Study tour of Cambridge

With help from our friends at Cambridge Cycling Campaign we organised a study tour of Cambridge so Norwich councillors could see for themselves the cycle infrastructure in the UK’s premier cycling city. Peter Silburn reports on an inspiring day

We were there to be shown cycle lanes and modal filters and kerbs of course but what we really experienced was the cumulative effect of how these measures transform the city.

Spending a day cycling around Cambridge was pleasant and stress-free. At times it was quiet enough to hear birdsong, the air was noticeably fresher and we were mostly kept away from busy traffic. It was striking to see high levels of cycling everywhere, predominantly on ordinary everyday bikes: practical, inexpensive workhorses, typically with mudguards and a basket for carrying things.

We went to Cambridge to experience the very best cycle infrastructure the UK has to offer. Some of it was very good indeed but it was often the not-quite-so-good that was equally interesting.

We packed in a lot but I summarise some of the highlights below.

Cambridge station cycle parking

We started our tour with a look inside the cycle parking at Cambridge station. In 2016 the station underwent a major revamp and the cycle parking, which used to occupy the space directly in front of the station, was moved to a purpose-built space on the first and second floors of a nearby hotel. Parking is free and there is space for 2,850 bikes using a mixture of Sheffield stands and two-tier racks. Access from street level is via shallow steps with purpose-built ramps for wheeling bikes. There is a small area for non-standard cycles on the ground floor but no dedicated parking for cargo bikes.

Two-tier cycle racks at Cambridge station

Impressive as it is the cycle parking has come in for some criticism. Despite being positioned right next to the train tracks there is no direct access to the platforms, although this has not been ruled out if and when the station is extended. Cycle theft – a long-standing problem in Cambridge – has not been adequately resolved despite the presence of CCTV cameras. The building was originally manned and there was an on-site bike shop providing additional “eyes on the ground” but neither of these is currently the case.

Despite these issues the cycle parking remains well-used: it quadrupled the space of the old station parking and yet already operates at full capacity.

Low traffic neighbourhoods

When talking about low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs) in Cambridge it’s probably best to think of the entire city centre as one giant LTN.

Cambridge has been filtering streets for decades. Much of the city centre we cycled through was along quiet residential streets with very little traffic. These provide direct and pleasant routes for cyclists and you will see all sorts of people cycling here.

Bollards and other “modal filters” are used to restrict car traffic whilst allowing other modes of transport such as cycles. The principle is very simple, you can get everywhere by car (so you’re not for instance prevented from accessing your house) you just have to go round the main road. There is no through traffic so the only people you will encounter driving are people who actually need to be there.

Modal filters are nothing new. This one on Hooper Street was installed in 1974!

With so much historic cycle infrastructure there is an ongoing process of continuous refinement. For instance, bollards have been repositioned further away from the junction, where you are less likely to hit them.

Another example is where two bollards have been installed across a road (because traffic engineers deemed this was the cheapest and easiest way to block the street) and these are being replaced with one central bollard (and, where necessary, additional bollards at the side). Having two bollards creates an ambiguous situation with the potential for conflict where cyclists aren’t sure which gap to ride through. With a central bollard it’s clear you pass to the left of it.

Core Traffic Scheme

The Cambridge Core Traffic Scheme aims to restrict through traffic and thereby improve conditions for public transport, pedestrians and cyclists. The city is divided into sectors and prohibited vehicles are prevented from entering the areas at prescribed times.

Entrance to the Core Traffic Scheme area on St Andrews Street

This used to be controlled by rising bollards which could be triggered by permitted vehicles (buses, taxis etc.) but these were regularly being hit by drivers so they have been replaced by cameras which automatically send a fixed penalty notice to any offending drivers.

Cargo delivery bikes are obviously exempt and these are increasingly being used for urban logistics in the city.

Grand Arcade cycle parking

We were shown the purpose-built cycle parking under the Grand Arcade shopping centre in the heart of Cambridge. This couldn’t be more convenient, you cycle straight into the parking area where there’s space for over 200 bikes. Cycle parking is free but for £1 there is also secure “valet” cycle parking, as well as a bike shop and cycle hire.

Coton Path cycleway

Our next port of call was the Coton Path which goes out to the new West Cambridge Campus site. This carries 4,500 cyclists per day. Most student accommodation remains in the city centre so there are three rush hours on this path: morning and evening, but also lunchtime when students are going to and from lectures at the campus.

This is built to a standard we in Norwich can only dream of – a 3.5m wide bi-directional cycleway and a separate raised footway. At busy times however the path gets very crowded and needs to be widened.

New developments/Eddington

Eddington is a new development on University land to the north-west of the city. In line with the sustainability goals of the development there is a network of cycle routes around the site and cycle access is permitted in open spaces such as the new market square where there is plenty of cycle parking. The cycle paths are however shared-use and not always clearly signed. Also, being on private land it is unclear what their legal status is.

The cycle paths link into existing routes to the city centre. However imperfect, these paths do provide viable routes. This is important because the County Council has a policy of a zero increase in car traffic for all new developments.

