Fen Road improvements

Within a relatively small budget Cambridgeshire County Council is seeking a number or improvements to Fen Road, and I think we can squeeze out a bit more value too.

Mostly the changes are about Fen Road yet there is a problem on Water Lane and at the junction of Water Lane and Fen Road that I think can be solved as part of these works.

Congestion on Water Lane

Cars parked on Water Lane can cause an obstruction at busy times

A lorry uses the middle of the road to pass cars parked on Water Lane.

There are about 4–6 cars parked on Water Lane, usually partly on the footway, that can cause traffic jams at busy times. A small number of houses on this street don’t have off-street parking so I would like to see some of the space between the trees on Water Street used for parking and for parking to be prohibited on Water Lane.

One of the proposals for Water Street: I would like to see the area between the trees used for relocated parking.

One of the proposals for Water Street: I would like to see the area between the trees used for relocated parking.

Right turns from Water Lane

A view of the Water Lane/Water Street junction as you turn right.

A view of the Water Lane/Water Street junction as you turn right.

Most people cycling turn from Water Street in to Water Lane on their journeys between the city centre and Chesterton and the Science Park. At the moment moving to the centre of the road is not very comfortable because of vehicles passing on your inside and oncoming vehicles that may be cutting the corner. One of the aims of the changes is to reduce the problems of vehicles cutting the corner.

I would like to see an area in the middle of the road for turning right that is protected by an island in front and behind. The islands would also help to narrow the road, thereby potentially reducing speeds, and prevent vehicles cutting the corner.

Maintaining the Water Street cut-through

A view of the Water Lane/Water Street junction looking East. The cut-through to the right of the picture should remain.

A view of the Water Lane/Water Street junction looking East. The cut-through to the right of the picture should remain.

Dutch-style road layout in option 3.

Dutch-style road layout in option 3.

The current cut-through that allows people cycling to continue along Water Street should be kept. I’m pleased to see a Dutch-style segreggated layout in one of the options for the area. The County believe there is space for a bi-directional track of about 2.5m width.

Tenison Road gets some lipstick

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.

A portion of the proposal for Tenison Road: the impact of parked cars and moving traffic has been de-emphasised.

A portion of the proposal for Tenison Road: the impact of parked cars and moving traffic has been de-emphasised.

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 north section of Tenison Road is straight with a sharp bend. Parked cars dominate the streetscape.

The north section of Tenison Road is straight with a sharp bend. Parked cars dominate the streetscape.

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):

  1. Pedestrians
  2. Cyclists
  3. Public transport
  4. Specialist service vehicles (e.g. emergency services, waste collection, disabled drivers)
  5. 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:

  1. Residents’ parking, which is to be maintained and increased.
  2. Taxis and residents’ private motor vehicles; both groups would object vociferously if Tenison Road were no longer a through road.
  3. Private motor vehicles cutting through this residential area; the imperative to not interrupt the traffic flow.
  4. People on cycles, who had their provision between Devonshire Road and St Barnabas Road removed in some drafts.
  5. 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

Traffic calming at work at the St Barnabas Street junction. Red signals slow motor traffic.

Traffic calming at work at the St Barnabas Road junction. Red signals slow motor traffic.

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.

Narrow gates

This narrow gate in Romsey Town slows traffic to a near standstill and discourages rat running.

This narrow gate in Romsey Town slows traffic to a near standstill and discourages rat running.

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

The junction with Felton Street has a series of hazards for people walking and this junction isn't needed.

The junction with Felton Street has a series of hazards for people walking and this junction isn’t needed.

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.

‘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.

Hills Road cycle tracks

Montage of segregated cycle tracks

Montage of segregated cycle tracks

I warmly welcome and support the proposals to rebuild a section of Hills Road with segregated cycle tracks. I urge you to see the Big Picture and ambition of this scheme and unequivocally support the proposals.  Please also get involved in the discussion on the details but don’t let that overshadow the overwhelming benefits that the scheme will bring.

