Monday 13 April 2015

Cambridgeshire Hates Cyclists.

Two things prompted the rather provocative title above.

At lunchtime, I was on Fitzroy Street. Its pedestrianised from 10-4, but you do get some delivery vehicles and the odd cyclist there. Two PCSO's walked right past a van coming down the road towards them, making a beeline for a cyclist who was well behind the van, stopping him and making him dismount.

I've got to ask, in what universe is it worthwhile Cambridgeshire Constabulary ignoring a van driving through a pedestrianised area and instead targetting a cyclist? Had the cyclist been careering down the road bowling babies out of the way they'd have had a point - but he was going more slowly than the van. It wasn't even particularly busy - the cyclist presented no risk, to anyone, even himself. I can only assume that they've been specifically tasked with dealing with 'antisocial cyclists', and that they'll continue to ignore cars on the pavement and in pedestrian areas, as they always have. Cambridgeshire Constabulary have some great folk doing hard jobs, but both institutionally and culturally they are a barrier to safe cycling. And their commissioner, an old-school Tory foisted on us by fendlanders who now seem to veer from Tory to UKIP in the political spectrum, is right at the heart of this.

The second event requires a brief history of the finest example of Cambridgeshires near-legendary clusterfuck attitude to transport.

We used to have a railway line, to St. Ives, and while it closed to passengers in the '70s it was still intact and used for freight until the 1990s. More recently its been dug up and replaced with a pig ugly concrete gutter through which buses can travel more slowly than trains did even in the 1800s, averaging a slower speed than the parallel A14, but at the cost of over £150 million. As a result it hasn't particularly lowered journey times and hasn't reduced traffic on the A14 at all. More recently, because transport thinking is so progressive and joined up, we've seen approval to open a new railway station at one end of the old railway route - so we've got a train line ripped up and replaced by a bus, with one end of it having a new train station. Naturally they're making sure that cycling or walking to this station is as shit as possible, although Cambridge Cycling Campaing made some suggestions for improving this. As of last update, it looks like any concessions to anyone not in a car amount to polishing the turd of an access route rather than flushing it down and starting again. Make no mistake, if you want to get to this station by bike our planners aim to punish you for it.

Still with me? They built a vastly expensive gutter for buses to go more slowly than they can on the road, instead of a train line, and they're opening a train station at one end of it so having a railway line there would clearly have been a dreadful idea. Best of all, they did it like circus trained monkeys. It was done so badly that 5 minutes after ploughing an ugly ditch down the route, they've got to do it again. Yes, thats right, its been built so badly lots of it needs digging into and fixing, at another massive (tens of millions of pounds) cost, because it seems that its getting dangerous.

There is one saving grace to this insanity - the cycle track alongside it. This ought to be a truly brilliant facility - and it is, for the 10 months or so per year that its not flooded, and so long as we ignore the chicane barriers across it that exist to stop motons ruining it. Yes, thats right, sections of it are under-water for a significant amount of time. Yes, it was designed that way rather than with raised sections on stilts because its only cyclists and we don't matter. No, that wouldn't be acceptable for any other mode of transport. They wouldn't even consider that for a road, or any kind of pedestrian access route.

But its busy when its dry. Except of course that they close it with little notice, no signs before you get to the closed bits, and no diversions of any sort. I suggested via. twitter that signs were needed, that diversions should be put in place, but no. Our County Council only view this now as a 'maintenance track' - why would you tell cyclists you're going to be closing a maintenance track?

Bottom line? Even when they sell us a facility like this, they don't look at it as transport. To argue it was built for cyclists would be to tell a bare-faced lie. They view it as an add on, an inessential thing you can close at short notice where the users time doesn't matter enough to provide advice on alternatives, where there's no need to signpost to users that they should get off the route and go a different way. I met cyclists lost at the closure in Histon on Saturday, not sure where to go and with no knowledge of where the route would open again, and I'm sure there were riders coming in from the other side also finding that there was no notice given for any kind of detour. 

Bluntly, Cambridgeshire County Council is run by and for motorists who do not believe that cycling is a real form of transport - you wouldn't close even a quiet suburban route without signs being up for weeks warning people. So why is it okay to close a major cycling route like this? I accept, closures can happen on any facility - but this was planned in advance, and a clear decision was taken to ignore requests to signpost this in any way.

I conclude that Cambridgeshire County Council don't give a tuppenny toss for cyclists. And this is the irony of cycling in Cambridge - UK's cycling capital is at the heart of a county that is hostile to cycling. 

Enough of this. I put it to you, Cambridgeshire County Council and Cambridgeshire Constabulary, that we'd all be better off if you were just honest. Enough of pretending you're on our side - you're not. You never have been. Be open about that and we can discuss what we all really want to change. But at present we're all involved in a valueless debate because while you don't respect our views or our mode of transport, you're not open about this, you pretend to listen while ploughing on with an evidently anti-cyclist agenda. Enough. Stop wasting our time and out yourselves as what you really are - then we may be able to make progress.


  1. Your problems about closing the bus lane cycle path with little notice and no diversions: to be honest, its not just your local authority. The Bristol & Bath Railway Path - which really is a shared use / cycle path, used by a great many commuters - had a section closed whilst a bridge over it was repaired. This had a signed diversion, which the council had to change after the locals started complaining about all the cyclists. The closure was six weeks, then six months, and its now looking like it won't be less than a year. And just as things are starting to move toward closure, another section further on is being closed for twelve weeks over the summer for resurfacing. Except that they have quite openly said there's no official diversion and cyclists will need to make their own way round the closure.

  2. It's quite possible that that van driver was doing nothing wrong. The TRO prohibiting traffic from entering Fitzroy Street (article 140) has an exception for (among others) any "goods vehicle which is in actual use for delivering or collecting goods to or from any premises adjoining". This exception (unlike the exception for cycling) applies at any time.

    1. Its possible, yes. But without stopping to ask the driver there is no way that the PCSO's could have known. Likewise, it is perfectly possible that the cyclist may have been dropping off/collecting documents/goods and that would prsumable have also been exempt.

      The PCSO's targetted the cyclsit to talk to, not the motorist. Either could have been riding within the law - to target the massively less hazardous person in this scenario is perverse.

    2. Your presumption would have been correct before 1996, but since then cycling on FItzroy Street between 10am and 4pm Monday to Saturday has been entirely banned except with police permission. During those hours, motor vehicles can be used for deliveries, but bikes must be pushed.

      Or to put it another way, the County hates cyclists.

    3. Hang on, you can legally deliver by van but not by bike? Thats flat out insane :)

  3. Far as I can tell, police people seem to be entirely blind to people parking on pavements.. which is ironic given that its the same law that is used to ticket cyclists on the pavement!

    Not sure if there is much hope of getting this changed, especially with the new government which presumably would see dealing with pavement parking as "a war on law-abiding (!) motorists" :(