Monday 28 November 2022

Mill Road. Why ought I even care?

Mill Road in Cambridge is shit, basically. Which is a shame, it could be fantastic. It used to be fantastic. But these days it is just shit.

As a destination it should be a vibrant, exciting, diverse place where people visit, shop, can spend time on the street, and enjoy the cultural and culinary influences of dozens of nationalities and ethnicities represented there. What it is instead is a car sick urban canyon, narrow, noisy, chokingly polluted, and too dangerous to walk or ride on. It's one of the cycling accidents hot-spots in this City. It's the street with most road traffic accidents in the whole county. Or in other words you might want to go shopping there for some fab Korean ingredients, and then sit out in front of a cafĂ© before popping in to the Chinese supermarket to get a big bottle of soy sauce and a sack of rice from Al-Amin, and maybe a dozen different ingredients in the deli and at the greengrocers. But the reality is very different. You ride your bike there looking for somewhere to lock up, but before you've got to the bridge four drivers have sounded their horns or revved their engines hard from behind, you've faced three dangerous overtakes and a guy driving straight at you has assumed you'll just fucking float over him or something. You get off and try to lock up but you can't because cars are illegally blocking the pavement stopping you getting to the bike locks. But you soldier on, eventually getting something from the first shop you go in to but after breathing diesel smog you're not in the mood for a coffee, let alone a cake, the thought of food with the pounding noise and aggression from drivers there makes you feel physically too sick to eat. You pop in to another shop, get the minimum absolutely need, and leave.

That's because, as stated, Mill Road as it is now is fucking horrible. 

And the kicker is, nobody drives between shops there. There's a car park at Parkside, another at Gwydir Street but nobody can possibly drive between the shops. The traffic that destroys Mill Road isn't bringing money to the local traders, it's taking money through Mill Road to the City Centre. Traffic on Mill Road exists at the expense of traders there. 

So why haven't we done something about it? We did. And it was magnificent, after a temporary closure while the bridge had maintenance work, and the world didn't suddenly end, we then had a modal filter on the same bridge and you could breathe there again, it was safer on the road, but the shops and cafe's had a bustle like they'd not had in years. And then a bunch of web toed fenland Tory councillors supported by a single Labour councillor who has a history of raining derision down on cyclists voted to reopen it. There had been a consultation, the modal filter was overwhelmingly positively received, and it was working, but car-centric ideologues supported by a sole Labour councillor overrode this. And the place went to shit again. 

So we had another consultation. And it was overwhelmingly pro-modal filter again.

And now we're having another fucking consultation. But this one is apparently the legal one. So why the fuck didn't they do this first time? 

But here's the killer. Mill Road Traders don't want this. They never have. Mill Road Traders Association oppose this, and always have. Because the safety and convenience of cyclists and pedestrians in not important to them in any way, relative to the angry discomfort of motorists driving straight through and not stopping to shop there. Apparently on the whole they favour motorists passing them over cyclists and pedestrians stopping to shop. I've no idea why, nor do I care, but I do know that I take that as a massive "Get fucked, cyclist" from the collected ranks of shopkeepers there. 

In strict confidence I've been given an extraordinarily short list of traders who don't dare speak up against this tidal wave of petrol headed wankiness, but who don't support this. And to be honest they can get fucked too, if you're not willing to speak up for the safety of your own customers then you don't deserve that custom.

Mill Road was one of the first places I went and explored way back in 1999 when I moved to Cambridge. It was always a fun and exciting place to find good ingredients, with engaging and entertaining people and places there. But over the years I've shopped there less and less as the place became ever more dangerous, until first the bridge maintenance and then the modal filter tamed that space and made it possible to go there again. But the opposition from traders to that essential measure to make the space safe is amounts to as statement that they reject making a space accessible and safe for people. I approve of the modal filter but even after that Mell Road can fuck itself for all I care. 

What do I need to make me shop there again? Reinstatement of the modal filter with unambiguous public support from traders. And those traders I'll big up, I'll recommend, and I will shop there. Other than that? Mill Road is dead. The motoring lobby and idiot councillors killed it.

Wednesday 23 November 2022

Cambridge Unsustainable Travel Zone.

Well, it seems I have to do some blog necromancy. Oh, well. About time I suppose.

Because we can't have anything nice, instead we have Greater Cambridge. What is that? Well, you know all the stuff about directly elected councillors doing stuff they're voted to do? Not that. It's rubbish, in fact, it's a quasi-democratic nonsense made up of councillors chosen from goodness knows how many of the four dead-wood strata of local government we have here, the directly elected mayors office and massive companies and representatives of the University that are there for the good of everyone and who are definitely not pushing their own agendas. Honestly, if more than eleven people in the whole county understand how this fundamentally fucked concept is meant to operate then I'm a Dutchman. They've been around since 2014/2015 and basically accomplished nothing other than revamp some roads that were due for it anyway and put some cycle lanes in that the County should have been working on. I would be unsurprised if they've spent more money on consultations than actual tarmac. 

Anyhoo, they've decided to give us a Sustainable Travel Zone and there's a consultation. Doesn't that sound exciting? I mean who wouldn't support a Sustainable Travel Zone? Who isn't in favour of Sustainable Travel? You're dubious? WHAT KIND OF MONSTER DOESN'T LIKE SUSTAINABILITY?

