Redesigning Riverside – fast!

Riverside in Cambridge is a very busy walking and cycling route, an important commuting route to and from the city centre, and it could also be a fantastic leisure walkway connecting the city to Stourbridge Common and further afield.  It used to be an industrial area with the town gas works situated there amongst other uses, now it’s bordered by homes but the highway remains in a poor state with narrow pavements, poor drainage and a lumpy road surface.  Prompted by a ‘2014 wish for Riverside’ on Shape Your Place I investigated how we can improve things quickly.

As local councillor Richard Johnson points out, rebuilding this stretch with a boulevard is a long-term project, not least because of the cost.  However the city of New York is transforming its streets into places for people using the mantra ‘do bold experiments that are cheap to try out‘.  Let’s do that on Riverside by summer 2014.

What?

Diagram of some quick changes to Riverside between Priory Road and Riverside bridge.

Diagram of some quick changes to Riverside between Priory Road and Riverside bridge.

Let’s improve the next 300m from Priory Road (the end of the existing scheme) to Riverside bridge.  We can quickly create a continuous walkway to make Riverside better for people walking and cycling.

The layouts below are just an example, go to Streetmix and try out some alternate layouts for yourself!

Section A – As built

Section A, as built

Section A, as built.

The southern end of Riverside was rebuilt in 2011 with a wide boulevard/walkway.

The southern end of Riverside was rebuilt in 2011 with a wide boulevard/walkway on the left adjacent to the river. Credit: Klaas Brumann via CycleStreets

For comparison this is what has already been built: the walkway has a clear area 3m wide and the driving lane is 3.6m wide.

Section B – Priory Road to Saxon Road

Proposal for section B, Priory Road to Saxon Road.

Proposal for section B, Priory Road to Saxon Road.

Riverside is wide here so more parking could be created on the right with the temporary walkway extending from the left out to the dotted white line.

Riverside is wide here so more parking could be created on the right. The temporary walkway would extend from the left out to the dotted white line.

In this section a portion of the parking is changed from parallel to the kerb to perpendicular to provide more spaces.  The existing narrow pavement is widened by 2m and there is still space for a wide lane for cars and cycling.

Section C – Saxon Road to River Lane

Proposal for section C, Saxon Road to River Lane.

Proposal for section C, Saxon Road to River Lane.

With no pavement on the left people walking mix with cycles and cars in the road. By relocating car parking, the temporary walkway would use half the entire width here.

With no pavement on the left people walking mix with cycles and cars in the road. By relocating car parking, the temporary walkway would use half the entire width here, roughly continuing the dotted line in the right foreground of the picture.

The space is very limited here and there is no pavement on the river side.  By relocating the parking to the other side of Saxon Road this section of the Riverside can be closed to motor traffic and the walkway can continue uninterrupted.

Section D – River Lane to Riverside bridge

Proposal for section D, River Lane to Riverside bridge.

Proposal for section D, River Lane to Riverside bridge.

Riverside widens out again and by removing parking the walkway can be widened.

Riverside widens out again and by removing parking the walkway can be widened.

The existing parking on this section is removed so the walkway can be widened by 2m while keeping a wide driving and cycling lane.  The bollards could be moved forward from the bridge to the bottom of the path up to Newmarket Road/Tesco.

How?

The as-built scheme cost in excess of £300,000 for about 200m and took about nine months to build. I want the next 300m to be tried out quickly and cheaply. We can do this using only paint and planters or bollards both of which are inexpensive and easy to remove.

The street on the right of the triangular junction was improved (below) as a trial using paint and planters.

The street on the right of the triangular junction was improved (below) as a trial using paint and planters.

New York City is testing out new schemes quickly and cheaply as this 15 minute TED Talk by Janette Sadik-Khan, transportation commissioner of New York City, explains.

So let’s use paint and planters to try a continuous walkway on Riverside.  I don’t know what this would cost; suppose it was £10,000?  The County Council and the City Council’s Area Committees all have money they can allocate to small schemes like this, so how about a split between the County and the North and East Area Committees?  I think they could each find £3–£5k for this trial.  The changes could be made within a few weeks, so let’s have them in place by summer 2014.

Some people will say this scheme isn’t possible because of the removal of parking or because closing a portion of Riverside would cause problems, and that’s exactly why we need a trial: to see how it will work and what problems there might be.  And remember that the paint and planters can be easily removed.

