Cycling in the King's Hedges Estate in Cambridge

Unfairly maligned, usually by people who've never been there and often by those who still think it is called "The Arbury" despite a name change from "North Arbury" to "King's Hedges" some 20 years ago, the King's Hedges estate is actually a very interesting part of the city. It is the result of having learnt from the 1950s housing blocks. It was designed to put people first, not cars. It has a progressive design, in the European style, with a lot of open green spaces. It has housing which fronts onto the park and the bike/footpath instead of onto a road. It's a model of how further housing developments in Cambridge should have been designed, but sadly it's been ignored by more recent developers keen to cram as many houses as possible onto the smallest possible scrap of land. King's Hedges was designed to be a good place to live. I strongly recommend a walk or cycle through the estate.

It's far from perfect. The paths are not wide enough, there are blind corners and barriers. However, even with these faults, these are still the most helpful off road cycle facilities built anywhere in Cambridge to date. They are genuinely pervasive and useful, at least within the estate, rather than seeming like afterthoughts. How sad that we're now so far behind the 1970s (the majority of King's Hedges was built between 1967 and 1986), and how sad that what was achieved in King's Hedges is so rarely recognised for what it is. Nothing built since this time has properly connected with the King's Hedges paths and expanded on the network.

Other countries did continue to build in this style, and to improve upon it. Notably the Netherlands. You can see the results of such developments by following some of the links at the bottom of this article

The crossing of Arbury Road near St. Albans Road and St. Lawrence's school showing the path leading past the school grounds towards King's Hedges. We can ride from this position to the Science Park hardly having to touch any roads at all (you can see the whole route described here). At this point, the path has a newer housing development on the right, which presents a fence against the path instead of including equally good cycling or walking provision. The squat building on the left in the second photo is a children's swimming pool.

Also note that this is a rare place in Cambridge where the path has proper lighting, so it's useful after dark as well as in the daytime.

These two photos show blind corners (the first is much worse than the second) and show the narrowest part of the path. Note on the second photo how the housing faces onto the park.

Old vs. new. The first photo shows housing which fronts onto the park. The second shows what is nearly a small "gated community" of privately owned apartments built in the 2000s in the middle of the estate. These have a fence between themselves and the park meaning there is no easy way for the people living in these apartments to use the park and that they are cut off from the rest of the local people. Instead, their entrances are on the other side in the car park.

More housing which fronts onto the path. In the first photo, just behind the children's play area, is a small car park for residents. The road heads out behind the houses to the left. The second photo shows yet more housing facing onto the park.

Three photos showing the underpass of Northfield Avenue. This provides easy access to King's Hedges Primary School. It's rather a shame that it is marred by barriers as these especially make use difficult for children and for those who are carrying shopping. The gradient here is greater than almost anywhere else in Cambridge. It makes it difficult to get up the slope from a standing start and I've seen a primary school child collide with the barriers at the bottom of the slope at quite a considerable speed.

Dutch standards would not allow these dangerous barriers. The difficulty facing children from within the King's Hedges estate from cycling to the school also within their estate make an interesting contrast with a modern Dutch development designed to enable children to cycle to school.

For this very short stretch along Cameron Road the pavement is not dual use and cycling there is forbidden. It's rather difficult to work out why. It's of exactly the same quality as the path either end of it. Note the Keep Clear paint on the road. This is for the benefit of King's Hedges Primary School which is to the left over the fence.

From Cameron Road to Nun's Way Rec. An entrance to the school can be seen on the left, providing a great traffic free route for children.

Nun's Way Recreation ground. If you follow the path on the left you find yourself joining a road which leads to Kirkwood Road. Directly opposite the end of Kirkwood Road is the pedestrian and bike entrance to the Cambridge Science Park.

Follow the path on the right and you'll get to the excellent Nun's Way adventure playground (sadly since demolished and replaced by generic, perhaps safer but probably less fun, playground equipment)

If we'd taken the right path in the previous set of photos we would have ridden in front of these homes (here the photo is taken from the opposite end of this part of the path). Again, they've a great view of the park, excellent access to the cycle paths and a safe environment for kids.

We've now ridden a short distance to the corner of Campkin Road and Arbury Road to show the path back through the estate in a different direction. On the other side of the road is a short section of shared use which goes to the Arbury Court shopping centre. There is a toucan crossing providing for getting across the road to this path.

The path leads towards the first row of houses which also have their own path in front and which face over a park.

Here you can see the direct path which goes through the housing shown in the last set of photos. The red car is parked at the end of one of the roads which come from the right. They do not cross this path. Note that there are large green areas between each building. Again, the barriers are unfortunate, but despite the slight problem they cause, they are for many people rather less of an impediment to cycling than suggesting the alternative of riding along Arbury Road.

Note the bollards which are at the end of the road and prevent cars from entering this area. Also the old style bike route sign. These have mostly been replaced, but it looks like King's Hedges was overlooked.

At the lamp-post there is a choice of a left turn for Arbury Road or right to head past much more housing, another park and another row of homes which face the park

As you'll have seen, this is a rather unusual housing estate for the UK. It's a very pleasant design, with a lot of green spaces and favouring people over cars. It provides traffic free routes which are more direct and quicker to use than the roads. It provides for children, pedestrians and adult cyclists to a much higher than usual standard. Developments like these are still built successfully in other countries. For instance, I've also documented several aspects of the new Assen suburb of Kloosterveen. Houten is an entire city built on these lines. Or Meerhoven near Eindhoven. Both of these places are in the Netherlands - a country where cycling provision is always better than the UK.

It doesn't have to be so, of course, and King's Hedges is as close as we get in this area to showing that we too can build good quality housing estates.

If only new developments in Cambridge were built to the same standards as have been adopted in the Netherlands we'd be much better off. Sadly, Arbury Park, a new development being built just north of King's Hedges on the opposite side of King's Hedges Road is a "normal" car oriented development. This appears to be the style in which all the new developments are being built. However "pervasive" and "cycle friendly" the proposals claim them to be, none get close to matching King's Hedges.

Sadly, not only do newer developments not match King's Hedges, they often seem to try their hardest to defeat what was achieved. For instance, look at the distance you have to travel between Hopkins Close and the Carlton Way shops. They are only about 200 m apart, and there is space for a cut-through by foot or by car, but the roads have been designed apparently in order to change the journey of a few hundred metres by foot into a mile by car. Once people hop in their car for this they are as likely to end up driving to the out of town supermarket, aiding the demise of local shops. The layout of modern housing estates has a lot to answer for:

We're seeing similarly indirect cycling and walking routes provided from other new estates, "The Quills" and "Arbury Park" included. New developments should be required to co-operate with existing cycling and walking infrastructure, not react against it.

There are many beautiful buildings in the centre of Cambridge. People come from all around the world to see them, and Cambridge would not be the same place without them. However, for people who live here what is needed is housing which is designed for people. The design of King's Hedges has excellent architecture and the best planning in Cambridge. We should be seeing more of this.

This article was originally written in March 2007. There have been some minor updates since then. Later in 2007, a version of the article appeared in the Cambridge Cycling Campaign newsletter.

Other Cambridge Cycling information.

Photos from Assen in the Netherlands
Further photos from Assen in the Netherlands.
Meerhoven in the Netherlands.

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.

Holidays which show some infrastructure:

Cycling Infrastructure Study Tours in the Netherlands.
Cycling holiday in the Netherlands.
Trip to a cycle racing event in the Netherlands.

My main web site.

Parts for all types of Dutch bicycles