Cambridge cycling provision

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 the UK 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 bus lane 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)

Narrow gaps
While bollards and such like on paths are very often a minor 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.

Narrow Islands
While bollards such as those above are usually claimed to be in 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 busy road 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 would.

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.

Carlton Way
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 the 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 road, either !

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 this here 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 path:

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:

Burger logic
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 what 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 route 11.

Google maps link here.

NCR51 Girton - Oakington lit path
The NCR51 between Girton and Oakington includes some new lights 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 junction here.

These again stop well short of the junction and hide where the 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 ).

Bottisham 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 the Netherlands:

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:

Missing parking
There used to be quite useful sheffield racks and other parking 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 Court path
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 cyclists' safety.

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
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 Park.

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: Sadly, these disappeared, and in any case they had no effect on what was actually done.

Parts for all types of Dutch bicycles