The trial won’t fix the dodgy paving, the poor road surface or the bad drainage but it will improve Riverside for people walking by giving them more space and it could largely eliminate the contention between people walking, those on bicycles and in cars.  It will mean we have a rough design so when money becomes available we can start building it.

So how about it councillors?  Can you find the will and a small amount of money to start the transformation of Riverside?  Can you ‘do bold experiments that are cheap to try out’?

Update: One week on we have some commitments!

Update 2: On 25 March 2014 a motion from Ian Manning was passed by Cambridgeshire County Council with all but one councillor in favour.  It calls on the County to deliver projects using this fast trial approach.  The motion gives some very good reasons for doing this.  I congratulate Ian Manning on getting the motion passed and thank councillors for their support but most of all I look forward to faster, cheaper, better changes to our streets.

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A new development, 1950s style

A sketch of the proposed development from A guide to the Cambridge Plan.  Note the similarity to the as-built development

A sketch of the proposed development from A Guide to the Cambridge Plan. East Road is in the foreground. Note the similarity to the as-built development.

In a previous post I looked at some recent developments in Cambridge, now let’s skip back 50 years and compare these to a new development from the 1960s: Ashley Court between Norfolk Street and East Road in the city centre.

1952 saw the publication of the first Cambridgeshire Development Plan, also known as the Cambridge Plan, that identified some Comprehensive Development Areas, one of which was the area to the south east of East Road and north of Norfolk Road/Broad Street.  A Guide to the Cambridge Plan of 1956 claimed that in this area ⅔ of the houses were unfit or soon would be and that “It lies at the heart of what the consultants describe as ‘an area of almost continuous dilapidation'”.  It’s difficult to appreciate what the area looked like however pictures taken in the 1980s of the Kite area on the other side of East Road may give a flavour.  (Note that the Kite was suffering planning blight at the time.)

Comprehensive Development was explained as

…demolishing all the buildings (except those of outstanding architectural or historic value) in a sizable area and laying out a fresh pattern of streets and open spaces, so as to form sites convenient in size, shape and situation for new buildings of th kinds that are most needed in that area.

The Guide also includes a sketch (above) entitled ‘redevelopment scheme, East Road’ with no further explanation but it suggests that plans were advanced at the time.

Ashley Court in the 2010s. Photo: Bing maps

Ashley Court in the 2010s. Photo: Bing maps

One of the paths through the development

One of the paths through the development.

A comparison with a modern-day aerial photograph shows that the built development is very similar to the sketch.  The developed area appears to have been bounded by Norfolk Street and St Matthews Street, an area of about 7 acres/3 hectares.

The general layout of the area follows the pattern of New Town and Expanded Town planning in the UK after the Second World War: the front of houses face on to green open spaces that provide convenient, direct and safe walking routes through the development and connection to the surrounding area. We now call this filtered permeability and a look at OpenStreetMap shows the numerous path across the development.

Plan of the development showing the paths in dotted red.

Plan of the development showing the paths in dotted red. Navigable map. © OpenStreetMap contributors

There are no through roads, instead dead-end feeder roads link to garage areas.  Two large two storey car parks were built (the unnamed blocks at the north end and south east corner on the map to the right).  In addition a pub and six shops were included in the development.

There is a variety of layouts and styles of building and a large amount of open space divided in to smaller areas with a human scale.  No doubt land in the centre of the city was cheaper when this area was rebuilt, nonetheless more houses could have been squeezed in.  Overall this is a high quality development that was carefully planned with consideration for the people who would live here.

It’s not perfect of course.  Despite the good permeability of the site I have not walked through it on the way to somewhere, perhaps this is no bad thing as it provides some privacy for the residents.  The garages have proved too small for modern cars leading to the two garage areas being underused and they could be demolished.  These remote garages became unpopular in numerous developments due to the risk of crime and these days people seem to expect their car to be right outside their front door.  Some of streets in the area are therefore packed with cars (mostly off-road) and aren’t particularly pretty.

Despite being some 50 years old the development remains in good condition and appears popular: clearly high quality planning that is designed for living lasts.

Cowley Road: no place for cyclists

Warning: This post contains a shocking picture.

Lorries on Cowley Road artistic

The simple fact is that if you mix lorries and people on cycles then there are likely to be serious injuries and deaths, which is why I am particularly concerned about Cambridgeshire County Council’s plans for access to the proposed Science Park station.

