This web page was originally written in 2005. A lot has happened since that time. We've emigrated to the Netherlands so now live in the country which has the highest modal share for cycling in the whole world. After we'd lived here for four years and I had the benefit of a wider world view than one gets from inside the city, we again visited the city and found... that nothing had changed. This resulted in an article called The Truth about Cambridge.
Now on with the original page:
While Cambridge has the highest cycle usage of anywhere in
with 28% of commuters travelling by cycle, it also sadly has extremely
low levels of investment in cycling. Cycling, walking and "safer routes
to school" combined share just 60p from every £100
spent on transport by Cambridgeshire County Council. This compares terribly with the level of investment made by the Dutch - 30 euros per person per year. The rate of investment in cycling has been shown to be proportional to the cycling rate, and Britain could afford to do more if only there was the political will.
Cambridgeshire has no cycle design standards. Some other UK cities
do, such as London
which once had quite decent standards, though the city ignored them. While Cambridge is far from the
worst place in the UK to be a cyclist, applying higher standards would mean a vast improvement in much of what is done.
Narrow cycle lanes
The sudden change in width when the cycle lane becomes a
shows that there was never a good reason why this cycle lane was so
narrow. As in many places in the city, there is room for a wider lane,
but does Cambridge have any cycle lanes wider than 1.2 m ? (there are
plenty narrower than that)
While bollards and such like on paths are very often a
inconvenience for cyclists on a perfectly standard bike with no
luggage, they can be rather more than that for anyone pulling a
trailer, teaching children to ride, with a loaded touring bike or just
shopping. Note this excellent example on
Windsor Road (Google Maps):
Our dog trailer is built on a perfectly standard child trailer base. It
is no wider nor longer than the child trailer was. The trailer is
narrower than the gap between the posts. However, it proved to be
impossible to get the trailer through this particular gap due to the
bar attaching the trailer to the bike contacting a bollard. The
bollards and railings together simply don't offer a large enough
turning radius. This is actually on a route to school. The opposite end
of this cut through emerges right next to Mayfield Primary school. So,
it's doubly ridiculous that anyone attempting to take young children to
the school will instead be forced to make a longer journey using the
very busy Histon Road. On the return journey they would have to cross
Histon Road twice.
Given such discouragement, it is hardly surprising that some people
choose to drive instead.
The railings and bollards should both be removed.
While bollards such as those above are usually claimed to
place to protect cyclists from traffic, you can also find cycle
crossings like this one on Madingley Road (Google Maps). This is a fast and
with a 40 mph speed limit:
The plastic posts offer absolutely no protection from cars which veer
off course, and the island itself is only barely as long as a bicycle
and not as wide as is required for two cyclists to use it at once. So,
a queue of cyclists forms at both sides of the road, just one at a time
able to cross, and you really have to forget about coming here
with a child on a trailer.
What the island does achieve is to make sure that motorists passing
cyclists on the road near here will come closer than they otherwise
It is difficult to see what this is actually supposed to achieve. I
imagine that those who want to cross from one off-road path to the
other at this point would prefer a light controlled crossing which
allowed for crossing the entire way without stopping.
A very short section of shared use path has been put in across the front of Arbury school on Carlton Way in Cambridge. The next few photos show this short path in its full glory. Barely 2 m wide, yet intended for bidirectional traffic by bike and by foot, it packs in an opportunity to give way to two side roads a as well as the school entrance, a novel "scalextric" lane change in a mere couple of hundred metres of length.
It is surprising that this did little to change the number of children cycling to school ?
I assume this is supposed to be a part of a "safer route to school" (it's interesting how while some people talk about the need for "safe" routes to school, councils tend to only talk about "safer" ones).
As you might expect, it's hopeless. It doesn't join with any other
cycling facility, and just a couple of hundred metres long in total.
It starts in a bus stop. So, no chance of getting onto the path if
there is a bus. Pavement cyclists will find themselves stuck in the bus queue
at this point.
