Friday 3 January 2014

The Great Cycle Route that Isn't - Part 3

In my last post I charted the route from the Science Park to Arbury Road. That covers the first part of the route from the Science Park to the City Centre following as close as possible to a straight line from the rear cycle entrance along the old Roman Rod to the City - a route that ought to be ideal for cycling but, at present, is far from that.

All of the pictures in this post come from Google Maps.

Once you get past the cut-through from Roxburgh Road on to Nicholson Way, you're at Arbury Road. This is a HORRIBLE road to ride on - its not all that wide considering the traffic it gets, there are parked cars on it, its long and its near enough straight. Motorists drive it like maniacs - speeding is common, close overtakes are the norm - management of this route needs to change, you see far fewer cyclists there than on most of the other main routes in Cambridge. This needs addressing, but is perhaps the subject of another discussion. On this ride we're on that road for only a few yards - and then we're turning on to Mere Way.

Mere Way is just the first part of whats a long, straight road to the City Centre. This is the Roman road route, and like so many roads in Cambridge it changes its name more or less at random points - it first becomes Carlton Way, then once you cross Gilbert Road you're on Stretten Avenue. Its an important route to get to the school and the college on Arbury Road, and of course there is another school on Carlton Way, a local pub, and shops. Its covered with speed humps.

Here's what Mere Way looks like. Note how the grass verges are being destroyed by bad parking.

Now when its quiet, its great. But that's not when most of us are commuting - and as we head further along Carlton Way it starts getting iffy...

See the barrier on the left side of the road? That's there because behind the blue fence is a school, and without the barrier the path, cycle lane, grass verge up ahead, all of it becomes roadway at school drop off and pick up time. Its a mess - motorists aren't looking for cyclists, they're desperately trying to find somewhere to drop off their kids in among an horrendous parking carnage. A little further on, you get to the shops (below).

And of course here you'll have motorists opening doors from the parking area, cutting straight across cyclists to get to the shops, very often trying to out-accelerate cyclists from the Gilbert Road junction only to brake hard for the shops. 

And then, shortly after, you're at Gilbert Road...

Now does it strike you as odd that there's a huge distance between rows of homes/shops/schools on either side of the road, with massively wide grass verges, and no dedicated space for cycling on the straightest line route between the City and the Science Park? That the most logical, direct route for cycling isn't in any way helpful for cycling despite space being there to do something better? Much of the road on the left (as you're looking at the pictures above) is 'shared use', some even has cycle lane on it - but its indirect, gives way to each side road, and will get you abuse from pedestrians who, quite understandably, don't know why you're cycling on what should clearly be a pavement.

I propose that a solution for Mere Way/Carlton Way is very simple - we need a single, two-way cycle route on one side of it - probably taking much of the grass verge space and perhaps small amount of the road from some parts, on the East side (the left as you look at pictures above). There is ample space, none of the trees are of particular stature or value, and far more in keeping specimens that are more conducive to wildlife could instead be planted to replace them.

Here's your first look at Stretten Avenue, from the end of Carlton Way. Note the cars heading on to Stretten Avenue...

A very familiar tale to cyclists who use this route is cars trying to pass them as they leave from the advance cycle box on Carlton Way, only to slam on the anchors just past where the blue car in the distance is. If we really MUST share space on the road with such idiots the position of the speed humps ahead necessitates that cyclists should get a head start at this junction. But, really, why ought be sharing space with cars on what is an ideal direct line route for cyclists? Lets scoot further down Stretten Avenue and you'll see my point...

Stretten Avenue is like that every day. Commuters leave to go to work, new commuters heading to Cambridge take their place. Its not a road, its a car park with a route through it - its kind of sad that this ancient throughfare, this route used since Roman times, is reduced to barely passable. If you're going to ride outside of the car door opening zone you can only ride right down the middle - and put up with motorists behind you getting close enough to nudge your back wheel or, worse, driving straight at you on the assumption that you'll somehow just not be there any more.

There are two obvious ways of fixing this. The first approach would be to replace parking on one side with a two-way cycle route. It wouldn't reduce amount of road space for driving on - but it would make it a heck of a lot more cyclable, and it would get rid of this frankly absurd parking situation. The other way to do it is to provide a cycle route as far as Harvey Goodwin Avenue, and to if we must retain so much parking on the two roads to make Harvey Goodwin and Stretten Aveneues one way between the points where the two roads intersect., thus:

Lets be clear - between the two rows of parked cars there is not room to safely overtake a cyclist or pass an oncoming rider. A one-way circuit could only work properly here if we also ban overtaking cyclists on the narrow section (we've seen this previously in Cambridge during the Hills Road Bridge renovation). Of course, one could argue this will slow cars down, but Stretten Avenue is already littered with speed humps. Slowing motorists down here is something we're already trying to do - arguably if it were one way we wouldn't need the ridiculous speed humps. And if we must have speed humps a flat route through the middle so cyclists don't have to go up and down would be handy.

I would, however, prefer parking to be removed from one side of Stretten Avenue for insertion of a cycle lane. Frankly a one way system could work but I fail to see why cyclists should be sent out of their way because motorists can't store their vehicles responsibly - and the whole purpose of this is to turn the route into Cambridges first real route where cyclists really get prioritised.

The remainder of the route to the city centre - St. Lukes Street, Searle Street, Fisher Street and Carlyle Road are all genuinely quiet, and don't especially need tinkering with. I would suggest though that they, along with the rest of the route, must be added to the gritting schedule if we're really going to take this seriously as a cycling route.

And lastly, we need clear signage. The most common complaint I get from people trying to plot a route to the Guided Bus cycle way through Kings Hedges is that how you get there is really complex - actually, when you know it, it isn't, but the kind of cut-throughs are only obvious when you know them. I propose (in fact a comment on my previous blog post proposed it!) that such routes as this should be surfaced with a distinctive colour - such as the red surface we see now on Gilbert Road (rather than the gaudy blue of Londons cycle lanes).

So, what are the chances we'll get any of this? None, probably. And thats why any claim that Cambridge is a cyclist city are preposterous - if we can't routes like this one into ones for cyclists, we'll remain among Europes cycling also-rans. I wonder, is that what our local authorities here want?


  1. Stretten Aveneue looks very similar to parts of Romsey, both in road width and parking. Precedent for one way. Mind you, it seems entirely arbitrary in Romsey which roads are one way, and it is a bit of a faff. With parking they're all too narrow for 2-way cars, but some you just have to give way and sort yourselves out, and others are one way.

    Not entirely clear from the photo: are those front gardens large enough for driveways?

    1. Some of them have space - more so at the far end (from the City Centre), and at the very near end. The but I've suggested that one way might be the solution not so much.