Thursday, 27 March 2014

Huntingdon Road/Hills Road scheme - response.

I'm sorry, I've been putting off replying to these County proposals here.

Here's a fly-through of whats proposed. I don't fly, so I'll walk through it in the text below.

Spiffy space-age graphics make everything look so nice, don't they?

First things first - we do need to improve those routes, but why such short sections? And why, on Huntingdon Road, just on one side? Great, give us segregated infrastructure to take us to places of work out there, places where people live, but what about the return journey? If its only good on one side then its not good enough. 1 out of 10, right there, you've let cyclists down completely if you only make half of their trip safe. And if you're going to do it, do the whole road. Do the whole length of it. Don't give us piecemeal provision any more - make cycle routes for whole journeys, not small parts thereof. Any cycle trip can only be as good as its worst junction.

Now, on to the thorny subject of 'floating bus stops' such as you'll see 50s into the above video. Bus chaps think they're crap but then they would, wouldn't they? Its their job to get for the best for buses, not whats best all round, and as such comments from Stagecoach need to be taken with a pinch of salt. I'm not opposed to the floating bus stops but quite obviously we need to get wheelchair and baby buggy access right, and the idea of putting the bus stop on the pavement rather than on the floating island is folly - we can't have pedestrians milling in the cycle waiting for a bus or crossing en masse at the approach of a bus, thats not good for pedestrians or cyclists. Or the bus drivers waiting for the sorry mess to sort itself out, for that matter.

Move forward to 1:15 and you'll see the second place where things start to fall down. Yes, plenty of room for cyclists there, but I promise you, telling an inexperienced or vulnerable rider that they need to pick the middle lane of three with a car either side of them will not work. I know plenty of supposedly confident adult cyclists who will not ride over Hills Road bridge in either direction because of the employment of this non-solution. Doesn't work, won't work, fix it.

After that junction we move from a lane separated by a kerb to a raised lane. Clearly full segregation is better - the double yellow lines won't stop delivery drivers parking in the cycle lane (neither the Police nor the County police this at all well), meaning cyclists will have to go around, on the road. Down a kerb and up a kerb, with a parked vehicle restricting space and visibility. This is a half measure, and should be removed from the scheme - give us proper segregation, lets not go to such pains and fail on this point. 

Move forward to 2:17. What the heck is this? Crossings are good, but how am I meant to ride this? Are we meant to get two way bike traffic between the gap there? Am I going to be looking pedestrians in the eye as they wonder whether I'm turning right before or after the zebra crossing, with them thinking I'm playing chicken as I turn in to the narrow part at the last moment, eyeing up pedestrians, cars behind on my right and oncoming cyclists who may or may not be turning at the same time? Or do you want me to stop entirely and cross like a pedestrian? Come on guys, there has to be better than this available. Move on to 4:10, and you'll see that whats meant to happen is that the motorists are meant to give way to us there. Why would they? You're saying I look, indicate right and the motorists will stop? Will they hell as like. You're treating cyclists like third class road users with this dreadful crossing idea. Its badly thought out and obviously dangerous to the point where it'll look safe because no one will use it as you envisage.

On to Hills Road (4:50) - the lanes simply look too narrow. You want to segregate off the cyclists into a route only wide enough to ride single file with a kerb preventing cyclists overtaking each other, on a major throughfare? That simply won't work. Wider. Space to overtake. Some cyclists travel three times the speed of others - this is normal, legal, and reasonable. Accommodate that.

All in all these schemes look really shiny in the footage, but the devil is in the detail. We need provision to turn right at all of the turn offs to places of work, from all the curbed lanes - is that included? We need junctions that really do allow us to get across without spooking pedestrians and without playing chicken with motorists coming up rapidly behind us.

This is so close to being an excellent scheme. But strip away the sci-fi shiny presentation? Its a classic example of Cambridge cycling provision. Just not quite good enough to encourage non-cyclists to ride. We're good for cycling by British standards - this is another example of Cambridge not seizing the opportunity on a global cycling provision stage.

Edit: As pointed out by Hester below, mostly the lanes we're looking at are 2.1m to 2.7m wide. If we're going to put kerbs in place to segregate cycle lanes from the main road, we absolutely must make them wide enough to allow overtaking - 2.1m won't allow that. 2.7m will BARELY allow it. Make them wider if they're kerbed off otherwise this won't work well.

