There is a consultation on Northstowe, open until this Friday, 4th April. http://www.northstowe.com/content/comments-form
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?
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?
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?
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.