I met a man from St Ives (and one from Haverhill)

This article was published in 2011, in Newsletter 97.

On the Friday before test running of buses started I cycled the full length of the recently tarmacked Northern section of the Guided Busway path.

I joined it at Longstanton, and went north under Windmill Bridge and across Swavesey Fen. Although some people were on site doing checking, virtually all construction activity seemed to have finished. At the bridge over Swavesey Drain a pile of unused kerbstones made a useful seat whilst having a drink and a snack. Will we have proper seats at such places, as exist on the National Cycle Network south of Cambridge?

Five abreast: Near Milton Road sections are wide enough for two cyclists, side by side, to pass a group of three people walking side by side.
Image as described adjacent

Whilst there I talked to a man from St Ives who frequently cycles to Cambridge, sometimes using the A14! He reckons when the tarmac is completed he will have a far quicker and more pleasant trip to Cambridge. On reaching Swavesey, where a layer of ballast still protected the paving stone from damage by vehicles, and the paving machine was parked (ready to travel north?) I returned south.

Even a pensioner cyclist like me on a hybrid bike could easily cycle at 15mph (24kph), and I had visions of reaching Cambridge in 40 mins. My vision was curtailed by stopping and talking to several of the many people I met. I talked to joggers who thought it wonderful, and a man eating lunchtime sandwiches at one of the bus stops. Working on the Science Park, but driving from Haverhill, he keeps a bike at work to enable him to get fresh air at lunch time. The newly completed sections enable him to reach new and interesting bits of countryside far more easily.So what were my impressions?

This is a wide, well-surfaced route that those on foot on bike or on horse should easily be able to share. (Hint: I’m told that when approaching a horse and rider from the rear, one should not ring a bell as this may frighten the horse, but simply use your voice to say ‘Hello’ or similar.) Only a short section near Histon is narrow. Around the proposed town of Northstowe the line and level of the path deviate from that of the busway, leaving a wide area of grass between the two. Such sites could be wonderful if seeded with wild flowers.

In places there is a significant drop from the edge of the blacktop, and in others the orginal surface material is piled into a ridge some inches high. This route is wide enough to benefit from an edge line without it detracting from the width. Where the edge is built up without a stone drain there will be a risk of ponding after heavy rain.

Leisure cyclists near the new Windmill Bridge. Note crossfall and stone drain, as well as ‘Gabion’ (wire cages full of stones) wall.
Image as described adjacent

There has been much discussion on the members’ email list of the issues relating to toucan crossings and how quickly the lights change once activated by pressing a button. Many of these are quiet roads, but with a speed limit as high as 60mph. However, off-peak traffic was so light that I never felt the need to press the button to wait for a gap in the traffic. We do have loop detectors for cycles at a few busy crossings within Cambridge, but on a 60mph rural road there would be a significant delay in these activating the lights. These roads are quiet enough, I suspect, that the majority of those on bikes would have a faster trip if they, as legally entitled to do, simply waited for a gap in the traffic. No doubt family groups, children and inexperienced users will find the toucan crossings of benefit.

At around 1pm, the path between Histon and Milton Road was alive with those out for a stroll or on bikes. The bridge under the A14 enables all to leave the dense urban area of north Cambridge easily and enter the relative calm (except for traffic noise) of the area towards Impington and Histon.

I for one will make this trip again. If only it were more straightforward to get across Cambridge from the south where I live. Perhaps in a few years we will have a direct route for those on foot or on bike.

Jim Chisholm