Cambridge Cycling Campaign Hustings April 2015

A brief, personal, response to the Cambridge Cycling Campaign Hustings. The full hustings can be viewed below, as filmed by Richard Taylor.

The hustings included 4 of Cambridge’s parliamentary candidates:

Rupert Read (Green)

Chamali Fernando (Conservative)

Julian Huppert (Liberal Democrat)

Daniel Zeichner (Labour)

5th candidate, Patrick O’Flynn (UKIP), was invited but declined to attend.

There isn’t a lot of headline difference between the candidates at the hustings. They all describe themselves as pro-cycling, they all say that their parties will fund cycling. There probably aren’t many places in the country that would get this top-level consensus, but then in no other place in the country do the majority of adults cycle.

But it is quite out-of-step with their parties. None of the major parties have cycling as a top-10 issue, looking at their national websites. Even the Greens, who do headline transport, put a focus on buses before walking and cycling. With only 2% cycling modal share nationwide, it is not a surprise that this isn’t an issue for most voters.

While most voters will make their choice of transport based on things such as cost, convenience, safety, it is the role of an MP to look beyond that to the wider impact. To look at spiralling NHS costs due to inactivity, to look at urban air and noise pollution making people sick, to look at the economic cost of congestion, the social and economic limitations placed upon those who can’t drive, to look at the global impact of climate change. Just because it’s not a voter issue, doesn’t mean it’s not important.

Without party focus, the only way that any MP will achieve anything on cycling is because they, personally, push it forward and make it a priority.

Lacking fundamental disagreement on whether cycling was a Good Thing, each candidate, broadly speaking, fell back on the major themes of their campaign.

Read pushed the Green ideology, the strength of his belief and green priorities on spending on sustainable transport rather than cars.

Fernando pushed the economic responsibility of the Conservatives which will provide funding for cycling, and the record of the government in spending on Cycle City Ambition in the past 5 years.

Huppert, as the incumbent, pushed his personal record as a Lib Dem in government, his amendment to the Infrastructure Bill which puts a binding requirement on government for a national walking and cycling strategy.

Zeichner asserted a strong voice in the next government, and Labour top-down centralisation to impose standards on cycle infrastructure.

This one is Huppert’s to lose. He was co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group, which raised the Get Britain Cycling debate in Parliament. He successfully amended the Infrastructure bill. We know that cycling is one of his issues should he be re-elected, and the other candidates have not had an opportunity to demonstrate this. But it is also clear from Huppert’s level of detail that he knows about cycling: not just why it is important, but what are the current thoughts in campaigning and what are the priorities. When, as a cycle campaigner, I hear him talk about something related to my area of expertise that I hadn’t thought about before it’s hard not to be impressed.

But all the candidates have the fundamentals correct: the importance of continuous funding, the importance of infrastructure, the issue of standards. Specifics can be improved by further reading later. The question is, once elected, will they take the opportunity to actually make a difference to cycling, not just for Cambridge, but for those places where no-one currently cycles?

And let us take a moment to revel in a discussion between 4 parliamentary candidates in the UK, and not a single mention of helmets, hi vis, registration or insurance.

They might not have survived the audience if they had, but still.

This is only one issue on which to decide a vote. Further opportunities to see the candidates speak on other subjects are listed over on the Cambridge News site.

Also, I was on Cambridge local radio yesterday talking about the election and cycling.

North-West Cambridge Development: why they can’t deliver on promise of traffic reduction

Transport and congestion is one of the biggest issues facing Cambridge at the moment. One of the others is the lack of housing, and consequent high accommodation prices. New developments are desperately needed, while minimising impact on the transport network.

One of the best ways to reduce the impact is to use space-efficient transport: walking, cycling, buses. Walking and cycling have additional benefits in being quiet, healthy, and reducing local air pollution.

New developments know this. New developments in Cambridge love to talk about cycling, as I mentioned in a previous post on Northstowe. The reality of their designs rarely matches the rhetoric, and the North-West Cambridge Development is no exception.

Most important of all is junction design and major roads. Residential roads are not usually a barrier to cycling. If you want to encourage people to cycle, indeed, if the success of your development depends upon it, you don’t help them get to the end of their street: you help them get out of the development to the rest of the city.


