Creeping blacktop

This article was published in 2011, in Newsletter 96.

Is mission creep always a bad thing?

When the Guided Busway was first proposed, there was some doubt whether a ‘maintenance path’ was a legal requirement, and if so whether compulsory purchase powers could be used to provide the small parcels of land required for a continuous adjacent path. Fortunately, no one adequately questioned this at the public enquiry, and hence we have such a path throughout its length.

One issue that was raised, but not totally resolved at that time, was how to ensure that the surface of the the maintenance path was suitable for commuter cycling. We soon had agreement that a blacktop (tarmac) surface should be provided on the southern section and as far as Histon in the north. Later, other funding was obtained to enable a similar surface as far as Longstanton. Beyond there, as far as St Ives, a ‘bound’ but not impervious surface similar to that used on some leisure routes was agreed. Any large impervious surface requires a drainage system. This meant that the Environment Agency was reluctant to permit extensions to a blacktop surface without an appropriate drainage system, lest localised flooding should result.

Problem: calculate how many tonnes of water falls on a one-hectare car park in a one inch (25mm) storm.

The trouble with such ‘bound’ surfaces is that they require more effort when cycling, when wet (or very dry…) clothes and especially trousers soon become dirty, and that the long-term maintenance costs are higher than with a blacktop surface.

We’ve now heard that the route will receive a blacktop surface as far as Swavesey. This is very good news, especially as such locations as Cambridge Regional College and the Science Park will be within about eight miles of easy cycling.

There is now only the last four miles to St Ives without a good surface. I’m sure that those in Over, Swavsey and Fen Drayton who commute or shop in St Ives would welcome a blacktop surface on this stretch once this section has been raised to the correct level and the flooding problem fixed.


Our next battle should be to get the urban sections appropriately lit.

We’ll have an extensive route that can be used by many who fear cycling on busy main roads, but the safety aspect of cycling on unlit routes in the twilight of winter afternoons now needs to be considered.

It is extremely annoying that much-used cycle routes in the urban fringe can run close by all-weather sports pitches or car parks using kilowatts of floodlighting, yet ‘environmental’ reasons are quoted for not using a few tens of watts to make such routes safer. Such routes don’t need to be ‘floodlit’, just to have sufficient energy-efficient lighting to ensure unlit pedestrians become visible.

Let us have more mission creep in this area, and less in others!

If you want to know the answer to the problem, it is 250 tonnes, and one hectare provides parking for around 250 cars. The amount of blacktop for such a car park also just happens to be about that required to complete the route to St Ives!

Jim Chisholm