Monday 26 October 2009

New cycle paths in Cambridge ?

Some new cycle paths are being planned in Cambridge. Good news, you might think. I took a look. Amongst them are a path from Milton to Impington which ought to provide a good route for school children. It's about 1.2 miles or 2 km. A very small distance by the standards of how far Dutch children routinely cycle to secondary school.

I first knew about this as a result of the Cambridge paper being in uproar about how the improved path might mean the end of the school bus by which children currently make this journey. Back when we lived there, I found that a lot of parents were quite against there being an improved cycle route in this direction specifically because they feared the end of the school bus. Who needs a bus to travel such a short distance ?

When you read the plans on the council's website you discover that the parents fears are at least in part justified. What is being proposed is not nearly good enough. It's to be merely a 2.5 m wide path shared by pedestrians and cyclists travelling in both directions, and separated from a road with a 100 km/h (60 mph) speed limit by just half a metre. That's an inadequate gap to provide subjective safety with motor vehicles travelling at such speed so close by.

What's more, the proposed path doesn't actually reach the obvious destination, Impington Village College, which is another half a mile into Impington, around a few blind corners on the road. I had a couple of scary incidents myself in that location, with drivers coming in the opposite direction driving too fast on the wrong side of the road around corners. Is this going to be a popular route for people to send their children on ?

For a bit of perspective, our local standards (Assen now, not Cambridge) call for 2.5 m in each direction for cyclists + additional space for pedestrians, a 2.5 m gap between the path and the road, and that our local speed limits on similar country roads are 60 km/h (37 mph). It is quite normal for children here to cycle 20 km in each direction to get to their choice of secondary school and they can always do so in safe conditions. In fact, I made a video to illustrate a school run from a village into the city.

The bridge in the photo is at one end of the proposed Milton - Impington path. I'm still waiting to hear what they will do about this existing pedestrian only bridge over the A10 which is on the proposed route. The photo above was taken back in 2005 when we still lived in Cambridge. The bridge was already falling apart.


David Earl said...

The answer (to the question about the bridge) is: nothing. The reason is that Milton Parish Council object to an at grade crossing as part of the existing traffic signals, which is the obvious, cheap and easy solution. This bridge not only would serve the new cycleway but already links the Park and Ride site at Milton with the village (and would be ideally located to serve the village by bike were it not for this bridge).

The Parish Council objects, apparently over the heads of many residents, because of the school bus issue.

I think 2.5m is OK here: certainly much better than what's gone before. You get much wider standards now because of level of use. It's chicken and egg, and it's taken the Netherlands and Assen decades to get to where it is now, in a cycle of building up numbers, and improving infrastructure.

There is a more serious problem (apart from the bridge) in that it doesn't address the last 400m to Impington Village College through Impington village at the west end of the route.

Frits B said...

" it's taken the Netherlands and Assen decades to get to where it is now ..": when the wheel already has been invented so to speak, you needn't do it all over again. What is wrong with learning from other people's experience?

David Hembrow said...

David: It's a shame about the bridge. It always was inadequate, and the railings at either end rather dangerous (though this person looks quite happy about them).

The problem with the 2.5 m width, the lack of adequate separation from the road, the high speed limit on the road itself, the path not actually reaching its destination, the inadequate bridge and the lack of lighting (I'm assuming a lack of lighting as it would be unprecedented in Cambridge if it was properly lit) is that all these things together set the path up to fail.

It's a classic example of something spoiled by spending just a little bit too little. This won't be the start of a new dawn of quality provision, but yet another thing that serious cyclists avoid, drivers complain about cyclists not using, and parents don't want their children to ride to school on.

As for the "decades" excuse. I've a blog post lined up for a few days time which addresses this. A summary could be "You've got to start at some point." The Dutch made a proper start. That's how they achieved something.

Frits to right to ask why Britain is trying to re-invent the wheel when the experiments have all already been done and what works is so well known.

Tim Steele said...

The photo David Hembrow refers to is me, and as you can see from the comment I'm complaining about the inadequate gap. The barricade has since been removed as part of the Park & Ride works.

I entirely agree with David Earl that an at grade crossing is the obvious solution.

The school bus causes much upset in the village as it's used as a reason to oppose any form of road safety improvement.

Unknown said...

That bridge represents a shocking lack of permeability and has done for at least 20 years (when was the road blocked?). It's quite astonishing to me that anyone could still be arguing against road-level access here. The shared-use route is neither here nor there; wanting to get from Butt lane into Milton without going miles round is just normal. I remember being astonished when I first came across the blocked road back around 1988, and it's still the same.