People cycling from the Science Park and from Milton will travel along Cowley Road to reach the station.  According to the Transport Assessment:

…the development proposals include for high quality, safe and accessible cycle infrastructure along Cowley Road that connect to the existing wider sustainable infrastructure… [pp84]

Which is all very well if it gets built, however according to that document Cowley Road is between seven and 10 metres wide, so with two 3m road lanes and a footway there’s not much left unless the highway is to be widened.

I also have a concern over what Atkins (the County’s highway engineers) think is high quality cycle infrastructure.  If we replace “high quality” in the text above with “world class” then we have a better benchmark.  A world class cycle track here would be 4m wide (for a bi-directional path) with a separation of 1.5m from the motor vehicle lanes.  There doesn’t seem to be room for this.

Let’s face it Cambridgeshire County Council hasn’t built any world-class cycle infrastructure.  There is the busway path that is very popular with cyclists but that was built as a maintenance track, it floods and has many hazardous bollards.  Atkins designed a dreadful shared use path for the station underpass in Ely.

Cyclists will go straight on here while lorries turn left, what could possibly go wrong?

People walking and cycling to the station will go straight on here while lorries turn left, what could possibly go wrong? (Cowley Road eastern end)

No details are available for this “high quality” track, nor how it will connect with the Milton Road crossing, nor for the layout where the station access road leaves Cowley Road (pictured above).  If the cycle track is on the north side of Cowley Road it will have to cross Cowley Road at this corner.

Cycle under truck at the corner of High Holborn and Kingsway

Cycle under a truck at the corner of High Holborn and Kingsway, London. Photo: @veloevol

Cowley Road has the Lafarge aggregates terminal on it.  The road sees a large number of lorries moving and turning and if the cycle infrastructure is not world class then cyclists will use the road and be at peril:

The black mat indicates the area that is invisible to the driver

The black mat indicates the area that the driver cannot see. Photo: CycleStreets

It doesn’t matter if the cyclist or the driver made a mistake or who was at fault, the consequences of a collision between a person on a cycle and a truck are too often horrific.  Lorries like this have very poor visibility, some cyclists foolishly pass on the left of trucks, and sometimes there is a collision.  The consequences of a collision between a person walking and a lorry are just as bad.

A tipper lorry on Cowley Road.  Want to cycle next to one of these?

A tipper lorry on Cowley Road. Want to cycle next to one of these?

Unless world class cycle infrastructure is built along Cowley Road I fear there will be serious injuries caused by collisions with lorries.  Cambridgeshire County Council must come forward with detailed plans, it is quite simply irresponsible to expect cyclists to share Cowley Road with lorries.

Update: The County has come forward with a disappointing illustrative proposal.

Crossing Milton Road: 3 minutes of your life you won’t get back

If you were building a railway station and most of the passengers were coming and going by foot or cycle wouldn’t you make it most convenient for these people?  Not so the proposed Cambridge Science Park station.

Estimated trips for the station by mode.

Estimated trips for the station by mode.

60% of trips to and from the station are estimated to be by foot or cycle, with just 1200 trips by private car. The Transport Assessment spends 31 pages on a Traffic Impact and a Junction Capacity Assessment, and “traffic” here means motor vehicles.  The assessment looks at queue lengths and delays in 2016 and 2026 at seven junctions/routes.  Pretty comprehensive for <20% of the trips.

But then the Transport Assessment picks up pace and dismisses all other trip modes (80% of trips) in just seven pages with lots of pictures.  Elsewhere the Assessment notes the complex crossing at Milton Road/Cowley Road and the delays caused to pedestrians and cyclists by the signal sequence but dismisses this as “far from significant”.  This is complete rubbish.

Pedestrian route when crossing from Cowley Road to the Science Park.

Pedestrian route when crossing from Cowley Road to the Science Park.

If you are walking from the Science Park station to the, err, Science Park you will walk down Cowley Road and cross Milton Road at the huge junction at the entrance to the Science Park and Cambridge Business Park.  This is a three-stage crossing that apart from being very uninviting causes significant delays.

Red lights and fencing: the hostile environment for pedestrians.

Red lights and fencing: the hostile environment for pedestrians.

The cycle time of the signals is two minutes.  On stage one of the crossing pedestrians have just seven seconds of green.  On stage two there is nine seconds to cross and on stage three 55 seconds.  However due to the phasing you have to stop part way across and so the minimum time to cross is 75 seconds.

