Mind the gap

This article was published in 2011, in Newsletter 98.



Traffic engineers used to think that the easiest way to slow down motor traffic was to introduce physical measures such as narrow gaps or speed humps, and I was brought up in an environment of such engineers. Narrowings may slow down motor vehicles especially if designed to make traffic in one direction ‘Give Way’, but they can be extremely hostile for those on cycles.

Now in more stringent and enlightened times, such expensive physical measures are normally avoided, with 20mph areas and gateway features without significant narrowing being preferred. We also have slowly changing attitudes with many, especially local residents, realising the huge benefits of slowing traffic without the use of physical measures.

Looking northwards from the turning into the Rugby Club where traffic calming measures are proposed.
Image as described adjacent

Hence it was a surprise to see an ‘Environmental Improvement’ programme proposing road narrowings on Grantchester Road, Newnham. It was even more of a surprise as this was proposed a year ago, and following objections we thought the scheme had been dropped.

So why are such schemes so opposed by groups such as ourselves?

The Highway Code says (Rule 163): ‘Give vulnerable road users as much space as you would a car’. Unfortunately most drivers fail to follow this rule or ‘race’ to the gap, frequently misjudging speeds. This results in cycles being passed at very close distance or the rider having to stop suddenly or take other avoiding action. A small minority of drivers seem to believe that the larger vehicle has precedence, regardless of any posted priority, and will proceed, deliberately forcing the vulnerable user to stop.

Experienced users survive, but this may be different for new or inexperienced cyclists, the very ones whom we wish to encourage to cycle for the benefit of their health and pocket, and the benefit of all in and around Cambridge. We clearly hope they survive, but they may be so frightened by the intimidation, intended or not, that they may give up cycling completely.

Of course I shouldn’t need to say this to professionals in this field as it is well explained in Government Guidance. Both Cycling England (RIP) and DfT, in Local Transport Note 208, state that such gaps are to be avoided. Where cycles form such a significant proportion of traffic, as in the Cambridge area, it should be clear that no such gaps should be constructed, and we’d hope that over time existing ones would be removed.

What is proposed in Newnham?

Grantchester Road currently has a 60mph limit, which reduces to 30mph near the Rugby Club as one comes into Newnham. The scheme proposes a small extension to the 30mph limit to include a two-way narrowing of 3.0 metres, with a 1.5m cycle bypass just south of the access road to the Rugby Club for inbound (northbound) cycles. A 140m stretch of 40mph is also proposed immediately to the south. Cyclists going towards Grantchester will have to use the 3m-wide carriageway. Problems would arise when a motorist who had been rushing towards Newnham at 60mph tries to get through the gap at the same time, or when a driver also heading south is impatient and tries to overtake the cyclist who is legitimately using the carriageway. A huge amount of expensive street clutter, lighting and signing is also proposed.

A solution?

We’ve previously suggested a mini-roundabout at the entrance to the rugby ground, and that the whole length of this minor road from Grantchester should be subject to a 40mph limit, as has been done between Grantchester and Trumpington. In addition, the whole area of Newnham south of Barton Road would clearly benefit from a 20mph limit.

We need to encourage more cycling from villages into Cambridge. Although cycling is permitted on the path through Grantchester Meadows, it does not make a good commuting route. I’m sure that many who use this as a leisure walking path would prefer to see Grantchester Road made more pleasant for cycling. The proposed scheme fails on this account, and many others.

The proposed scheme is worse than nothing. I’m sure far better ways could be found to spend the funds.

Jim Chisholm