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.

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.

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.

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.