If you miss your seven second window to start crossing it could take you 188 seconds, or more than three minutes to cross the road.  None of the motor traffic on major routes has to wait this long to move through the junction.

It should take you only about 10 minutes to walk from the near parts of the Science Park to the station so crossing the road could add 25% to your journey time!  This is very significant and not “far from significant”.

Pedestrians and a cyclist cross Milton Road between queuing traffic because they refuse to wait for the long cycle time of the traffic signals.

Pedestrians and a cyclist cross Milton Road on red between queuing traffic because they refuse to wait for the long cycle time of the traffic signals.

This also matters because if you are rushing to catch a train you will not wait at a crossing, instead you will cross on red against the traffic and potentially put your safety at risk.

The station will be increasing the number of pedestrians in the area but largely ignores their needs; this is also true on several of the other routes to the station.  The Transport Assessment snubs “sustainable” transport modes and instead concentrates on the minority using private cars.

Will Cambridgeshire County Council amend its plans to put pedestrians and cyclists first (in line with its own policies) and make it convenient for the majority traveling to the new station?

The incomplete Eastern Ring Road

Diagram of the Eastern Ring Road from the First Review of the Town Map for Cambridge 1961

Diagram of the Eastern Ring Road from the First Review of the Town Map for Cambridge 1961. The red parts are proposed.

In a city like Cambridge that sits astride a river the bridges are always key in getting around. In addition to the Chesterton Bridge Route (built as Elizabeth Way) the first post-war plan for Cambridge, the Cambridgeshire Development Plan (published March 1952), proposed to complete the eastern bypass route by crossing the river at Ditton Meadows and connecting Fendon Road to Cambridge Road.

An eastern bypass around Cambridge was being built in stages before the Second World War with the intention that traffic on the A10 could avoid Cambridge (a much smaller place at the time).  By the time the post-war plans were prepared the route was complete from Hills Road (near the current Addenbrooke’s site) as far as Coldhams Lane in the south and from Milton Road via Green End Road and Cam Causeway in the north.  A glance at a modern day map shows that Cam Causeway stops abruptly but continue on the line with your eye and it matches up with the curve at Wadloes Road.

Indicative route of the southern extension of the Eastern bypass in orange.  © OpenStreetMap contributors

Indicative route of the southern extension of the Eastern bypass in orange. Mapping © OpenStreetMap contributors

In the south Fendon Road would be connected to Cambridge Road (A10) north of Harston via a 2¼mi (3.6km) road with two railway crossings.  The estimated cost in 1950 was £150,000,[2] or about £4.5 million in 2013 allowing for inflation although today’s cost may be higher.

It was recommended that the bypass was continued between Coldhams Lane and Newmarket Road (modern day Barnwell Road) however the portion across the river and in the south were not expected to be built before 1970.  By the first review of the plan the southern part appears to have been dropped.[3] With the M11 (in the west) opening in 1980, the A14 northern bypass in 1976/7 and A11 to the east Cambridge is now comprehensively bypassed and this route is not needed for long distance traffic.

In my last post I detailed the damaging proposals for urban motorways from 1966 and this link would, not just to modern eyes, have had a substantial effect on Ditton Meadows. The road would have required “…a high embankment across Stourbridge Common and a new bridge carrying the road over the railway at a point near to where the existing railway bridge now crosses the river.”[1] In 1950 two railway crossings were needed as the Cambridge to Mildenhall railway, that ran across the top of Ditton Meadows, was still open. The bridge over the railway would have been about 10m high, substantially larger than Elizabeth Way bridge. The cost was estimated at not less than £300,000 for nearly a mile of road,[2] which is about £9 million in 2013 allowing for inflation although today’s costs may be higher.

Modern day Wadloes Road has a long sweeping curve after leaving Newmarket Road and the Eastern Ring Road was have continued across Ditton Meadows at the sharp turn in the distance.

Modern day Wadloes Road has a long sweeping curve after leaving Newmarket Road and the Eastern Ring Road would have continued across Ditton Meadows at the sharp turn in the distance.

Mashup of what the Eastern bypass may have looked like on Ditton Meadows

Mashup of what the Eastern bypass may have looked like on Ditton Meadows viewed from the path from Wadloes Road.

Cam Causeway looking south: the unusual width of this road, flanked by intra-war houses with a modern house at the end hints at the purpose being its construction.

