Tuesday 26 March 2013

Cycle Infrastructure in Cambridge - Outsiders Perspective

I couldn't get to the Cycle Infrastructure Safari on Saturday, but it has been interesting to see how folk from outside Cambridge responded to things here. For the moment I'll pick out two resposnes, one from the Ely Cycling Campaign and the other from folk at the CEoGB.

I find it interesting that the two groups have come to very similar conclusions - we have some decent stuff here in Cambridge, we're at least thought about by planners, but its very clear what planners want us to do. They want us to take circuitous routes around the city that take us from nowhere near where we're likely to live out to miles from where we're likely to work. And while there are some cunning cut-throughs and comfortable bridges (which, when you know about them, take lots of time from your trips and genuinely make cycling much more convenient) we're more or less stuffed if we actually want to go from A to B in anything like a straight line - the facilities that really work for us are widely separated and tend to be aids to permeability than actually routes as such. When it comes down to it the few cycle routes that exist on main roads are uniformly crap. At their best they're Gilbert Road, and thats so good that cyclists en masse prefer the pavement instead.

Were I to looking to be critical (not that such is the nature of this blog, you understand) I'd say its a pity that this safari was on an out of term snowy Saturday rather than a week-day term time morning. The difference between the two is staggering - I can't stress enough that Cambridge is two different cities. Its not 'town' and 'gown' any more - I doubt whether that was really the case here anyway (thats much more of an Oxford thing). The two Cambridges are the quiet, almost sedate, affluent little city with peaceful roads and nice, happy cyclists that you encounter during the Easter and Christmas holidays and on Weekend mornings in the snow, and then there's the every-day kill or be killed commuter hell in which cyclists are hated in direct proportion to their numbers - and our numbers are greater here than anywhere else in the UK. This is a monumentally congested little city - make no mistake, the motorists resent the oxygen we breathe as it could instead have powered their engines. What looks like a reasonable cycle lane on Easter morning looks a hell of a lot less appealing when Mummy is dropping Tarquin off at school in the Range Rover she's muscling along the cycle lane in. But despite that its great that folk from other cities came here for a poke about - and came to similar conclusions to most of us here. Namely, it ain't all bad in Cambridge - some things we're doing well. But we're still not getting it right.

For me, the big question is how big a net gain (if any) we have when we accept each new bit of nearly-good infrastructure. Historically Cambridge Cycling Campaign have been a well meaning sort of folk who have failed to hold out for the best - they have always accepted things being slightly better. The problem I have with that is that, predictably, 'slightly better' is treated as 'gold standard' - these minor improvements that do make our lot better are seen as all we can have. We're utterly failing where we really need to get improvements. These little tinkerings at the edges of the problem are all well and good - but each one takes us further from the victories we actually need to make Cambridge into the cycling city we know it really can be. Our powers that be think we can be fobbed off with marginal gains while utterly failing to re-allocate any real road space towards our safety, expressing shock when anyone dares criticise this failing strategy. As I've said before, this is good for the cycle campaign groups, maybe not quite so good for cyclists. 

And where the best on offer is below a standard that we can reasonably accept if our goal is reducing danger, does the concept of what is reasonable behaviour from cycle campaigners change?

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