Almost immediately, you get to stop at a side road (Brimley Way) to watch people in cars or cycling on the road continue their journey unimpeded. Note how the dropped kerbs don't line up, and how the wide radius turns provided for motor vehicles to be able to turn the corner at speed make it extra difficult to actually cross. Also, because the dropped kerbs are within one car length from the give
way line, any car at the junction totally blocks them.
After the longest continuous stretch of the path, decorated by an
amusingly crooked left hand side, we come to two sets of bollards. If
the first two don't get you, maybe the one on on the other side will.
No give way lines for either party here, but in practice cyclists are
expected to give way again. Note that at this point the railings are
visible. These make cycling on the road less safe than it used to be.
Oh, and you need to swap to the right hand side of the path here if
you're on a bike.
This is the start of the highest quality part of the path. Enjoy it
while you can...
... because it's only about 50 metres long.
Now we have the first of two sharp 90 degree bends. The straight on path is for pedestrians only. This is amusingly styled like a scalextric lane change. After all, if it's good enough for slot car racing, it's bound to be a useful and safe feature for pedestrians and cyclists.
It would be a lot more helpful if cyclists were to continue in a
straight line here for several reasons. It would mean they'd avoid the
two 90 degree bends and they'd be able to get back
onto the parallel road, Carlton Way, without
finding themselves part way down the side road coming up on the
left. The cycle path ends just at the end of the parking
bays, but relocated a long way left to be alongside the garden walls of
the houses. This design causes considerably inconvenience for cyclists
in order to provide half width parking bays for a few drivers to be able to bring children to school by car.
This sort of tokenism does nothing at all for cycling, nor for the health or safety of children.
Here it is on Google Maps:
View Larger Map
Road vs. Cycle-path over the Histon A14 junction
Note how the horrible crack has been mended so nicely on
road, but ignored on the shared use path. It's been like this for a
long time. Even though the Google Maps images of the area are some
years out of date, the rework on the road part can still be seen clearly on them.
There are none of this type of wheel eating crack on the
If you're persistant enough to continue on the path, you eventually
find yourself coming along this less than smooth surface. Google Maps image.
This area is subject to a lot of rework at the moment, which looks
overall not to be to the benefit of cyclists. This wasn't great, but at
least cyclists on the road had a fair amount of room. There are
more details of
and here. The
cracks remain on the path just before this section.
Milton Cycle bridge
The bridge over the A14 to Milton was finally put in place
a couple of years ago, reconnecting a link broken some 20 years
earlier by the construction of the A14 (a motorway in all but name). The bridge
is quite nicely constructed, but sadly pennies were saved wherever possible and the result of this shows. At only just over 2 m wide it's very narrow for bidirectional use by both cyclists and pedestrians and this causes some conflict on the bridge. However, The biggest dangers for cyclists are at the ends, which both have curves which hide dangerous bollards.
This is the view heading into town. Note that there are no sight lines
to let you know what obstacles might be hiding, or what pedestrians or
other cyclists might be doing further down the bridge:
This is the view once you can see around the corner. At this point you
have just a few seconds to decide what to do. To stick to the red cycle
side of the path requires a fairly sharp turn on a "tactile" surface and careful avoidance of the bollard as you make that turn. There are
no plans for de-icing of this corner in cold weather. The yellow line
shows the best line for cyclists to take in order to avoid colliding
with the bollard, the grass verge or the kerb. You'll see that this
takes cyclists right onto the pedestrian side of the path, with
inadequate sight lines to avoid colliding with pedestrians. In other
words, yet more cycle path "design" which creates conflict. It would be
interesting to know how many injuries there have been so far due to the
faulty design of the bridge, having a curve like this which hides what
is going on, and the placement of this bollard in the middle of the
When Google Maps has been updated to have photos of this bridge, it
will be visible here.