The Development

The North-West Cambridge development is the working name of a Cambridge University development between Madingley Road and Huntingdon Road. Intended primarily as a housing development for 3,500 employees and postgrads of the university, it will also have a primary school, community centre, health centre, shops and sports facilities. A further 1,500 houses will be available to the public.


“Ensure a reduction in vehicles on the network”

So, how are 5000 new homes going down with local residents? That will be some hit to the local roads, huh?

Developers always say that impact on the network will be minimal. As civil engineer and cyclist The Ranty Highwayman has said, “Do you know what, I have never read a Transport Assessment which admits a scheme will cause a problem to the road network and I have read an awful lot.”

It is rarer for a development to claim it will actually reduce traffic. But that is what the NW Cambridge development is claiming (pdf).


Key to this is discouraging car use. The development has a number of ‘Quality of Life’ pledges, of which Pledge 4 is ‘Low car use will be the norm’.

So why are the junctions that connect the development to the existing road network designed for high capacity car movements? What do they know that they aren’t telling everyone else?


The Junctions

Exhibition designs at (pdf. unusually large, slow pdf)

I’m taking Madingley Road West (aka Madingley Road/ High Cross) as my example, but the junctions are all designed on similar principles.

madingley rd junction

While cars can exit the development in one traffic light phase, all of the pedestrian and cycle connections to the road network are two-stage crossings. That means that walking or cycling you have to wait twice to cross a single road, or four times if you need to make a diagonal movement.

A second motor traffic lane increases the capacity of the junction on every arm, for car traffic which we are told will not exist.

The central islands for the crossings are offset, requiring a 90 degree turn in a small space on a bike. This is particularly hard for anyone with a trike, or trailer, or a tag-along: i.e. those people likely to be most vulnerable and carrying children. There is not a lot of waiting space in the middle, waiting space which is only necessary because the crossings are two-stage. So while car capacity is generous, the walking and cycling access has not been made for mass movement.

The toucan crossings connect up shared use paths. For why shared use is substandard provision, disliked by pedestrians and cyclists alike, see my article in the Cambridge Cycling Campaign newsletter.

The High Cross junction has an advance stop box without a feeder lane. Don’t worry! They found room for the extra motor traffic queuing lane.

None of the junctions provide anything other than paint protection for people on bikes on the road. The lanes are advisory rather than mandatory, so can legally be blocked by vehicles.

The junctions are large, and open, and any person on a bike who ventures to use the road as the more convenient option will find it deeply unpleasant.

This is classic ‘two-network’ provision. Your journey can feel safe, or be convenient, but not both at the same time. This is not a design philosophy for wide-spread cycle use, and it certainly doesn’t encourage it.


The Planning Application Planning application 11/1114/OUT

So, why wasn’t this brought up at the planning stage? Well, Cambridge Cycling Campaign did bring it up, and objected. Sustrans, the national organisation for sustainable transport also did, citing ‘inappropriately large junctions’ as the basis for their objection.

At the Joint Development Control Committee (JDCC) it was recorded in the minutes

“Disappointment was expressed about the lack of detailed response to the issues raised by the Cambridge Cycling Campaign and the City Council Cycling and Walking Officer. The Principal Planner (New Neighbourhoods) acknowledged the concerns raised, however explained that in respect of assessing junction design the report needed to consider all material considerations with regards to the application and not just from one view point.”

The developers in meetings have since been keen to parrot this line. This ‘one view point’ concerns what the developers would have you believe will be the majority of users of the site. It came not from one organisation, but three. The junctions as designed are catering for ‘one view point’ that will not be ‘the norm’, apparently.

No substantial rebuttal to detailed descriptions of the problems. No requirement to re-design, or even throw a sub-standard compromise to walking and cycling. Just ‘we acknowledge it, and ignore it’.

Why did councillors in the UK’s foremost cycling city, after having the problem highlighted to them, decide that walking and cycling infrastructure was not material to the planning application?

