Finally Cambridgeshire County Council has brought forward some proposals for Tenison Road after much delay. About £500,000 of developer contributions (Section 106) money is to be spent in addition to about £150,000 to replace the traffic signals and £150,000 from the resurfacing budget, making a grand total of £800,000 for about 500m of local road, quite a sum.
The developer contributions are intended to “help ease traffic impact resulting from the CB1 development” and the proposals are called “traffic improvements”. Herein lies the rub: the proposals are about motor traffic and are not about improving the area. If you want to improve the area then concentrate on that and not on the traffic (see below for the failure of the hierarchy of modes).
The dominant factor shaping Tenison Road is the traffic along it between Mill Road and the railway station. There are about 4,500 vehicles a day on Tenison Road with >80% of these being cars or vans and typically no more than two (number) multi-axle lorries. [Data from Cambridge City Council’s 20mph project base data.] As the blog post on Placefaking makes so clear, if the street is a rat-run then you can’t transform the streetscape without reducing the traffic, you can’t make the street feel like a ‘place’ by adding trees and pretty paving that is simply putting lipstick on a pig. [Hat tip to Hester for the reference.]
There is nothing in the County’s proposals that will reduce or discourage motor traffic on this route, the best they are hoping for is to reduce some of the excesses and encourage compliance with the 20mph speed limit through expensive infrastructure. They hope that a variation in the surface, through coloured block paving, will make drivers a bit uncertain and slow down. By adding parking and some trees (obstructions in the highway) they hope to break up the straight lines and slow drivers. It’s a bit like shared space but it’s not shared space.
While this approach may work where drivers are unfamiliar with the road a large number of the vehicles on this road are taxis, who know the road very well. Many drivers happily speed down nearby Devonshire Road towards the blind corner and overtake cycles despite being unable to see round the corner.
Despite there being around £150,000 to spend on resurfacing this will only be spent on the area between the footways. Despite the claim that this traffic improvement scheme will “maintain safety and comfort for pedestrians” the footways will not be resurfaced despite being in a poor state in some places. The resurfacing budget is only for the benefit of motor vehicles. The County is so disinterested in people walking that they have not even bothered to count them before drawing up these proposals.
The failure of the ‘hierarchy of modes’
Cambridgeshire claims, in the Cambridgeshire Local Transport Plan 2011 – 2026, Policies and Strategy, that a hierarchy “will be used as a guide for setting priorities and allocating funding towards programme areas and schemes”, and the hierarchy is (most important first):
- Public transport
- Specialist service vehicles (e.g. emergency services, waste collection, disabled drivers)
- Other motor vehicles
But this hasn’t happened on Tenison Road. The County’s representative claimed that people had been put first because an architect had designed the block paving to match the colour of adjacent buildings.
Here’s the effective hierarchy on Tenison Road:
- Residents’ parking, which is to be maintained and increased.
- Taxis and residents’ private motor vehicles; both groups would object vociferously if Tenison Road were no longer a through road.
- Private motor vehicles cutting through this residential area; the imperative to not interrupt the traffic flow.
- People on cycles, who had their provision between Devonshire Road and St Barnabas Road removed in some drafts.
- People on foot, who get a zebra crossing on a corner and some unspecified changes at the traffic signals.
My view on what should be done
Since there is no appetite to actually reduce motor traffic on Tenison Road in a way that would make a difference to the people living on the road, we should not waste £500,000 on ineffective streetscape changes. Let’s not spend £500,000 on lipstick. The money probably can’t be spent on something ‘useful’ but that’s no reason to waste it here.
There seems to be a view that money from developers is somehow ‘free’ money, in reality of course it is paid for by the businesses and individuals who buy or let the buildings in the CB1 development. Think of it this way: “The price of your flat is £370,000 plus £5,000 towards block paving, trees and car parking for other people on Tenison Road. No, you can’t have a parking space.”
I also have some ideas on cheap and effective changes that would slow and discourage motor traffic on Tenison Road.
Traffic signal priority
When the traffic signals are renewed at the Devonshire Road and St Barnabas Road junctions the priority should be set so the side roads are normally green, or the pedestrian phase is normally green, and vehicles on Tenison Road normally have to stop at a red and wait. This will give priority to people crossing and to people cycling between the station and the city centre. It will slow down vehicles on Tenison Road and it will make this route less attractive as a fast through route.
The cost of this is within the signal replacement budget.
A ‘gate’ could be added at the corner on Tenison Road with a very narrow gap. We know from the gates between Romsey Town and Cromwell Road that these slow traffic and discourage through trips.
The gates in Romsey Town are a bit ugly, so how about a narrowing the road by lowering it by about 0.5m between tight kerbs? A lowered channel would be largely invisible in the street.
A sense of place
Two of the side roads off Tenison Road, Wilkin and Felton Streets, could be closed entirely to motor vehicles, or closed at the Tenison Road end (one has parking the other does not). With the junctions on to Tenison Road closed these streets could be given a sense of place with, for example, a pocket park, play equipment, cycle parking and a larger outside area for the Salisbury Arms pub. In addition the footway on Tenison Road will be improved by removing two roads that cut across it.
So should we be spending £800,000 on a few trees and some pretty paving (aka lipstick) that will have minimal impact on traffic on Tenison Road? If there’s no appetite for a meaningful change to this road let’s be more cautious with our money.