Five go to Cambridge

You can read about it and you can watch videos but there’s no substitute for visiting yourself. We took five Norfolk County Council officers to Cambridge for a day. Peter Silburn reports

Cambridge is unquestionably the leading UK cycling city and there is much we can learn from them. With this in mind we invited Highways officers from Norfolk County Council to a study tour of the city’s cycle infrastructure.

Earlier in the year we had taken councillors on a tour. Now it was time for the officers. Our guides for the day were Robin Heydon and Josh Grantham from the Cambridge Cycling Campaign and we were also joined by Grant Weller from Cambridgeshire County Council.

We covered a lot of ground during the day. I discuss some of the highlights below.

Our tour began at Marmalade Lane, a residential street reminiscent of a Dutch city street closed to cars, with cycle racks outside each house, and a shared communal garden where children can play without the fear of cars.

Communal space on Marmalade Lane

On Arbury Road we saw stepped cycle tracks, which provide much better protection than a painted white line – especially when the cycle lane is laid with red coloured asphalt.

These tracks were a good example of the “Cambridge kerb” which has a shallow angle and is forgiving for both cyclists and drivers. It provides good deterrence against drivers entering the cycle lane, but was felt to be not as good as wands (assuming they are spaced close enough together that is).

Arbury Road stepped cycle tracks – Image Google Street View

Gilbert Road is an important arterial road which has the centreline removed and advisory cycle lanes down each side, somewhat similar to The Avenues in Norwich. This apparently works well and compliance from drivers is good. Bus drivers have received special training on how to drive on the road. One key difference between The Avenues is the use of red asphalt for the cycle lanes. This is more expensive but it makes it very clear to drivers that the cycle lane should only be driven in when avoiding oncoming traffic.

Gilbert Road red asphalt cycle lanes – Image Google Street View

The CYCLOPS or Cycle Optimised Protected Signals junction on Histon Road was our first taste of a state-of-the-art junction that prioritises active travel. Completed in 2021 the design aims to keep pedestrians and cyclists separate from each other and from vehicular traffic. You can read more details from an earlier visit here.

Histon Road CYCLOPS junction – Image camcycle.org

Eddington is a new greenfield development, primarily of university accommodation, to the north west of the city. Clearly a lot of effort has gone into providing cycle paths and allowing permeability across the site. Some of the details of the cycle paths could be better, with paths constantly stopping and starting, swapping sides with the footway and it not always being clear where the path goes.

Also, crucially the paths don’t link up very well with the cycle routes outside the development. There needs to be much better working together between the developers, the land owners and the council.

Cambridge University has expanded massively to the west of the city in recent years. The Coton Path is the main cycle route between the “old” university campus in the city centre and the new West Cambridge campus. This has three “rush hours”: morning and evening but also at lunchtime when students are heading for lunch or between lectures. The path is a generous 3.5m wide bi-directional cycleway with a 2m raised footpath next to it but at busy times it gets very congested and will need to be widened.

At the start of the Coton Path

At the Grand Arcade shopping centre in the heart of the city there is a purpose built cycle park right under the shopping centre. Parking is free and it’s a convenient location with a bike repair shop next door. There is a contraflow cycle lane on the street outside especially designed to provide safe and easy access.

Cargo bike parking at the Grand Arcade cycle park

We stopped at the famous cycle counter next to the cycle path on Gonville Place. 1.2 million users so far this year! The counter is positioned to be visible to drivers on the road, who may possibly be sitting in a traffic jam.

The Gonville Place cycle counter – 1.2 million riders and counting!

It should be pointed out that for much of the day we were riding on unremarkable streets without necessarily any noticeable “cycle infrastructure” as such but these were nonetheless traffic calmed streets – some going back many decades – and as a consequence there was very little traffic. Never once did we feel intimidated by car drivers.

At the main railway station we saw inside the cycle park which has space for 2,850 bikes over two floors. Cargo bike and bike trailer parking is on the ground floor. The ramps to the main parking on the first floor are at a shallow angle and it’s easy to wheel a heavy bike unassisted. It’s located a two minute walk from the station.

For our tour we had actually alighted at Cambridge North station, which opened in 2017 and has space for 1,000 bikes in a conveniently located covered parking area right outside the station.

The truly “Dutch-style” roundabout on Fendon Road was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the tour. We arrived at the start of the early afternoon rush hour as traffic was building up yet was flowing freely. Drivers were slowing down for the junction, giving themselves time to react to cyclists and pedestrians having right of way at the crossings.

Fendon Road roundabout – Image itv.com

Since the roundabout was built in 2020 there’s been a 50% increase in cyclists using the junction and a 30% increase in pedestrian traffic. Car traffic has stayed about the same. You can read more details from an earlier visit here.

The junction on Perne Road and Radegund Road was an early attempt at a “Dutch” roundabout. Built in 2014, it employs some of the principles of Dutch design such as tightened geometry and an enlarged central island to slow drivers down, but cyclists share the pavement around the edge with pedestrians and there is no priority for cyclists and pedestrians at the crossings.

It’s not something you would now want to copy but it’s a considerable improvement over what was there before and apparently has a reasonable safety record. The speed limit for the junction is perhaps surprisingly still 30mph. We were there at the end of the school day so lots of schoolchildren were riding around the junction on the road, presumably because it’s more convenient and quicker than taking the pavement route.

Perne Road roundabout – Image Google Street View

We ended our tour with a ride along the recently opened section of the Chisholm Trail. When complete this will provide a north-south “spine” cycle route right through the city centre passing close to the main train station.

The new section includes an underpass under Newmarket Road and the Abbey-Chesterton bridge across the River Cam. It’s very impressive but almost inevitably the path is already becoming a victim of its own success. The new bridge which was expected to ease the pressure off the two existing cycle bridges upstream is already seeing user numbers higher than those bridges (3,500 users a day in summer).

The Abbey-Chesterton bridge over the River Cam

The new paths are 4m wide shared use but if they were being built again they would probably be made wider and possibly segregated. It’s important to build for the cycle traffic you will generate, not just to meet current perceived demand.

We extend our thanks to Robin, Josh and Grant for their hospitality and for sharing their expertise so freely with us.

Photos by Peter Silburn

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