The road network in Cambridge is already close to gridlock. Getting a large number of cars out of the development in one go only ensures worse problems along the same roads closer to the city centre. The roads around the development are bringing in people from outside the city who may not have a cycling alternative. Like existing residents, they are hardly likely to be pleased if their journey is made more congested by people who could have had a good alternative to car use.


The University

Remember that this is a development for the University of Cambridge, an organisation that dominates the physical and cultural landscape of the UK’s leading cycling city. They have an interest in the success of the city that supports them. They want their students and academics and employees to move about safely and easily. Unlike most developers, they know they are going to be here in decades to come.

It is therefore very long overdue for the University to take cycling seriously. The site on the other side of Madingley Road is the West Cambridge site, where I work. My next post will take you through the failures and missed opportunities on another of the University’s recent developments.

Northstowe: Cycling is not just for the weekend

There is a consultation on Northstowe, open until this Friday, 4th April.

Northstowe will be a new town outside of Cambridge, between the existing villages of Longstanton and Oakington. They are building for, eventually, 25,000 inhabitants, with a phase 1 of 3,500 homes.

How will I get to Northstowe? (pdf)

One of the first things I saw when I went to the Northstowe website was the question ‘How will I get to Northstowe?’

Ah, I thought: an opportunity to sell the fact that Northstowe will be on the guided busway, with its cycle super-highway like maintenance track. Excellent: tell everyone that Northstowe is a mere 6 miles from Cambridge science park, along a traffic-free, wide, smooth-surfaced route. 30 minutes at a leisurely cycle, less if you want to get some exercise.

What did this document tell me about getting to Northstowe? It tells me about a new dual carriageway to get to Bar Hill. It tells me about new links to the A14.

Then, it tells me about the guided buses. The central spine of Northstowe will be an extension of the guided busway track, but this gets only second place when considering transport to the new development.

Finally, it tells me about the A14 upgrade.

It doesn’t tell me about the existing, direct route to a major centre of employment in the nearest city by bike.

Failing to think about transport cycling

And that’s a problem. This could just be marketing material rather than what is in the mind of the engineers and designers, but marketing is going to shape the expectations of people moving to Northstowe. They’re building a development outside the city with the highest rates of cycling in the country, where nearly 1 in 3 cycle to work, and it didn’t occur to anyone that people would want to hear about cycling in and out of the new town.

This is a problem that we see all over Cambridge in new developments. The developers are national firms, their engineers rarely familiar with Cambridge. They might have a vague idea that cycling is quite popular round here, but as soon as they design a junction to connect to the main road they assume they’re designing for two-car households at rush hour, and maybe the odd cyclist.

How will I travel around Northstowe? (pdf)

Now, cycling and walking have top billing. Now we have photos of people on green and leafy off-road paths (but these aren’t going to be in the town, are they?)

But it’s too late. Why would someone who is already in a car to get to work go home and switch to a bike to buy a pint of milk?

Cycling Vision

It’s great that Northstowe wants to be a sustainable development, but much of their current website material has the air of cycling as a leisure pursuit, or as a bit of weekend bimbling about on a bike. I do love cycling for leisure. But you know what? This morning I cycled along a river, and through parks and by fields, and I did it on my way to work while other people sat in traffic on the A14 and as a queue of cars backed up in front of my house. It didn’t take me long, I got some exercise, it was utterly predictable in its timing. If you want to sell a vision, a lifestyle, a reason why you should move to Northstowe rather than Cambourne, that’s it right there.

The science park is the most obvious journey into Cambridge, but there are others. By 2015 there will be a new train station next to the science park, with direct, fast trains to London. There will be the Chisholm trail, connecting the new station to the old station, and then on to Addenbrookes, another huge and growing area of employment in the city. There’s even talk of using the A14 upgrade opportunity to also provide routes for non-motorised transport. Many destinations reachable by bike, using long stretches of off-road paths which bypass the congestion in central Cambridge.

A member of Cambridge Cycling Campaign has been involved with the road design within Northstowe, and there are some promising layouts and junctions. But even the best designs will be rapidly cast aside if everyone moving to Northstowe assumes they need a car, and need to use it every day, because no-one has shown them the other options.