The Big Picture

About 1km (0.7 miles) of Hills Road will be rebuilt on both sides to provide three networks that are segregated from one another.  People walking will have a pavement to themselves, people cycling will have an uninterrupted track segregated from motor vehicles, and those in motor vehicles will have fewer worries about cycles.  The three network approach is part of how the Dutch have succeeded in transforming their towns and streets in to liveable places.

Making getting about on a bicycle easy for everyone. Credit: kbrumann

Making getting about on a bicycle easy for everyone. Credit: kbrumann via CycleStreets

Although a huge number of people in Cambridge cycle at the moment this is despite the infrastructure and not because of it.  Many people don’t want to cycle on the road and mix with cars and buses – they perceive it as dangerous.  Some of them cycle on the pavement, where they are separated from cars by a barrier – a kerb – and not just a white line.  If we are to encourage these people to cycle there has to be a network designed for cyclists, and that means one not shared with people walking and driving.

By getting more people cycling their health will improve, congestion will be reduced and air quality will improve.  It means we won’t need to build expensive and ugly new roads as Cambridge grows.

Yes, this part of Hills Road is just a small part of the transport network, however these changes are hugely important.  They will become a model for future improvements in Cambridge (and elsewhere) and once built and successful there will be added pressure to continue the rebuilding south to Addenbrooke’s and north to the city centre (as well as other routes).

Some details

Kerbs needed

The ‘fully segregated’ option should be built where the cycle track is separated from the road by a standard height kerb, about 100mm. When people cycle on the pavement it’s quite clear that they feel safe with a kerb between them and motor vehicles. The ‘raised’ option with a kerb of only 25mm isn’t going to give that perception of safety.

Street profile

My proposal for the cross section

My proposal for the cross section

The cycle track should be dropped slightly, 25–40mm, from pavement level using sloped kerbs. A small difference in height provides very effective segregation between people walking and cycling, we see this on Carter Bridge where people mostly keep to ‘their’ side. However a sloped kerb with a small drop does not present a major barrier to anyone trying to cross, including those with limited mobility or with a pushchair or luggage.

A small drop will limit the amount of leaves and debris that could build up in a deep cycle track. It also makes the cycle track feel wider.  There is some concern that a width of 2.1m may not be enough,  however if the kerbs are low you can cycle right up to the edge of the track, something you can’t do with high kerbs.  Low kerbs mean cycles can make use of the entire width whereas high kerbs reduce the usable width.

Side road crossings

The proposal describes the cycle track as having priority over side roads, though it only has priority in the same way as on-road cycle lanes have.  This should be improved in two ways.

Firstly the cycle track and pavement should continue at the same height across side junctions, and not drop down to road height.  This is similar to what exists at the junction of Luard Road and Hills Road.

The shared use pavement continues at the same height across Luard Road.

The shared use pavement continues at the same height across Luard Road.

The view from Luard Road view of the junction with Hills Road.

The view from Luard Road of the junction with Hills Road.

In the new scheme the cycle track would be closer to the main road, set back by only the 600mm kerb width, and there would not be give way markings on the cycle track. The change in height means motor traffic has to slow.  The ramps would be sharper in the new scheme as the width of the ramp would be only 600mm.

Most of the side roads on this section of Hills Road are minor and do not have much traffic, the exception perhaps being Luard Road that has rat-running traffic. If you think that motor vehicles won’t give way to the cycle track, have a look at this video from Luard Road, though I’m not claiming that all vehicles slow.

An existing ramp to provide access over the shared use path to a private driveway.

A ramp to provide access over the shared use path to a private driveway.

The ramps across side roads would be similar to the existing ramps to driveways, though not quite as wide.

Kerbs at side roads

A problem where on-road cycle lanes cross side roads is that I have to look over my shoulder to check that a car isn’t about to overtake me and cut across – a ‘left hook’.

Having the cycle track raised across the junction will help to slow turning traffic however a second improvement would be to end the kerb should as close as possible to the junction. In the proposals the end point seems set back from the junction, which will encourage faster turns.

