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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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.