A tale of two junctions

In Cambridge you can see examples of two of the most advanced cycle-friendly junction designs in the UK. Peter Silburn went to investigate

You wait ages for a truly Dutch-style junction to turn up in the UK and then two come along (almost) at once!

For many years in UK cycle advocacy circles there’s been talk of “Dutch-style” junctions, and while initial attempts were less than impressive we are now – finally – seeing junctions built in the UK that replicate the key elements that make Dutch cycling so safe and attractive.

By a stroke of luck examples of two of these can be seen in Cambridge, a small university city south-west of Norwich that’s less than an hour’s drive away. So on a day trip over the May bank holiday I took the opportunity to visit them both and try them out for myself.

The first of these junctions is a “CYCLOPS” or Cycle Optimised Protected Signals junction on Histon Road and the second is a truly Dutch roundabout – the first of its kind in the UK – and built with the help of Dutch traffic engineers on Fendon Road near Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

Cycling on the Fendon Road roundabout

Junctions are intimidating and dangerous places for people walking and cycling. They are a major barrier to active travel and are where most collisions occur. These two junctions address these issues head on.

CYCLOPS junction on Histon Road

The design of the CYCLOPS junction was originally developed in Manchester (there are three in the city, the Cambridge one being the fourth in the UK). Completed in October 2021, the junction is on Histon Road, a busy arterial road which also has protected cycle lanes along both sides.

A wide, continuous kerb-protected cycle track is provided around the outside of the junction with pedestrian crossings inside the cycle track. Having the cycle track on the outside creates a larger turning radius for cyclists whilst reducing the distance pedestrians have to cross.

Histon Road CYCLOPS junction (Histon Road running left to right) – image camcycle.org

The cycle track keeps cyclists entirely separate from both vehicular traffic and pedestrians. Turning left at the junction you take the “filter lane” with no need to stop, being totally protected from general traffic.

Approaching the CYCLOPS junction

Travelling straight ahead you can go straight through the junction, and most cyclists seem to do this. There’s a cycle lane on either side of the junction and the width of the lane is maintained through the junction so you’re not squeezed by motor traffic. But you do have the option of taking the cycle track (which necessitates waiting for the lights) but if you’re riding with a young family you might prefer this option.

Crossing the CYCLOPS junction on the cycle track

Turning right you pull into the left lane, stop at the lights and press the button. When the cycle-only light changes to green you will have enough time to traverse the two arms of the junction enabling you to get to your destination.

Turning right on the CYCLOPS junction

The cycle and pedestrian phase of the lights is simultaneous and can be triggered either by cyclists or by pedestrians waiting to cross. There are zebra crossings on the cycle track to enable pedestrians to reach the islands where they can cross the road.

You can of course still choose to turn right through the junction, and several people still do this. The advanced stop lines are presumably retained for this purpose. People can use the junction in different ways.

The enhanced safety of the junction was immediately apparent but the design will take some time to bed in and for people to familiarise themselves with. I spoke to an elderly lady who was turning right by going anti-clockwise using the pedestrian crossings. She was unaware that there were lights for cyclists.

Dutch-style roundabout on Fendon Road

The Fendon Road roundabout, built in July 2020, is by contrast much easier to use. There are no lights and there’s only really one way of using it – you go round the cycle track until you reach your exit and then peel off to the left, all the time protected from general traffic. Drivers give way to pedestrians and cyclists crossing on both the entry and the exit to the junction.

Fendon Road roundabout – image itv.com

The geometry slows down drivers, meaning everyone has more time to adjust and react to other users of the junction. The whole junction is a 20mph zone. Zebra crossings allow pedestrians to cross the cycle and vehicle lanes on each arm of the roundabout.

A family riding on the Fendon Road roundabout

Having experienced Dutch roundabouts in their natural habitat I had high expectations and memories of cycling care-free through busy city junctions. It certainly provides the same level of protection but until everyone adapts to the new design it still felt like you needed to be aware of what drivers were doing and be prepared to stop if necessary.

One or two drivers were still approaching far too fast (no doubt in the expectation that they’ll be able to whizz through unimpeded) and were only slowing down if they “needed to“. In the Netherlands drivers know they need to slow down for junctions. It is going to take some time before British drivers adjust to the new design.

It’s probably a good idea to indicate your intentions, whether turning off to the left or indicating right to show you intend to travel further around, so as to give drivers as much notice as possible.

A cyclist going through the Fendon Road roundabout – cars everywhere but she is kept separated from them

The clever design does however allow for the largest of HGVs to (slowly) navigate the junction, as I myself witnessed.

It was instructive to watch people on road bikes – who usually like to stick to the road at all times – going around the cycle track.

The same but different

Both junctions have the same aim: to calm vehicular traffic and make the junction safer for cyclists and pedestrians and they achieve this by separating the different users in time and space and thereby minimising conflicts between them. Although superficially similar both junctions are however quite different in detail.

The CYCLOPS junction feels less “alien” and although the overall design is new the individual components of the design are familiar. The Fendon Road roundabout probably does feel unusual at first sight, especially for drivers.

One difference between the two designs is that the CYCLOPS junction has the pedestrian route on the inside of the cycle track whereas the Fendon Road roundabout has the pedestrians on the outside.

Trike rider on the Fendon Road roundabout

Accommodating pedestrian movements is a key aspect of the design of both junctions and it’s clear a lot of thought has gone into this. Both junctions provide a very pleasant and safe experience for pedestrians, even when crossing the cycle track where cyclists obviously have to give way to pedestrians crossing. The cycle tracks are wide enough to accommodate mobility scooters and trikes.

Compared to the traditional UK junction both of these are a step-change for walking and cycling, but they are simply what all new (or renovated) junctions should be like. Indeed, both of the designs are documented in LTN 1/20 (the government’s design guidance for cycle infrastruture), and government policy stipulates that this is what local authorities must be building in order to get funding for transport schemes.

All photos by Peter Silburn


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