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.

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