Monday 30 December 2013

The Great Cycle Route That Isn't. Part 1.

Yesterday I started thinking aloud in this blog about the kind of route that we want to ride on - namely, more or less direct routes rather than all round the houses.

As luck would have it there is EXACTLY the kind of straight line route I'm talking about from the centre of Cambridge to the Science Park - its actually a straight line following the route of a Roman Road. 

I'm fibbing slightly - only most of it is a Roman Road, when that old route gets up as far as Kings Hedges it disappears under a couple of streets and reappears as a ridge next to some playing fields, and again as a green lane running for miles from behind Cambridge Regional College. The route in red is the straightest route you can plot from the science park rear entrance (and hence the Busway) to the City Centre without bulldozing homes.

The route outlined in red on the left is a busy one, many cyclists use all or some of it if they're commuting from Arbury, Orchard Park or Kings Hedges to the City Centre, and as many or more use it to get up to the back entry into the Science Park, one of the major sites for employment here. There are also numerous schools on or near the red route I've drawn. Basically if you sit out on Roxburgh Road at commuting time you'll see a heck of a lot more bikes than cars!

Now you'd think, just looking at that route, that it would be a great route to encourage people to cycle on and that proactive City and County councils would have done their best to make this as good for cycling as they can. For the most part it is well signposted for cycling - but, regrettably, any help cyclists get more or less ends there. In fact, most of the supposed 'infrastructure' that lies on this line is worse than useless.

But don't just take my word for it. This is what you see on leaving the science park.

 Looks okay, you're out on to the guided busroute, but you need to get across that and across Kings Hedges road. And thats where it all starts to go pear shaped. You're suddenly faced with this...

Why, yes, now that you ask that IS a narrow chicane with a hundred and eighty degree turn in it. And yes, as it happens, at busy commuting time that really CAN be very difficult to get a whole load of cyclists and pedestrians through. 

But it gets better! Get through the chicane and you've got this splendidly well surfaced section, a narrow gap through a fence and no dropped curb on the other side. Oh, sorry, did I say better? I meant to say that we're meant to go feck ourselves. 

Naturally this isn't even a junction on Kings Hedges Road. We have no way on to the road, we have no way over the road. We. Do. Not. Exist.

If you get over the road, you're now on a cul-de-sac that goes past Daily Bread, at the end of which the way on to the far too narrow shared use path across the field is naturally usually completely blocked by parked vehicles (like the little van there on the right, a City Council van, is blocking it in this image below).

Still, credit where its due. You're okay for a bit after that, the shared use path is narrow but you can always ride through the mud instead when the dog walkers don't block you off entirely. And then there's a triky bit on paving stones with a blind corner thats terrible at school dropping off time with parents quite reasonably expecting to use buggies with their younger kids, and you're back on the road.

A mini-roundabout later and you're on Roxburgh Road. That always looks like this, except when its sunny, in which case its dry and equally impassable on the pavement - so much so that you're often going to be swerving around pedestrians who can, literally, not get down the paths. Incidentally, Police, City and County Council demonstrably think this is just fine

At the end of Roxburgh Road there's a cut through - looking back towards Roxburgh from the other end we see that yes, its handy - its just a shame its got 3 different surfaces on it and a lamp post at the end located such that you can't safely get through if there's a pedestrian.

You've then got a little twisty bit on to Arbury Road where, naturally, we've no provision for cyclists, and you're turning left on to the Roman Road proper - Carlton Way. There IS a cycle lane off road there. Well, its the pavement actually, and there's the occasional picture of a bike on the ground or on a sign. And to add spice there are a couple of ninety degree corners thrown in to the mix. At its best, this is it:

Thats a short section right in front of the school where its wide enough and properly segregated. And no, past the lamp post it doesn't continue in a straight line, you immediately turn left, then right - two right angle turns because the on street drop off points for motorists there are more important than you. 

Civilisation or, as some like to call it, gritting in winter, promptly ends at the junction with Gilbert Road up ahead, which we have to cross to go on to Stretten Avenue - this is by far the worst part of any commute. Its not so much that its narrow in places, its more that there are parked cars on both sides restricting us to space for a single lane of traffic - and the commuting motorists coming AT us expect us to get out of the way, those coming from BEHIND us expect us to be out of their way so they can overtake and brake sharply for the next speed hump, and those parking their cars on Stretten Avenue taking the place of residents as they drive off for work don't give a damn, you're just in the way. Here's what its like during the quietest part of the year:

At the bottom of Stretten Avenue you've got a zig-zag corner thats lethal when its icy. 

Most likely at the bottom of Stretten you'll cross by the Church and turn left on to Searle Street (also ungritted) and pop out on to Chesterton Road at the Job Centre - you're in the City! Or you could take the cycle route up behind the County Council offices - that will however mean riding up some steps.

Now this is more or less a straight line. Its on suburban streets where there's plenty of scope to make this into an excellent cycling route. Yet its horrible!

This route cannot be the best one for motoring - there are multiple cut-throughs that are only available for cycling, and its mostly littered with speed humps. It could, however, be one of the most cycled routes in Britain - the question I want to address in my next post on the subject is what we need to do to make it in to that. 

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