Thursday 31 August 2023

Cambridge Unsustainable Travel Zone is Back

 I wish I didn't have to come back to this. Oh, well.

Cambridge's Sustainable Travel Zone, the STZ, turned out to be hugely unpopular. This is unsurprising - if you tell motorists "we're going to make this better for everyone but you'll have to pay..." then they'll get angry. And they'll stay angry. It doesn't matter what the good stuff is, of course. You could be offering free public transport with busses running to high speed rapid transit that transports everyone to their destination as fast as the car, paid for by stubborn motorists who refuse to use it, and the car lobby would insist on being just that stubborn and paying more to travel less efficiently. There's no compromising with the car lobby, they're not interested, their only moral compass is personal freedom to drive as far and as fast as they like at any environmental cost and fuck everyone else.

So in response to criticism someone at Greater Cambridge went out and got kicked in the head by the horse and decided to offer a compromise and charge motorists slightly less often, with some free days, and then not have anything like enough money to pay for the bus service that was the only thing they had on offer. They also had to dump two thirds of the funding for non-bus improvements despite those commitments having been nebulous and non-committal at best. Or in other words "get the bus peasants, but not as many as we were suggesting, or as frequent, or ride a bike but we aren't actually raising the money we need to build cycle facilities that you'd be happy to ride on, not that we were promising to build those anyway, suckers!"

Other than the democratic deficit inherent in the Greater Cambridge Partnership and the near inevitability that the web toed fenland Tories would win the County back sooner or later and cut the funding to buses as fast as they can say "I do" when marrying their cousins, I raised two concerns with the scheme. The first was that it isn't Tory proof, and that "please get the bus, please!" doesn't fix our urgent need to start building a modern rapid transit system. The other was that the scheme didn't give me any confidence in their commitment to high quality cycle infrastructure. Neither concern has been addressed.

So this compromise proposal, has it any chance of getting through?

No. It's dead. It's just a matter of whether the LibDems or the Labour Party at the County and District councils dump it first and blame the other lot.

You can't compromise with the car lobby, anything shy of utterly unrestrained car access leading to deadly pollution and endless congestion and they'll keep pushing back and refuse. And they have plenty of petrol drinking morons and conspiracy theorists in the media who'll back them up. And more than a few in local politics. Has Greater Cambridge thrown any bones to anyone who opposed this scheme on any other grounds? Nope. Only the petrol heads. Who can never be won over.

There are answers here, good ones, and viable solutions. But because of over a decade of inactivity and squandering vast sums on endless nonsense, Greater Cambridge can't afford them and the Mayoral authority opposes them becuase they can't bring themselves to back any of the half hearted schemes our former Tory mayor never really believed in anyway (remember, he had years in post and listed free parking in Ely as one of his top accomplishments - this is not a man to sort public transport out). I like you Mayor Nick, you're a good bloke, but I believe your opposition to rapid transit scheme and reliance on the bus as an answer is ideological and stupid.

I think the STZ is dead, which is a shame because we urgently need to address transport chaos in a fast growing city. But with any luck it'll take Greater Cambridge with it. And if that's true, good riddance. 

Edit: Looks like I called that just right... 


  1. Whilst I agree with some of your comments, that the scheme was completely half-baked, characterising everyone who drives as petrol-heads is unfair and polarised. Some of us _need_ to use cars. Myself, I cycle to work every day, but my wife is a doctor, currently working in Stevenage hospital, due to move to Norwich soon. We live in Cherry Hinton. Is there any way to get to either of these places by 8am in reasonable time, and also return at 11pm when a shift finishes? We looked at the train-bus option, but it took 2.5 hours each way. When it works, which it often doesn't. Tell that to patients who will be waiting regardless.

    Likewise, I've got 5 children, aged 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 and we do swimming at the Abbey Pool. Is there any way I can get them there from Cherry Hinton after school and be back by dinner by bus? No, there isn't. You have to take a bus into town, then a bus out of town. And it will cost you > £12 each time. So I drive, because they can't all cycle that far, and it doesn't work for little ones in the dark/wet winters. Likewise, visiting my parents, who live an hour away by car in the countryside would have cost me £5. Is it doable by public transport? No. At least with ULEZ more than 90% of vehicles are unaffected, but it's still unfair on those who can't afford to upgrade.

    There are tons of other use-cases where the bus simply doesn't work, and charging everyone £5 to leave their drive (we have 2 cars) just to get on with their lives is regressive. Yes, I feel sorry there aren't better buses, but that has been the case for 30+ years from when Stagecoach took over CamBus. FWIW, I've been in Cambridge since 1994 and I don't actually think the traffic is much worse, even with the council removing lanes and blocking roads (cf Mill Road bridge). I think it's somewhat self-limiting. There are some bad spots, and when the airport is concreted over in 7 years time, Newmarket Road will be worse.

    But you can already see the effects in the centre. We no longer buys shoes for 5 children in Cambridge (a regular occurrence). We drive to Newmarket (20 mins from Cherry Hinton) and park for 50p per hour. Or to Ely (parking free). Cambridge will end up purely for tourists and students. Which is sad. Like you, I'd prefer there to be less congestion and I hope with the move to EVs, pollution should continue to drop (although it's already much better than the 1980s when I was a kid).

    1. You'll note I haven't said every motorist is a petrol head - that's your own projection there. If you insist on driving 2 cars between you, every day, for professional jobs, you can afford a tenner a day for the privilege. You aren't offering any part of a solution to the problem here - merely explaining to me that you -are- the problem.