Tour of Cambridge shows how local cycling and walking trips can be encouraged over driving

Recently the London Cycling Campaign visited Cambridge to give a presentation on Love London, Go Dutch to the Cambridge Cycling Campaign (CCC).

We enjoyed a tour of Cambridge's cycling infrastructure from CCC chair Martin Lucas-Smith (above), during which we saw many good things and some bad.

As well as seeing the town, it was impressive hearing the efforts CCC have put into gaining these facilities on behalf of residents and visitors to Cambridge.

Cambridge, at present, is the most successful cycling town in the UK, with a quarter of all commutes by bicycle (watch this great video).

CCC is currently running a campaign to put continental-standard bike tracks on several busy urban thoroughfares.

At present, where there are segregated paths on busy roads, they often lack priority at side streets, and are too narrow and poorly surfaced. We wish the campaigners well in the their efforts to bring high-quality Dutch-style bike tracks to Cambridge.

Cambridge station parking

Cycle parking outside the main railway station looks impressive in capacity, but even the several hundred racks are nowhere near enough to cope with demand.

This area is busy with commercial development, including a new Microsoft building, and it's hoped a much better cycle parking facility is on its way.

Needless to say, there is a vast car park at the station, many times larger than the area given over to bicycles.

Railway Bridge (Tony Carter Bridge)

This cycling and walking bridge straddles the many railway tracks adjacent to the station. The access ramps aren't ideally located, but the bridge still does a good job of linking the areas divided by the railway tracks.

It was opened in 1989, and named after Tony Carter, a Labour councillor, who's not so fondly remembered for also chairing the committee that banned cycling in the town centre, although this has now been overturned.

The Chisolm Trail (protected land)

Visible from the railway bridge is a section of a strip of land that bisects the centre of Cambridge from north to south, called the Chisolm Trail.

CCC have managed to work with the council to prevent development on this land, so eventually it can be used as a key cycle route. 

Residential cycle parking

Cambridge has fairly strict regulations on the number of cycle parking spaces that must be built into new developments. 

They are part of the Local Plan, meaning that robust objections can be made where proposed developments do not meet the Cycle Parking Standards.

The results are not always perfect (eg, these stands are too close together), but the regulations and vigilant campaigning have helped increase the amount of cycle parking at new homes. 

Leisure cycle parking

This leisure zone (cinema, gym, restaurants) in Cambridge attracts thousands of visitors at busy periods, and has several hundred bike stands, which are monitored by CCTV. 

Dutch cycling culture

There is something pleasingly continental about cycling in Cambridge: helmets are not commonly worn, clothing tends towards day-to-day outfits (not Lycra), the proportion of women cycling appears to be about the same as men.

There are also noticeably more parents cycling with children than in London, which is a strong sign that people feel safe riding around the town. 

Ground lighting

These are a type of light Martin suggested could be used out of the urban area to light certain bikes paths. 

Reallocation of road space

This bridge at Hills Bridge Road originally had two motor traffic lanes in each direction, but was eventually redesigned with one motor lane and a mandatory cycle lane in each direction.

The council was persuaded this change was viable after two motor traffic lanes on the bridge (one in each direction) were closed for over year for engineering reasons with a relatively unproblematic effect on motor traffic flows.  

There are still, however, potential conflicts between cars and bicycles at junctions at the end of the bridge. 

Cambridgeshire Guided Busway

The Cambridgeshire Guided Busway is a public transport system connecting Huntingdon, the town centre, and St Ives.

In total the bus route covers 25 miles, using a mix of regular streets and special guided sections like those pictured below.

The sections of guided busway include a 4m-wide access road, which makes for one of the best two-way cycle tracks in the country.

The route extends over 10 miles to the north, and for several miles to the south, providing safe and comfortable route for cyclists (and many runners and walkers too).

City centre traffic

Private motor vehicles are banned from the narrow streets in the centre of Cambridge.

Buses and taxis can pass through gates where bollards sink to the floor on receiving a signal from a transmitter carried by the vehicle.

Considerate cycling is also allowed in the city after a ban was overturned following years of campaigning and work to promote responsible
cycling, by CCC. 

Cycling and walking bridges

The span of this cycling and walking bridge over the River Cam was recently replaced, with money saved by retaining the original concrete access points at each end.