Why I became a cycle campaigner

Last Tuesday I joined the committee of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign.

Also on Tuesday the advance green signal for cyclists on the Catholic Church Junction was turned on. It was a coincidence, but a fitting one, because this junction is the reason I am now a cycle campaigner.

Some people think the use of anger in public discourse isn’t helpful. That you build no bridges and make no convincing arguments by being angry. This may be true, and anger is not what you need when you’re at the table trying to make a case and reach an agreement. Anger is what gets you to the table in the first place.

Anger is for mobilising.

I have been a member of Cambridge Cycling Campaign for a few years. I read the newsletter, I used the discount at local bike shops and £7.50 a year seemed like a very good deal to have other people look out for my interests. I never went to meetings or was otherwise active in the campaign.

It was possibly via the campaign that I heard about the consultation for Catholic Church Junction.


The Junction

The junction in question joins 4 roads in Cambridge as part of the inner ring road: Hills Rd, Lensfield Rd, Regent St and Gonville Place at the site of the church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs.

It’s on the main route from the train station to the centre of town, and also joins the town centre to the hospital and associated labs, a huge source of employment for the city. So it’s a key route. It is also, by number of accidents, one of the most dangerous junctions in Cambridge for cyclists.


The Consultation

To my shame, I did not respond. I intended to, but it was over Christmas and I had exams. I do not mean that as an excuse: I should have made the time.

I had never responded to any council consultation before and I was unsure of how to do so, or exactly what my thoughts were. Now I make sure that I get something in, even if it is not exactly what I want to express. An incomplete response is a starting point; silence is consent.

I had left my responsibilities as a citizen to other people. When the final design came out and I realised it was barely changed by the consultation, I knew my mistake.


The Funding

The most important thing to remember in what follows is that the traffic lights at the junction were 30 years old and had to be replaced. They were expensive to run and the council could no longer get the parts to maintain them. The county council was committed to upgrading the junction for reasons which had nothing to do with safety or cycling.

The government has specific grants available for cycle safety. Cambridge has a lot of cyclists. In these cash-strapped times local government can be expected to take advantage of national funds to make their budgets go further. Why not kill two birds with one stone, and meet your existing commitments for less out of your own budget and make a number of changes at once?

It would have been fine in theory, had the changes to this junction represented a significant improvement for cyclists. They do not. In fact I would argue that elements of the design encourage ill-advised manoeuvres which endanger cyclists.

So the result is a £900k junction upgrade has taken £450k of cycle safety funds and not delivered safety for cyclists. Funds for cycling in the UK are limited. Even after the government’s recent announcement of ‘the biggest ever injection of cash for cycling schemes’ we are left with £159 million for cycling in a Highways budget of £15 billion, with nothing promised beyond the next two years.

That figure is even more disappointing when you look at the specific schemes, such as this one in Cambridge, and realise that even that pitifully small commitment to cycling does not necessarily benefit cyclists.

The county council has taken cycle safety money from an already small pot and misused it. That is what has made me angry.


The Design

The Campaign has the history of the junction design. I don’t intend to repeat this detail.

In summary what has been delivered for cyclists is 4 advance stop boxes (ASB) – paint on the road. Only one of these ASBs has a feeder lane. Three of the approaches have 2 motor traffic lanes, causing positioning to be difficult for all but the most confident of cyclists making right-hand turns or, in one case, going straight on. One arm has an advance green for cyclists and the first of its kind in the UK, giving cyclists 5 seconds to get ahead of traffic. The advance green is an improvement – if you are at the ASB when the lights change to green. It is not £450k of improvement.

Worse than that, I fear that advance stop boxes without (and sometimes with) feeder lanes endanger cyclists. Much of my thinking is  expressed by this blogger.

Many cyclists see ASLs as a target.
There is an ASL at the front of that queue, I’m damn well going to use it!
To be fair it’s an understandable response. You would expect that cycle infrastructure was designed and implemented in such a way that it would make cycling safer. It is probably reasonable, as a new cyclist, to expect this.Unfortunately, this is often far from the reality.

