|One of my friends in Cambridge commented that this almost looks like the Netherlands. That's true only until you notice that this path runs right next to high speed buses and that the junctions are all compromised.|
It's quite a track. At four metres (maximum) wide, it's the same width as a standard bidirectional cycle path here in Assen. Unfortunately, the good quality section doesn't yet go the whole 26 km length of the bus route (hopefully, top-up money from a charity will complete it). The longest stretch being about 10 km in length between the North of Cambridge and the village of Swavesey, but this does appear to be surfaced nicely, providing a reasonably direct and high quality traffic-free route.
When it's complete and goes all the way to St. Ives, this will be almost certainly the best quality cyclepath in the UK, offering a combination of a direct route to somewhere that you might actually want to go with a good degree of safety away from cars, with a width such that it's possible to pass other cyclists, and with a surface quality that allows cyclists to ride at any speed they find comfortable.
|The yellow line shows the route taken by cyclists celebrating the opening|
of the maintenance track.
This path also is indicative of a problem. The best cycle facility in the area came into existence not as a cycling project but on the coat-tails of a bus project with an enormous budget. The costs for the guided bus are wildly higher than the budget for cycling could ever afford. Even though Cambridge is the leading cycling city of the UK, and as many people cycle there are take buses, funding in the area remains skewed towards motorized transport. That a charity is expected to fund finishing the path on behalf of cyclists shows the priority which cycling actually has in planning of this route.
It also remains to be seen how popular the guided bus actually is. Originally, the bus was supposed to serve an "eco town" on the route, but this seems to be in planning limbo. If the bus fails, then the future of its "maintenance track" may also be in doubt.
As there is no plan for a guided bus route from Cambridge to the West to reach St. Neots, East to Newmarket or South to Bishop's Stortford, there's no chance of an equivalent standard of cycle facility being built in those directions. While obviously welcome, recent provision from the cycling budget in the Cambridge area is not in the same scale nor the same standard as that which came piggy-backed on the bus project.
I also have reservations about how crossings of roads are handled. If this was a Dutch style intercity cycling superhighway you'd expect to get priority at most, if not all, crossings so that a non-stop journey was possible. If a stop was required, you'd expect the delay to be short and that crossings of multiple lanes would be made in one step. But that's not the norm in Britain. These are things which could and should be improved over time.
Perhaps most importantly, because this is a "one off" it's not part of a plan to build the one thing that made cycling really take off in the Netherlands. i.e. A tight grid of very high quality cycle paths. Because of this, the positive effect of this path will be limited only to people whose journeys are sufficiently lined up with its route.
Let's end on a positive note. This still looks like it is the best cycle path in Britain. When finished it will provide for relatively uninterrupted riding over a good distance. I think it will be interesting to see what happens. As it's such a good facility, I expect it will be popular and well used. However, the difference in standard between this and other provision in the area will be obvious, and this could help to give impetus to a call for a general upgrade in standards. Cycling needs to have a proper budget in the UK's top cycling city.
Update Winter 2013
Clearly I spoke too soon regarding the quality of this path. It seems that in addition to the problems I suspected it would have, sections of this path flood for weeks at a time in winter. Really Cambridge, you need to do a lot better than this.
Update Winter 2014
This path was closed due to flooding this year for more than 50 days continuously. The same article also reveals that the closure last year was for 48 days continuously while the council actually intended for the path to flood for an average of 29 days each year. Perhaps it still is the best example of cycling infrastructure in Britain, but only for some of the year. For the rest of the year it's a pond.
I've written elsewhere about the reason why Britain flood so readily. It's the same story as with cycling. Lack of investment. Britain's water management infrastructure isn't good enough to keep the country dry.
Unfortunately, there have now been crashes on the guided bus track:
|In July 2016, a bus crashed off the guiding path and went up a bank.|
|In March 2016, the bus left the guiding path, crossed the cycle-path and crashed into a bank.|
Thanks to Klaas Brumann for for the photo of the maintenance track. He has several more. The main media sources were more interested in the bus than the maintenance track.
I still don't understand why they built this primitive but expensive concrete walled bus track using mechanical guidance with wheels poking out either side of the bus when it would have been rather less costly and quicker to have put a wire under a flat surface and guided the bus as in this example, itself part of a system more ambitious in its aims which was in full service many years before the work in Cambridge started.