At the other end of the bridge, the problems can be greater, as you'll read in the next section:
At the northern end of the Milton cycling bridge a burger van
parks on the verge. The photo is taken from right next to the van. Not
only does this restrict vision for cyclists, but the eager burger
eaters regularly park in such a way that they conflict with cyclists
using the bridge. Facing south:
That's not the only problem with this junction for cyclists. It's also
now used as a truck park. Facing East:
I know it looks like some sort of photoshop magic to get four trucks
across one two lane road, but no. This is real. It's exactly
faced me on trying to ride down here to Milton Country Park on the
evening of the 27th of June 2006. There were more trucks further down
the road, including some turning around. This is part of NCN
Google maps link here.
NCR51 Girton -
Oakington lit path
The NCR51 between Girton and Oakington includes some new
which are embedded into the path like cat-eyes. They look
absolutely amazing after dark, but they are placed in such a way that
they mislead about the shapes of junctions, and they give a false
impression of a good quality path while not warning at all of dropped
kerbs, potholes, litter etc. The photos are taken in the daytime, but
show the lights as they appear on the path at night. These lights are
not accompanied by proper street lights.
Travelling in the opposite direction to that shown here, the tendency
is to leave the path on a dropped kerb and then try to climb back up at
a nasty angle. You need to know to ride in the position of the
pedestrian instead. The first time I came along here at night,
ironically on a journey specifically to check what the path was like,
so the first time I'd used it, I crashed. The first crash I've had on
my bike for 4 years or so, since a motorist deliberately ran into me.
This path is really dangerous.
Update: The LEDs have been added to with some closer together red LED
light at the junctions. Unfortunately, these don't seem to actually
work, but otherwise it would at least help cyclists to tell when they
are coming up to a dangerous bit. The main problem with these lights
remains, though. The don't light up the road, but just give a false
impression of a good path. This was illustrated to me when I recently
spotted a construction worker's sign on the path. This was between
lights, so in a pool of inky blackness at night. Luckily I was
riding on the road. Google Maps quite clearly shows the mis-aligned
These again stop well short of the junction and hide where
dropped kerbs are. Google Maps image here:
Oh, and the speed limit here, where there is no real separation from the road, is 40 mph (64 km/h ).
sign for Newmarket
The NCN 51 provides a way of travelling from Cambridge to Newmarket.
When you get to Bottisham, you see the following set of signs for
Newmarket. Who can take NCN51 seriously as a route in the face of this
? At least it's honest... (it's here on Google Maps.
NCN 51 Sharp edges
The NCN 51 Eastwards from Cambridge has a few oddball features. One
dangerous small detail is the sharp edges behind the crash barrier next
to Newmarket Road near the underpass and Quy roundabout. They are here on Google Maps:
These barriers are right next to the cycle path (you can see the white
line at the side of the cycle path in the photo) and have very sharp
edges likely to cause an injury to any cyclist unlucky enough to hit
them. These were pointed out to the County Council by a member on
the 18th of April. One might have thought that bringing these to the
attention of the County Council, who are responsible for them, would
have resulted in something being done to reduce the danger, but it has
not done so.
There are many ways in which these posts could be made less dangerous
for cyclists, including fitting a crash barrier to both sides. One
approach taken by Kingston on the A3 is shown in the photo below. It
doesn't remove the danger of having a post in the way, but at least it
covers the sharp edges:
The proper way of doing it, as seen between Eindhoven and Oirschot in
Sadly, Cambridge has learnt from none of this. The latest way of
installing these barriers is on the other side of the path so that
cyclists and pedestrians using the path are guaranteed to be mown down
by any cars which leave the road. You can see that around the Arbury Park development.
Borrowdale Avenue -
Histon Road path
There is a convenient cut through from Borrowdale Avenue to Histon Road
(here on Google Maps) which
provides for cyclists. Unfortunately, it is marred by a
needlessly tight corner on the inevitable metalwork which gets in the
way, and is especially difficult to negotiate with a tandem, trailer,
or any other unusual bike. It also didn't have a dropped kerb to allow
cyclists who have used this to actually get onto Histon Road itself,
the intention apparently being that one should cycle as far as Gilbert
Close on the non shared use pavement.