Histon Road CYCLOPS junction

The CYCLOPS or Cycle Optimised Protected Signals junction is a design of junction originally developed in Manchester but the first one in Cambridge was built in 2021 on Histon Road where it offers a marked improvement for pedestrians and cyclists.

Traffic lights are triggered by cyclists approaching the stop line. The green “active travel” phase applies to all four arms of the junction and is for both pedestrians and cyclists. There is ample time to navigate two arms (i.e. a right turn) on a bike. The design also offers improvements for buses.

Riding around the CYCLOPS junction on Histon Road

The junction takes a lot of cycle traffic from the nearby primary school and is a popular cycle commuter route into the city. This is perhaps a more familiar design for UK users when compared to the Dutch-style roundabout which we saw later and more are being built across the country, including in Cambridge.

Arbury Road stepped cycle tracks

Outside a primary school on Arbury Road we were shown stepped cycle tracks. A stepped cycle track is raised slightly above the level of the carriageway, usually by around 50mm, and then there is a further 50mm step up to the footway.

Stepped cycle tracks give greater protection to cyclists whilst taking up a similar amount of space to a painted cycle lane. The cycle tracks are also laid with red asphalt (like a lot of the cycle paths in Cambridge) which makes a clear distinction between road and cycleway.

Stepped cycle tracks on Arbury Road

In a sense we were on a journey through the history of UK cycle infrastructure. Cambridge often leads the way, and early examples of many features which are later adopted elsewhere in the country can be first seen here.

One such innovation to stepped cycle tracks (known as – you guessed it – the “Cambridge kerb”) is to use a slight slope over the width of the kerb such that you can cycle up and down it safely without risk of falling off. Car drivers however will tend to give you more space with a kerb than with a simple white line which they know they can drive over with impunity.

Cambridge North station cycle parking

Cambridge North station which was opened in 2017 has space for 1,000 cycles in a covered area conveniently located directly outside the station. The parking has an open, airy feel and there is good subjective security with plenty of passers-by.

Access to the cycle parking however is poorly thought out. There is only a zebra crossing from the main cycle route and no dropped kerb onto the main road route. Even in Cambridge you see examples where you think: “Who on earth designed that!”

Abbey-Chesterton pedestrian and cycle bridge

Constructed early last year, this bridge over the River Cam forms part of the Chisholm Trail, a north-south cycle route that runs from Addenbrooke’s Hospital in the south to the Science Park in the north.

The Abbey-Chesterton pedestrian and cycle bridge

The Chisholm Trail has been in gestation for 20 years and when complete will provide a convenient direct cycle route across the city alongside the railway line. The final piece of the jigsaw will be the central section past the station but the river crossing already provides a crucial walking and cycling link between the large employment area north of the river and the housing area to the south.

Riverside and the Equiano cycle bridge

The Equiano bridge (renamed last year from the Riverside bridge) carries 3,000 cyclists a day. When it was built in 2008 the slipway on the southern approach needed to go on the road so Riverside was closed to through traffic, at a stroke preventing it from being used as a rat-run out to Newmarket Road.

Riverside with the Equiano bridge in the background

The bridge provides a vital link between communities on either side of the river and Riverside has now become one of the most popular places on the river for walking and cycling.

Perne Road roundabout

Modified in 2014 this was an early attempt at a “Dutch roundabout”. Whilst the road layout has been designed to Dutch principles, with tightened entrances and rumble strips on the roundabout, the cycle path around the junction is simply shared-use pavement around the edge. Although there are large islands on each arm of the junction there is no cyclist or pedestrian priority.

There are now plans (which are shortly to go out to consultation) for this to redesigned as a CYCLOPS junction. A good example of where it would have been better to have done the job properly in the first place.

Approaching the Perne Road roundabout. Where’s the cycle path?

Fendon Road roundabout

We ended the day on a high note at the truly Dutch-style roundabout – the first of its kind in the UK – on Fendon Road, a busy junction near Addenbrooke’s Hospital. This did not disappoint and needs to be experienced first-hand to really appreciate how transformative this type of junction can be. Since its introduction there has been a 50% increase in cycle traffic.

The design can appear strange on first encountering it but the principles of the design are really quite simple. Priority is given to people walking and cycling and car traffic is slowed down and the individual actions you need to complete to negotiate the roundabout (giving way to pedestrians, giving way to cyclists, entering the roundabout etc.) are broken down so you focus on just one task at a time.

Cycling around the Fendon Road roundabout

The junction has not been without its problems, which is to be expected when introducing something as new as this. By coincidence, engineers from Cambridgeshire County Council were on-site analysing near-miss data. There has been a slight increase in incidents at the junction, apparently mostly on the approach. They were looking at possible changes such as raised tables for the zebra crossings and adjusting the geometry to give drivers more time to see cyclists.

Everyone who cycled around the junction however couldn’t fail to be impressed with the design, and this will hopefully be the first of many such roundabouts in the UK. As I write this the first Dutch-style roundabout in Ireland has just been built in Dublin.

A circuit of the Fendon Road Dutch-style roundabout

We extend our thanks to Robin Heydon and Josh Grantham of Cambridge Cycling Campaign for being our guides for the day.

Photos by Peter Silburn and Derek Williams


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