The number of these bridges open to cycling and walking certainly provides an obvious incentive for people to walk or cycle, rather than drive.  

Bridges that have in the past been solely for walking are being converted to cycling and walking.

Widening cycle paths

Pretty much all the paths through the greens and commons that line the River Cam are open to cyclists. 

CCC has worked hard to have key routes widened to handle demand and encourage more cycle journeys.

However, there have been difficulties getting permission for this due to custodians of the land being conservative towards changing the land use.

Badly designed bridge

This old bridge over the Cam is too narrow for bikes (although many still use it), and has 'cyclists dismount' signs. 

It's disappointing the span hasn't been replaced because the approach-ways are modern and very wide, so it wouldn't have taken much more money to have delivered a project that works for cycling and walking.

Downing Street contraflow

This cycle contraflow was the first of many in the town (installed in 1980), and was introduced to predictions of 'blood on the streets' from some local politicians.

Although some users have reported conflicts - mainly motorists not respecting the mandatory cycle lane - considering the heavy cycling traffic over three decades there have been very few incidents involving cyclists on this street.

It's believed this was the second cycling contraflow in the country. 

Town centre washing/changing facility

As well as being blessed with two underground cycle parking facilities, one of them also has a washing and changing facility for commuters. 

Getting rid of 'flying motorcycles' signs

Cambridge was the first place in the UK to trial the relatively new 'No entry except cycles' signs.

Previously, there were flying motorcycle 'no entry' signs, which confused motorists and encouraged motorists to go the wrong way down such streets.

UK's busiest cycling street

King's Parade, outside the beautiful King's College, is mooted to be the most popular street for cycling in the country (though not while we were there), with thousands of cyclists per hour using it during morning rush hour (watch this great video).

It's also a popular walking route, especially with tourists. Despite the heavy traffic, road users appear to coexist comfortably.

Preventing conflicts

This simple piece of engineering prevents conflict on this corner of a cycling and walking shared bridge.

Major junctions

Not all the infrastructure in Cambridge is cycling-friendly: the Newmarket roundabout, where the A114 meets the A306, forms a major barrier to bicycle journeys.

In an excellent article in the latest issue of its member magazine, CCC explains the problems at key junctions along this route, along with its plans to improve it for cycling.

The photo below is taken through the metal railings that surround this hostile location, which has only a few narrow and ill-defined cycle lanes to provide crumbs of comfort to people on bikes.

Removing rat-runs

The nearby streets at Petersfield are an excellent example of the benefits of removing rat-runs.

These pretty streets of terraced 'workers' houses are made all the more attractive by the lack of motor traffic, even during the evening rush hour when we were there.

Blockages that only allow cycling and walking, preventing through traffic using the streets to shorten journeys, mean the streets are quiet and safe all day, giving parents (like the one below) the confidence to ride with their children.

This a great example of the effectiveness of Dutch-style permeability.

Cycling and walking excellence

This £2 million bridge across the Cam is excellent: it's good-looking, functional, well used, and was paid for in the most part by a nearby Tesco supermarket. 

We saw numerous cyclists riding across with heavy shopping bags, so it's clearly providing the supermarket with increased sales. 

In the centre of the bridge, where it bends around to the left, the span divides to separate walkers and cyclists, removing potential conflicts.

Home zones

Efforts to introduce Continental-style low-speed low-traffic 'home zones' are to be applauded, though at present these appear to be the exception rather than the rule.

Note the Dutch-style 'woonerf' sign and the build-outs in the road to reduce the speed of motor traffic.

Cycle lanes vs car parking

Perhaps one of the major battles in coming years will involve convincing authorities to remove car parking.

On this residential street, on-street parking used to block these bike lanes, meaning the thousands of children cycling to school each day had to veer out dangerously into the path of moving motor vehicles.

Even though pretty much every house in this road has off-street parking for one or two cars, CCC still had to fight for years to convince the council to add double yellow lines to keep vehicles from parking in the cycle lanes.

The safety of thousands of children per day was put in jeopardy by 30 or so property owners.

There are countless examples all over the UK where road space could be better allocated to making safe and inviting cycling facilities rather than to residential car parking.