Cam Causeway looking south: the unusual width of this road, flanked by inter-war houses with a modern house at the end hints at the purpose behind its construction.

Sources:

  1. Planners and Preservations, The Cambridge Preservation Society and the City’s Green Belt 1928–85. Anthony J Cooper, Cambridge Preservation Society, 2000.
  2. Cambridge Planning Proposals, A Report to the Town and Country Planning Committee of the Cambridgeshire County Council.  William Holford, H. Myles Wright. Cambridge University Press 1950. Also known as the Holford Report.
  3. The First Review of the Town Map for Cambridge. County Planning Department, County of Cambridge 1961.

1966 motor routes

Have you ever wondered why Cambridge largely escaped the scarring caused by large road schemes seen in so many other towns?  Yes there is Elizabeth Way bridge and the railway bridge on Hills Road (now tamed) but otherwise the city missed out on the urban motorways so in fashion in the 1960s and 70s.

In the 1960s the view was the cities were going to become engulfed by a tidal wave of cars that would suffocate them and destroy their vitality.  The video Look At Life – Living with Cars 1964 explains the mood at the time and is well worth a watch.

The video mentions the key report at the time, Traffic in Towns, aka the Buchanan Report that carefully analysed the situation and suggested solutions that involved building ring roads, controlling parking (yellow lines), car parks and the segregation motor traffic and pedestrians on two or three vertical levels, amongst other things.

The City Council had been concerned about traffic for decades and in its Future Shape of Cambridge plan published in March 1966 proposed some major road building to solve this.  Previously I detailed the cycle routes proposed, here is the Main Town Road that was described as “the obvious solution to Cambridge’s traffic problems”:

Diagram of the proposed road network in the Future Shape of Cambridge

Diagram of the proposed road network in the Future Shape of Cambridge.

The Main Town Road was designed for “very heavy volumes” of traffic at 40mph with entry and exit points at near motorway standards.  It would fly over or under main roads.

The diagram shows the proposed link between Barton Road and Brooklands Avenue across Coe Fen.  Brooklands Avenue would have had a large multi-level interchange at each end.  The area to the north of Mill Road – the York Street, Sturton Street and Norfolk Street areas – were expected to be cleared and redeveloped and would have seen this road running through it.  New shopping was to move to the now Grafton Centre.  The Chesterton Lane and Castle areas look like they would have been turned in to a traffic-filled area with a new crossing over the river to feed Park Street car park.

The diagram suggests that in addition to a (presumably) four lane road there are additional local lanes running on each side between the interchanges, bringing the width to six lanes in most places.

The west side of the city, which had been largely reserved for an enlarged university precinct, would have benefited by the demolition of Fen Causeway and the closure of Queens Road and Grange Road to cross traffic.  This would have allowed a pedestrian dominated precinct from the city centre to the western edge for the university’s use.

The impact of such a massive road is difficult to imagine so I was considering trying to mock-up what this might have looked like in Cambridge but it turns out that there is no need as Coventry provides a suitable example.  Its ring road hugs the city centre with a length of 2.5mi and was completed in 1971.  It provides distribution to the central shopping and parking area as well as long distance journeys (although this role is now much diminished through subsequent road building).

Coventry had a medieval centre although much of this was destroyed by bombing in the Second World War, leaving the ground clearer for redevelopment.  Nonetheless the traditional street pattern was swept away to build the new road network and car parks.

These two pictures of modern day Coventry show the huge amount of land taken by a four lane road designed for 40mph with grade-separated junctions – and the vast impact on the cityscape.

White Street ring road junction in Coventry, from Bing Bird's eye view.

White Street ring road junction in Coventry, from Bing Bird’s eye view. Click the image to explore all the ring road in Bing maps.

Holyhead Road junction on the ring road in Coventry.

Holyhead Road junction on the ring road in Coventry. © Copyright E Gammie and
licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Can you imagine Cambridge in 2013 with a necklace like this? Elizabeth Way was built and gives an impression of what parts of the city would have looked and sounded like if the entire road had been built.

A part of the proposed ring road: Elizabeth Way, Cambridge looking north

A part of the proposed ring road: Elizabeth Way, Cambridge looking north

Fortunately the City Council was not the highway authority and had neither the power nor the money to carry out these plans at the time.

You might also like: The incomplete Eastern Ring Road