Maintaining the streetscape

Bridge Street, Cambridge - an ugly clutter of signs and bollards

Bridge Street, Cambridge – an ugly clutter of signs and bollards. Credit: Simon via CycleStreets

Hills Road is a relatively attractive approach route to the city due to the verges, the trees lining it and the relative sparsity of street furniture such as signs and railings. The cycle tracks should attempt to improve the streetscape or at least not degrade it. Adding cycle tracks must not mean a forest of bollards and signs and paint everywhere on the road, if the road looks ugly there will be understandably opposition to building cycle tracks elsewhere.

With some changes to the proposals I can see this being a very popular cycle route. Please look at the proposals and comment via the County’s consultation page.

Cambridgeshire defines high quality as shared-use

Back in August Cambridgeshire County Council promised us a “high quality, safe and accessible cycle infrastructure along Cowley Road” as part of its Transport Assessment for the proposed Science Park station and I expressed my skepticism about what “high quality” would mean on the ground.  Now an illustrative proposal shows a shared-use with five give ways in ¼ mile.  So high quality = shared-use to the County despite people on foot and on cycles hating it and cyclists being fined or getting a criminal record for being confused about where they can and can’t cycle on pavements.

I’m not going to dwell on how rubbish this is, it’s a design from the last century.  Instead I will highlight the high risk of death and serious injury that people on cycles will face at the junction where Cowley Road turns north while the station access road continues east.

Here’s the proposed layout:

Cowley Road/Cowley Road junction with proposed shared-use path in mid gray.

Cowley Road/Cowley Road junction with proposed shared-use path in mid gray.

The priority is changing so the north arm of the junction will have to give way, as will people on cycles traveling to the station, which is east of this junction.

Here’s the proposal with the lorry and bus movements superimposed.  Note that the Stagecoach bus depot is to the north while the Hanson aggregates terminal is on the north east corner so there are a lot of large and heavy vehicles at this junction.  Most of this traffic turns the corner.

Proposed junction layout with lorry and bus flows in orange and cycle and pedestrian flow in blue.

Proposed junction layout with lorry and bus flows in orange and cycle and pedestrian flow in blue.

There is a fence adjacent to the north west corner so visibility is poor.

This is the view you will have as you cycle east on Cowley Road.  Note the fence obscures the view of the road to the left

This is the view you will have as you cycle east on Cowley Road. Note the fence obscures the view of the road to the left

Maybe you thought the road was clear?  Suddenly a bus appears from around the corner.

Maybe you thought the road was clear? Suddenly a bus appears from around the corner.

Poster on lorry blind spots.

Poster on lorry blind spots.

As part of the THINK! campaign, Transport for London are advising cyclist not to go on the left on lorries because of lorry blind spots.  As @NotDanEllis (strong language) pointed out “Good point TFL. So why did you build a … cycle lane there then?!”.  (The low visibility is disputed, at least for modern lorries.)

A lorry turning left on Cowley Road with cyclist on proposed cycle route.

A lorry turning left on Cowley Road with cyclist on proposed cycle route.

The junction on Cowley Road will have a similar layout with people on cycles using the shared-use path likely to be in the blind spot of turning lorries.  As the lorry slows to turn the corner a cyclist could move alongside it and become invisible.

The illustrative proposal is neither safe nor high quality, I look forward to the next iteration.

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

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

Buses overgrowing the current shared-use path push people very close to traffic, such as the lorry visible on the edge of the picture.

Bushes overgrowing the current shared-use path push people very close to traffic, such as the lorry visible on the edge of the picture.

Update: The planning application for the station was approved at the Joint Development Control Committee on 18 December 2013 subject to various conditions (as recommended by Tim Watkins, Head of Planning Services) including:

The development shall not be occupied until details of the footways/cycle ways have been submitted to and approved in writing by the Local Planning Authority and have been implemented including a route to a minimum width of 2.5 metres along Cowley Road.

Although this does mean the County has to agreed details with itself it is very disappointing that the minimum width specified is less than Department for Transport guidance.

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.