Edit 2: Anna has commented below that with the iron-mongery you get at the edge of roads, we could end up with hazardous, wet drain covers, man holes etc. in the kerbed off cycle lanes. I suggest that before sayng 'yes' to this scheme we must require that these are removed to the main carriageway.


  1. "Bus chaps think they're crap but then they would, wouldn't they? Its their job to get for the best for buses, not whats best all round, and as such comments from Stagecoach need to be taken with a pinch of salt"

    The thing that gets me about Campbell's comments is *they are actually better for buses too*. The buses don't need to wait for a gap in cyclists to pull over, and they don't need to wait for a gap in motor traffic to pull out. You could argue that they simply don't bother, but this has not been my observation: there is always a delay, even if they end up pushing in/out.
    And this coming just after his complaints at East area committee about how he couldn't drive a bus in Cambridge himself because of the difficulties. Yet as soon as something comes along to remove the bus/cyclist interaction, he's against it.

    Campbell should be in favour of anything that has the potential to switch people from cars to bikes in Cambridge. The notorious unreliability of his buses is because of the volume of motor traffic, something he seems at pains not to mention.

    " and the idea of putting the bus stop on the pavement rather than on the floating island is folly"

    I've heard from at least one person with young children who hated the idea of shelter on the island - she didn't want to be watching her kids to stop them running out into traffic in both directions. I don't have strong opinions on it myself, at least not if there is cycle priority.

    I also think that a drip, drip of pedestrians onto the island is more of a problem than a mass crossing, myself. It depends on who has priority.

    "whats meant to happen is that the motorists are meant to give way to us there. Why would they? You're saying I look, indicate right and the motorists will stop? Will they hell as like. You're treating cyclists like third class road users with this dreadful crossing idea."

    If that's what you think, you're saying no to properly Dutch roundabouts in the UK. Cycle priority at crossings has to be proved somewhere, or we will never have a better solution to Perne Rd, or Coldham's Lane, or Elizabeth Way or...
    Cycle priority is actually privileging cyclists here. It's going to make it easier to turn right out of Oxford Rd for cyclists than it is for motor vehicles, who don't have priority!
    I agree that there will be some issues. I'm sure we all know how good compliance is with standard zebra crossings. However this will never improve unless we make it. If we just say that UK motorists can't cope with these ideas, we have just given up the whole ground on standard Dutch designs.

    "On to Hills Road (4:50) - the lanes simply look too narrow."

    They might look too narrow in the video, but if you look at the plans you'll see that the new lanes are either 2.1m or 2.7m depending on segregation - there's actually more space than on Huntingdon Rd, where currently the plans don't have a 2.7m wide hybrid option.

    So, have you actually sent in a response to both consultations saying 'yes improvements needed, but I have these problems with the schemes?' Council can't improve design if the principle fails at first consultation.

    1. No idea if I've replied as shiny new website keeps giving me 404 errors when I try to post questionnaire (including link to this post as my full response)! Have tweeted at County folk to ask for clarification whether my responses have got there.

      With regard to floating bus stops, Ranty Highwayman pretty much nailed it for my money:

      Trials elsewhere with the bus stop on the island have been pretty positive as far as I can tell - I can't imagine how I'd attract the attention of an approaching bus driver if I'm way out of his line of site behind a bus lane, it strikes me someone will HAVE to wait on the island or the driver may all too often drive straight past. I get what you're saying about kids wandering - but I've never heard that as a criticism of floating bus stops where used. See, for example:

      Regarding the crossing, thats not really like a Dutch roundabout. The lane more or less vanishes and we're trusting to motorists to believe that this, unlike everywhere else on every other road, is somewhere where if a cyclist wants to cross in front of them they necessarily have priority. I'm not going to be the guinea-pig for that and I'm just as assertive a rider as anyone else in this city. I'm not saying that UK motorists can't cope with this idea - I'm saying its a bad idea as laid out in this animation, and one which not only motorists, but cyclists and pedestrians will struggle to make work.

      2.1m or 2.7m on Hills or Huntingdon Road - dunno about you but I don't fancy overtaking anyone within a kerbed off 2.1m lane! If its kerbed off like that then it must be wider. Will modify post at top to reflect this.

