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 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?
Exhibition designs at http://www.nwcambridge.co.uk/PA-PDFs/Boards/17-Detailed%20Junction%20Designs.pdf (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.
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
https://idox.cambridge.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=documents&keyVal=LRVINSDX01D00 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.
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.