|"Cycling Campaigners surveying options|
in Gilbert Road." I'm second from the left.
As you'll see, there is really no lack of
space in Gilbert Road.
The similarities are many:
The interesting section of Groningerstraat is 1 km long, while Gilbert Road is about 100 m longer. Both are main routes for cyclists. There is a secondary school (age 11-17) on both roads. Both are on routes to primary schools (age 5-10). Both are also used as through routes for cars.
Most importantly, the widths of both roads are almost exactly the same. So what is done in one could so easily also be done in the other.
I wrote an article about it for the Cambridge Cycling Campaign newsletter, and they published it a couple of days ago, edited for length, though space was found for three other articles which disagree with me. I have to say that it does amuse me a little that Martin makes a case that removing trees would especially have been a problem in Cambridge. There is no reason why this should be so. In fact, it seems that roads in the Netherlands always become greener when they are transformed. Assen has a policy of maintaining green spaces which has no equivalent in Cambridge.
My piece gives a potted history of what has happened in campaigning on Gilbert Road. As it was edited down, I've repeated it below with the removed paragraphs in italics:
Gilbert Road is a missed opportunity
Cambridge has a higher cycling rate than any other city in the UK. What Cambridge does is followed by other cities, and what Cambridge's campaigners do is followed by other campaigners.
The Cambridge Cycling Campaign has recognized that Gilbert Road is a problem for a very long time.
In August 1999, Kevin Bushell wrote of being a "long suffering user" of the road in an article in which he thanked the council for that years minor improvement - the addition of advanced stop boxes.
In the same article, Clare Macrae discussed the possibility of making the existing advisory cycle lanes mandatory "in the hope of stopping cars parking in the lanes just when they are most needed."
Two newsletters later, Clare reported on the outcome of a meeting to discuss Gilbert Road: "One thing was very clear – many, many people are very concerned about the increased speed and volume of traffic on Gilbert Road. Towards the end, councillors held a vote on whether people were in favour of improving cycle safety, by making the cycle lane mandatory. The response was overwhelmingly in favour, with only four 'no's. However, people seemed to want more imaginative solutions to their traffic problems than just mandatory cycle lanes."
|"Advisory cycle lane on Gilbert Road|
with a much improved width". One
blogger calls this "Great for cycle
campaigners, maybe not so great
However, how effective this measure actually will be is something we will only really know in the future. In other places in Cambridge parking is a long term problem despite it being illegal, including outside the shops in Milton Road just around the corner from Gilbert Road.
The problem with this scheme is its lack of ambition. The campaign asked for little more than was built. No-one really ever asked for a "more imaginative solution" as discussed 11 years earlier.
What's more, a lot of time and energy was expended in opposition with local residents who didn't want to lose their on-road car-parking spaces. The last thing that cyclists need is to be placed in opposition with motorists and residents, who actually we could do with having on our side when redevelopment is called for.
So, could it have been done different ? I think so
In 2008 we hosted a Study Tour in Assen which was attended by several campaigners from Cambridge. I showed them a street here in Assen, Groningerstraat, which is striking in its similarity with Gilbert Road. It has traffic lights at either end and another set in the middle. There is a secondary school part way along, as well as it being on the route to primary schools. It is also a popular commuting route by bike.
|Groningerstraat in Assen. It's the same|
width, but space has been found for
pedestrians, cyclists, car-parking and
driving down the road.
What's more, on-road car parking was preserved for a large proportion of residents, avoiding planning conflict with residents, or creation of an "us and them" attitude between motorists and cyclists.
Yes, there is room for all this. It was achieved in a road was measured by Cambridge Cycling Campaign committee members as being almost exactly the same width. And yes, it's affordable too. It cost less from Assen's cycling budget to transform Groningerstraat than it cost in Cambridge to do the much less ambitious work in Gilbert Road - though perhaps the different contractors used for the two jobs have some influence on that.
I have blogged several times about the features of this road, and you can read all about it here:
|No conflict on Groningerstraat.|
What has been achieved in Gilbert Road is an incremental improvement, but not nearly the best possible outcome. If progress is to be made in cycling then campaigners need to start asking for the best, not watering down their proposals before even approaching the council. Publicity and support are required. If the schools, residents, cycling campaign members, the CEN, the councillors etc. had all been shown a proposal which would keep cyclists safe, keep school children safe, preserve car-parking spaces, and also result in a neat and tidy appearance, who would have been against ? The campaign could have included visiting the model for the proposed road here in Assen so that people could experience it for themselves, on a bike, by foot and in a car. Why not ?
If any place in the UK can make the move towards a higher standard of infrastructure design for cyclists, it is surely Cambridge where there is the highest rate of cycling in the UK. However, the ambitions of British cyclists, and of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, simply are not high enough. As a result, cycling remains a minority pursuit in the UK. It simply won't achieve the status of "normality" amongst the majority of the population until it is made as easy, as convenient and as safe (both subjectively and in actuality) as it is in the Netherlands.
I welcome the start of the Cycling Embassy for Great Britain, as this group will complement the existing campaign groups in the UK while also campaigning for real change in the way that infrastructure is viewed.
And that's the end of the article. There is a difference here in what is considered to be the best way forward. I have argued for many years that there needs to be a more strategic view amongst cycling campaigners. That people need to be shown what is best so that a decision can be made with more information. Campaigners need to have vision. Fighting little battles over minor issues repeatedly does not make progress. In the worst cases, inadequate improvements can set bad precedents. There are already people posting photos of cars parked or driving in the cycle lanes in Gilbert Road, after the ban. Not to mention that buses can stop in the cycle lane.
The Dutch approach has been extremely successful. It's worth trying to emulate. However, while campaigners are too timid to even ask for best practice, there is no chance of achieving it.
I recently wrote more about not aiming too low when campaigning, and also about that issue of trees.
I should make it clear that I don't think there was any subterfuge involved in editing out selected paragraphs of my article. Space is limited in a printed newsletter, perhaps more so than usual in this issue of the newsletter which included three articles to disagree with my edited text.