‘Don’t know’ – Highways Agency on A14

The most common answer I got to my questions at yesterday’s A14 consultation was ‘don’t know’, and really it came across largely as don’t care.  Here’s an outline of the discussion I had.

The A14 consultation brochuse uses a picture of a bicycle and an old building as one of the chapter heads. This has nothing to do with the contents and is misleading or greenwash.

The A14 consultation brochure uses a picture of a bicycle and an old building as one of the chapter heads. This has nothing to do with the contents and is misleading greenwash.

Pollution

I asked what effect the new road would have on air quality in Cambridge city.

The Highways Agency said they didn’t know. The said they will set up monitoring stations along the route and if necessary mitigation measures will be used. I asked what mitigation measures would be used if air quality was poor, I got no answer.  I asked this three times and they mumbled and fumbled. Eventually one mumbled something about ‘reducing traffic’, which seems odd as their estimates show up to a 20% increase in traffic. They think that a reduction in stop-start driving and an increase in speed from 20mph to 70mph will reduce pollution. They had no information or modelling available to prove this.

I find it astonishing that the detailed engineering has been done and yet the effects of pollution on 150,000 people in Cambridge and area has not been considered. This is despite an estimated 250 people per year (1 in 20) in Cambridgeshire dying early due to air pollution according to the government’s own estimates. This is despite the EU preparing to fine the UK government for failing to meet air quality targets. Just a few weeks ago pollution at Orchard Park School monitoring station (adjacent to the A14 in north Cambridge) reach 10 out of 10, or Very High. Air pollution is a serious and increasing issue in the region but the Highways Agency don’t seem to care.

Traffic in Cambridge

The Highways Agency claim they are working closely with Cambridge City Council.

The Highways Agency claim they are working closely with Cambridge City Council.

I asked where all this extra traffic would go when it reached Cambridge.

The Highways Agency didn’t know. They said they had been working very closely with the City Council (and others) on this.

Tim Ward, Executive Councillor for Planning and Climate Change, was surprised by this and hasn’t had any traffic data despite asking for years. Cllr Ward suggested that there could be 35% more traffic down Huntingdon Road (Cambridge). If true, this astonishing increase would likely bring that road to a halt at peak times.

The City Council, to their credit, are setting aside £1.2 million to mitigate the congestion caused by the A14 works. However with changes to just one junction likely to cost £1m it’s open to question how much this can achieve.

Traffic on the A14

Department of Transport traffic forecasts vs actual. Source: Better Transport

Department of Transport traffic forecasts versus actual. Source: Campaign for Better Transport

The Highways Agency were keen to say that they are ‘adding one more lane in each direction’. This isn’t accurate, they are adding an additional six lanes around Huntingdon. At some points they were claiming the work was to improve safety because of the poor junction designs of the existing roads, at other times it was about long distance travel. They did say that the road will have average speed cameras from end to end. They also said that the new road will be ‘busy’ in the Bar Hill section due to additional building, so it’s not even clear that congestion due to commuters will even be lower after widening. We could spend £1,500 million and end up with the same jams!

At times they said there would not be a 20% increase in traffic and I had to point to their display information to correct them.

I pointed out that the DfT’s traffic forecasting had been incorrect for 20 years, they said the ‘models were better now’.

Knock-on Costs

The existing four-lane road from Fenstaton to Huntingdon will be bypassed by a six lane motorway and the existing road ‘de-trunked’ and passed to Cambridgeshire County Council to maintain. Although there will be some funds passed to the County in compensation, the County will bear the cost of this road. The County is currently almost broke and unable to maintain its roads and fund its schools yet its burden will be increased.

The Highways Agency thought that the growth that the road would bring would offset the costs. It will also bring additional costs and I don’t believe they have any figures to prove their point. Cambridge City Council has not contributed to the cost of the A14 because it will not unlock development within the city. The Highways Agency said the City supported the project, I would say muted support at best.

Cycle Proofing

Prime Minister says 'cycle proof', Highways Agency says 'Did he?'

Prime Minister says ‘cycle proof’, Highways Agency says ‘Did he?’, Cambridge MP says ‘Groan’.

Proposed cycle crossing of A14 at Bar Hill.

Proposed cycle crossing of A14 at Bar Hill.

The Prime Minister said that all future trunk road schemes would be ‘cycle proofed’, though it was unclear what this meant in practice. So I asked what this would mean for this scheme.

The Highways Agency’s first response was ‘Did he?’ Clearly the message isn’t getting through.

