes that such nonsenses would not happen with this scheme.

The cycleway stops just in time to force you into one of the worst island pinch points in the city.
Image as described adjacent

Whose fault is it?

The Cycle Cambridge team know what is required. They know what a good cycleway looks like. Their design for this scheme matched many of their aspirations. The problem appears to be elsewhere within the Council. The team handed over the project for execution – placing it in the hands of officers, who don’t understand that lamp-posts within cycleways are matters worth addressing.

Existing cyclists will find some improvements on Madingley Road but can half-hearted construction like this attract new cyclists?

In other cases, individual councillors must take responsibility. Individual councillors axed specific components of the schemes at both Horningsea and Gilbert Road very late in the process. Between Histon and Cottenham the scheme has fallen through. Fiendish land ownership constraints and rules made acquiring the land in the time available impossible.

These mistakes are unlikely to be rectified in the face of the abolition of Cycling England and the lack of money in the foreseeable future. The cyclists these schemes were designed to attract with a ‘Dutch style experience’ will be disappointed if they have experienced the real thing. Existing cyclists will find some improvements, but can half-hearted construction like this attract new cyclists?

Perhaps we at the Cycling Campaign must also take some of the blame. We believed the rhetoric and the vision. We should have kept a closer eye on what was actually happening (or not) on the ground.

David Earl