The plan - what is it? 

Well, let me paraphrase.

Just shut the fuck up and get the bus, peasants. Yeah, we'll say we're going to put more bike routes in but we're not going to tell anyone where they are or how good they'll be, those hippies will fall for this shit because we said "sustainable" so we don't have to do anything for them really. Oh, we'll not pay for it out of the £1 billion initial budget that Greater Cambridge said it would have over the years its due to run, that would be crazy when we could have a congestion charge. Say £5 a day for anyone to drive in or out? And then if we put a cap on bus fares of, oh, I dunno, £4 a day, that's less than £5 right? So that'll put SOME people off driving but not many, and that'll give us enough wonga to bung to the bus companies, yeah?


Yes. That's it. They've had a decade to come up with a good plan but the previous Tory mayor seemed to believe in magic fairy dust schemes and did nothing of worth, before that the County built the hilariously still awful Guided Bus Route, delivered cataclysmically over cost and which is still basically fucked. The roots of that plan go back as far as 1994, when the County bought the old railway line and did sweet Fanny Addams with it for years until they botched together a scheme to run a bus through a giant gutter more slowly than it could run on the parallel A14 and, amazingly, even slower than steam trains used the same route when Queen Victoria was on the throne. A scheme so mind numbingly stupid that it connects the areas of heavy road congestion together by bypassing the flat, straight, rapid road that also got an upgrade at a greater cost than the initially projected entire planned lifespan of Greater Cambridge. 

Oh, and if they don't get this going and get the money spent (crumbs from the table relative to what the Highways Agency has shovelled into a road that's already becoming unfit for purpose as congestion increases) then the government will probably take the cash back so they can embezzle it and give it to their mates. 

So is it really that bad?

Yes, it really is. There is no modern mass transit system on offer, there's a trivially lower bus fare than congestion charge. Oh, yeah, and the money they've got will be spent paying bus subsidies in the short term, then the congestion charge comes in after the next couple of rounds of local elections, and then everyone will for reasons unknown get the bus rather than drive and that's it. There are some changes to road utilisation in the City that might give some better space for cycling, but if you tell me you believe for sure that'll happen and councillors won't kick those back into long grass to avoid upsetting the blue rinsed pro car brigade then I suggest that someone responsible needs to take your scissors away.

Wait... The charge comes in after more local elections?

Oh, yes. And yes, you're right, the Tories are usually in charge of Cambridgeshire County Council, and this scheme would need to get them on-side after that election if they do take control again. It just so happens that last time they were in charge of the County they were so rubbish that an uneasy coalition of Labour, Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors united only by not being Tory currently runs the County. But for that to continue on would be astonishing, especially when the Tories lose the next general election as they seem intent on doing. Last time the Tories lost sole control of the County, it was UKIP did the damage. This isn't a county with a progressive alliance waiting to hold the reins long term, sadly.

But there's a Labour mayor?

Aye, but probably not for long. Honestly, I like Nik, he seems ok to me, and I hope his well publicised recent health issues work out and he makes a full, spectacular recovery. And he's better than the last mayor. But without the County, even if we don't get a Tory mayor next time (and we likely will) this scheme is still in danger. 

So what happens when the Tories take over

That's the elephant in the room that nobody will address. We already know they're sceptical. Go look at Steve Counts twitter feed, it's full of this stuff and it varies from conspiracy theory level nonsense to just plain rejection of the scheme. There's an evens chance he's back in the County Council cabinet within 5 years, and that's before a penny of the congestion charge is ever collected. We know the Tories have previously cut subsidy to rural buses. We know they'll do it again. Their whole transport policy has always centred around securing car access for happily married web toed fenland cousins to careen into Cambridge as fast as they can. Remember, the last Mayors big plan was to dual the A10. at massive cost - that'll come back as a scheme, most likely, when the next Tory takes over.

Bluntly, if they don't support this, why won't they do that again? Why is it you think this scheme is Tory proof? And if it isn't, how does it ever deliver?

What's the alternative?

I reject the notion that I need to come up with an alternative to a scheme that's rather likely to fail all on its own. But as you've asked...

  1. Commit to gold standard cycle infrastructure on or parallel to all routes in and out of Cambridge.
  2. A continuous cycle route from Cambridge to Ely, incorporating access to settlements en route e.g. the new Waterbeach development.
  3. A continuous cycle route to Newmarket, it's really not far, likewise incorporating access to settlements en route.
  4. Start building a rapid transit scheme. When built, light rail is cheaper to operate than buses, and once spending is sunk into it, it's much harder for a future council to cut it. It's also something that people actually might want to use. Lets face it, you use a bus when you must, you never do it because you enjoy getting the bus.
  5. Make some changes to the congestion charge zone scheme. Talk about discounts for those driving out rather than in, or make it a timed thing (if you're driving for 10 minutes to drop someone at the hospital, should that really be the same cost as someone driving into the city and around all day?).
  6. Commit to profits from the congestion charge being spent on sustainable infrastructure, both rapid transit and active transport. Shall we say, for the first 20 years, 70% to a rapid transit system, 30% to active transport?

Look, it's this simple. The scheme as presented now has little chance of surviving. In the name of all that is holy, go back to the drawing board and get it right this time.