It took some years of campaigning before a dropped (though not flush)
kerb was installed at this location. It's not quite good enough, but it is
still a major improvement. Credit where credit is due, so thanks to our local
councillor, Tim Ward. The metalwork which gets in the way on the path sadly remains:
There used to be quite useful sheffield racks and other
in the centre of Cambridge either side of Sidney Street. These were
particularly useful for cyclists using the town centre post office, and
the many shops, banks and building societies nearby. The racks were
always popular, but have now disappeared leaving these empty spaces:
Note the taxi parked on the pavement in the second photo to make a
narrow gap for anyone passing !
Location on Google Maps.
Leys Avenue - Arbury
This is another of those useful little cut throughs that make cycling
pleasant without having to always ride along busy roads. You can find
it on Google Maps here. However, it
has a few problems. The photos are in the sequence that you'll use it
if heading towards Arbury from the city:
Note how there is a completely separate pedestrian only path on the
right hand side, yet barriers are still installed on the path to the
left which is supposed to be for cyclists only (according to the
painted over sign)
The path is quite generous in width, but it's rather difficult to
negotiate these barriers as this cyclist shows. With a trailer, trike
or tandem, it's even more difficult.
At the other end of the short cut through, there are signs telling you
to either go right or left, either path taking you by a fairly ugly
route (especially at night) around the backs of the shops. Many
cyclists go straight on to Arbury Court, as that's where they're
heading, and in any case it avoids this:
The sign doesn't look terribly official and the post it is mounted on
causes an obstruction. The sentiment of being concerned about the
safety of "small children and pedestrians" (but not big children,
apparently) is fine, but why should cyclists dismount when its obvious
that even vans are allowed to be driven on the pavement behind ? A
simple "cyclists give way to pedestrians" would suffice, surely ?
Anyway, you'll be forced to dismount as the gap through this barrier is
even tighter than the last one:
It really is much less hassle, a lot more pleasant and avoid the risk
of being hit by vehicles reversing behind the shops if you take the
route through the shopping centre itself. Despite this route forcing
cyclists to share space with delivery vans behind the shop, I note that
no sign has been erected to tell those drivers to be concerned for
The last thing I expected on complaining that the signs around here
don't help cyclists find useful routes was that they'd be made worse.
However, that's what happened. As a result of signage "improvements"
made across the city, the sign shown in a photo above has been changed
to be less informative as shown here. Luckily I caught the old sign in
the photo above and it's shown here on the left. The new photo on the right was taken on the 17th of April 2006:
Mystery cycle paths
Recently (i.e. March 2005) South Cambs District Council "launched" new
paths, with the following article in the local paper. The mystery is,
that I don't know where the new paths are to be or what problem they
are intended to solve. No cyclist that I have met either in real life,
online or in the local cycling campaign meetings has heard anything
about them, and the council
couldn't tell me anything either. Still, these guys have got some nice
bikes (I wonder if they'd like baskets for them ?):
Arbury Park is a new development on the edge of Cambridge which ought
to have been an opportunity to show just how well things could have
been done on a brand new site. However, sadly it is well below par.
There is a separate page for Arbury
On the other hand, take a look at Kings
Hedges. Here the developers got it right back in the 1970s,
but they've never done anything quite so good in Cambridge since then.
Compare with The Netherlands where both cycling and cyclists are understood and provided for properly.
Read The Truth about Cambridge which I wrote after four years living in the Netherlands and reflecting on how Cambridge had not changed at all when we visited the city.
London had cycle route design guides, which were remarkably high quality for
the UK. You used to be able to find them at this link: http://www.tfl.gov.uk/cycles/company/standards.shtml. Sadly, these disappeared, and in any case they had no effect on what was actually done.
We organize cycling infrastructure study tours for people who have an interest in how the Netherlands achieved its world leading level of cycling.