The Agency’s approach to cycling can be seen in two parts of this scheme. Firstly the crossing of the A14 at Bar Hill. The snaking, sharply sloped path in the plan (right) is the cycle route. This route is far from the desire lines to Longstanton/Northstowe and to Cambridge.  What would the Dutch do? Probably build an underpass.

If you want to cycle from Bar Hill to Cambridge the proposed route is circuitous but it could be improved by an ≈0.5km section of cycle route connecting the south east edge of the Bar Hill perimeter road to the new local road that is roughly on the line of Oakington Road. Others have suggested this.

The Highways Agency’s response was that they wouldn’t build it because they ‘couldn’t accommodate everyone’. So that’s the usual two fingers to cycling!

Conclusions

The Highways Agency seemed unprepared or unwilling to answer my questions in any depth with any supporting information. Of course they won’t have to live with the consequences.

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Riverside – trial needed

I’m hopefully that there will be some changes to Riverside in 2014. On 25 March 2014 a motion proposed by Councillor Ian Manning was overwhelming passed by Cambridgeshire County Council endorsing temporary trials for streetscape schemes. By trying out schemes on the ground we can do them cheaper, faster and better.

As the motion says, concerns about schemes can become more strident and polarised because once the schemes are implemented they are very difficult to change. By the time we have discovered the problems with a scheme the contractors have finished building it, the money has all been spent and officers are working on the next schemes. This leaves us having to cope with the problems and locals and councillors working hard to find money to rectify the work.

At Cambridge City Council’s East Area Committee on 10 April I asked the City to do a trial on Riverside in 2014. City officers have said that the idea is feasible.

Consultation on the ground

The idea behind doing trials on the ground is so it’s possible to try out a few ideas in a short time, and so we can try them out in practice. Although there might be concerns about, say, traffic congestion we won’t really know until we try it, so let’s just try it and see! It might not be as bad as you think it could be. As it’s temporary it can be removed.

Councillor Richard Johnson (City Council, Abbey ward) is supportive, as is the residents’ association, Cllr Johnson said:

[Riverside Residents Association are] supportive in principle but stressed the need for proper consultation with the residents most affected… [they] proposed that a working meeting, to discuss the practicalities, with County and City officers would be a useful way forward before holding a full public meeting and going further in working up plans.

I hope that a public meeting would lead to a couple of ideas that could be tested out on the ground within a few weeks of the meeting.

Balancing the needs of everyone using Riverside

The reply from Cllr Joan Whitehead (County Council, Abbey ward) at East Area Committee was that no changes could be made unless residents agreed. I am very hopeful that there is a design that will please everyone. The people living on Riverside want to see changes too and are asking what’s happening with the ‘Vision for Riverside’. I believe temporary changes are the way to get the ball rolling. Once the design is agreed it’s easier to seek out funding.

A narrow section of Riverside from Saxon Road to River Lane.

A narrow section of Riverside from Saxon Road to River Lane.

We need to do some trials on Riverside because it’s unclear what the best design would be. The pavement needs to be widened and this probably means changes to the parking arrangements, which always raises concerns. Recent proposals to speed up buses on Histon Road were thrown out by councillors because of concerns over parking, and this is after a great deal of time had been spent designing the scheme in detail, consulting on it and in discussion in committee. How much time was spent by officers, residents, councillors and many others discussing this scheme for it to come to nothing? What a waste of time and money.

We should do some trials on the section between Saxon Road and River Lane because this is the narrowest section and has no footpath, so people walk in the road. This section of Riverside has 13 houses fronting on to it and there are 11 car parking spaces (at most). I believe that some of the car parking can be relocated a short distance along Riverside to the other side of Saxon Road if angled parking is used, and a number of the Pay&Display spaces further up Saxon Road could change to residents’ permits so there is no overall change in the number of residents’ spaces.

Riverside is busy with people walking to work or walking to visit town, people jogging and people cycling. It’s easy to forget how busy it is because this quiet activity merges in with the sounds of birds and the river.

Here’s a count taken on Saturday 12 April for one hour from 11:45:

Count Percentage
Cycling 158 52
Walking 107 35
Car 32 10
Dog 6 2
Motor scooter 2 1
Mobility scooter 1 0
Total 306

It’s clear that on a Saturday there are several thousand people using Riverside, I suspect the number is at least as high on a weekday.

So yes, we must carefully consider the needs of the 13 households on this part of Riverside and we must also consider the needs of 1000+ people using the highway every day.

Since the beginning of the year the County Council has overwhelming endorsed doing highway changes using trials and two local councillors and a residents’ association are supportive. This is a great base for positive change on Riverside in 2014.