RadWagon has filmed the result. His demonstration cycling has drawn criticism, but I believe it accurately portrays the reality of what will happen. This is what this junction encourages. If you’re not supposed to do this, what exactly is the point of the ASB? How is this an improvement to three arms of the junction?

(The motor vehicle lines had not been painted when this video was made. A subsequent video shows the feeder lane is not quite so badly designed, though it still encourages cycling up the left hand side of queuing buses.)


The Campaigner

When the final design for the junction was released ‘subject to DfT funding’ I took one last attempt to object and went to see my MP, in the hopes that it could be pointed out that this scheme was not a good one for cycle safety before the money was allocated.

My MP is Dr Julian Huppert, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group. Needless to say he was sympathetic, but it was too late. Whatever process by which these grants are approved had already concluded, and either those scrutinising did not notice or did not care that the improvements for cyclists were minimal.

So I did the only thing I thought might not render the visit useless. I asked him ‘what can I do to stop this happening in future?’

And here I am.

Why I Cycle

What is it that turns a non-cyclist into a cyclist?

In many people’s minds Cambridge and students and cycling are inextricably intertwined. My experience was that cycling is far from being a universal activity among students. I think it’s an assumption that does Cambridge cycling a disservice and I may write about it in future. In fact it was three years after I graduated before I took to two wheels.

I didn’t cycle as a student because everything I needed was within walking distance and I had time to walk.

I started to cycle when I needed to cover distances of more than a couple of miles and in too short a time to walk.

That was it.

But why not drive?

I didn’t have a license and I didn’t have a car. Neither would be quick or cheap to come by and I needed to travel in the meantime.

And I’d never really liked driving. Unlike some of my contemporaries I was in no hurry to book my first driving lesson for my 17th birthday. I was past 18 before my parents started booking lessons for me. A mismatch of my instructor’s teaching style and my learning style contributed to slow progress, and when I hadn’t passed my test by the time I went to university the urgency, if ever there was any, had gone.

I now realise that driving would not necessarily have been quicker in evening commuter traffic. I think I assumed, as I see many people assume every day in the face of the evidence, that private motor transport must be the fastest way to travel.

Why not take the bus?

If you live in Cambridge you probably wouldn’t ask this. If you can walk, walking is usually faster. Local public transport is expensive and slow and unreliable. I think I did look a bus timetable for my journey but there were no buses that would help.

 So… Cycling then.

So, a lack of good alternatives was why I started cycling. I evangelise about the benefits to health and environment now, but these were far from my mind when I took it up, and were in any case the same as the benefits of walking. By switching from walking to cycling I had only gained time.

I didn’t think about safety. I didn’t think about weather. I didn’t think about what I needed to carry. I didn’t think about maintenance. I didn’t think about half the things people cite as reasons for not cycling. I had no other options: I would make it work.

Initially I borrowed my employer’s bike, a great heavy rusted thing with a wicker basket on the front. He rarely used it. Within a couple of weeks I had bought my own: £100 new hybrid. I used it for 18 months before getting a more expensive one which I still use now, although I’ve added two more bikes for the fun stuff.

What, if anything, does this tell us about how we can get more people cycling?

Did it help that I lived in a city where cycling is relatively normal? I think so. Almost none of my friends cycled at the time, but I had a cultural awareness that cycling was a mode of transport. The city was covered in roads with shared-use paths and cycle lanes, which I quickly started to ignore, but never-the-less their presence indicated that cycling was an expected activity. It meant that cycling was in my mind as an option, when in another place it might not have been.

People don’t consider new modes of transport on a daily basis. If it were not for the time factor for this particular journey I wouldn’t have re-considered my mode of transport, but once I was used to cycling it replaced and sped up many of my other journeys. It’s when people move jobs, or move house that they will be most susceptible to modal change.

People are short-term self-interested. I didn’t think ‘I would drive / take the bus but it’s not environmentally friendly and will reduce my fitness’. I thought: ‘It’s too expensive and too impractical’.

There are a number of specifics of my situation which are not universal, but there is one principle which made the decision: I cycled because it was the best way to meet my travel needs at the time. Cycling needs to look normal, obvious and easy. How we make it look normal, obvious and easy is the larger discussion.