This article was published in 2011, in Newsletter 96.
A press release by Cambridgeshire County Council reports that traffic surveys on Gilbert Road in March 2011 ‘carried out by independent consultants have revealed that cycling levels have increased by 9.5%. Traffic levels have decreased by 12.5% and the average speed of vehicles has fallen by 6% following the completion of work in January.’
The whopping decrease in motor traffic was higher than expected. The numbers may have to be taken with caution, as they are based only on a one-day survey in February 2010 against a one-day survey in March 2011, soon after the installation of the new, continuous cycle lanes. Many factors influence whether people drive or cycle: for example, day of the week, weather, petrol prices and road works. Perhaps drivers are choosing different routes, or have switched to public transport (or bicycles). More surveys might shed light on the question but would be time-consuming to undertake, even using volunteers, and cost money. It is quite possible that any change to a road layout leads to changes in the behaviour of those that use it, including choosing not to use it. As modal shifts don’t happen within weeks of installing a cycle lane, a traffic survey at a later date may provide a clearer picture.
‘The project included widening the existing lanes on Gilbert Road, and adding a high-quality red surface. Parking restrictions were put in place to ensure the lanes were left unobstructed, providing a safer link from villages north of Cambridge to the city centre.’
During the consultation many residents were concerned that introducing parking restrictions would lead to an increase in traffic speeds. Traffic calming was consulted on but proved unpopular with many residents, with Cambridge Cycling Campaign at one point fearing the upgrade would be buried. The widening and resurfacing of the cycle lanes, along with removing the centre line, has apparently helped to reduce measured traffic speeds.
More bikes and fewer cars
Cambridge Cycling Campaign welcomes any reduction in speeds and in car traffic on Gilbert Road and elsewhere. These help to reduce noise levels and to further improve the environment on urban streets. The Campaign expects cycling levels to rise further over time as more people experience the improved continuous cycle lane on Gilbert Road and plans for infrastructure upgrades in the area materialise.
Allocating additional road space for safer cycling can reduce motor traffic. One would expect that repeating the Gilbert Road experience, road by road, would unlock Cambridge’s gridlock.