    2. "The lane more or less vanishes and we're trusting to motorists to believe that this, unlike everywhere else on every other road, is somewhere where if a cyclist wants to cross in front of them they necessarily have priority."

      I suspect the sketchiness of the plans here relates to the fact that DfT sign-off on cycle zebras hasn't occurred yet! I would expect there to be requirements and guidelines issued once they are approved. In the meantime the County can't promise what they will look like if it ends up contradicting that.

      "2.1m or 2.7m on Hills or Huntingdon Road - dunno about you but I don't fancy overtaking anyone within a kerbed off 2.1m lane! If its kerbed off like that then it must be wider. Will modify post at top to reflect this."

      I consider 2.1m a minimum for this kind of facility on a main road. But I do think it is a reasonable minimum. I overtake people everyday on a kerbed path - Coton path is 3m wide, and I'll overtake when it means three abreast. Add to that we're going to suggest double-cycle markings on the lane, which will hopefully indicate that people shouldn't cycle in the middle.

      I'm not the council, but I suspect width of segregation is negotiable. Bridge street has narrower kerbs with bollards, or the bollards could be removed from scheme, as they are also very visually intrusive, but that will make it easier to drive down the lane.

      There are some benefits to 60cm segregation - it will feel much more protected, which is the main point of having segregation. Also, probably not intentional, but I feel this creates a handy waiting place between segregated sections for making right-hand turns, for those who are less confident with a merge into traffic.

    3. If perhaps at a later date DfT comes up with an explanation of how what looks so obviously hazardous may be safe then I'll reconsider my stance. In the mean time I can't support a crossing that looks flat our dangerous, verging on unrideable. If I've got to get out of the cycle lane, possibly kerbed in, and then in a short distance claim a primary position on a main road to be sure that the cars behind will stop then thats not a cycle facility that'll get more people riding. It means cyclists trapped on the left of the road wanting to turn right.

      The 60cm section for segregating is indeed a good idea to allow turning, and it improves the 'feel' of safety. But 2.1m wide? Not for overtaking. I'm approaching 1m wide or so on my chunky hybrid, don't fancy overtaking someone of similar width relying on one of us overhanging the edge of the lane or with such a small margin of error - one of the things I think we most soon forget is how close things feel to you when you're a novice cyclist, and close overtakes from cars or even bikes will put newbies off. I was helping a friend on their first ride in 20 years a while back, on the alleys in Kings Hedges where Ellie and I would happily ride two abreas if we could see what was coming, and the friend in question was freaking out at how close the walls were. A timely reminder!

      Having dual bike symbols is a good idea - have these been employed elsewhere, do they work?

    4. Re placing the bus shelter on the 'floating' island. Assuming that video is showing things to scale, is there actually room to accommodate one, rather than at the back of the footway where it's shown?

      Andy R.

    5. Plenty but we'd need to take some space from the really rather wide hatched paint area in the middle of the road.

  2. Your comments about the 'one-side of Huntingdon Road' issue are unclear. The County has been given a certain pot of money by the DfT. Officers have been clear all along that they want to do both sides, and that will be easier if one side is done properly thus creating calls for funding for the other side.

    Seems to me a perfectly sensible strategy to spend as much as possible to do one side properly, rather than try to spread the money thinly doing both sides badly (i.e. the historical Cambridgeshire way), and then there will be calls for the other side. (If one accepts this permise, then it's perfectly valid of course to move on to discuss the specific design issues of the current side that is being done.)

    So can you update your post to clarify whether you're saying that one side shouldn't go ahead at all because both sides aren't being done? Or if you're saying both absolutely must be done now, can you explain where twice the budget is going to come from?

    Incidentally, how would what you're saying be any different to saying "We shouldn't upgrade all of Huntingdon Road because the rest of the city isn't being upgraded at the same time"? Isn't is valid to upgrade one part properly so that others can then follow?

    The same applies to the larger junctions. That awful three-lane section (which the County should never have signed off on a few years ago) is what is currently there, because the DfT funds won't stretch enough to fix that. But seems to me that becomes much more likely to get filled in once the rest of the area is upgraded. Certainly I see that as a high priority to fix soon as funds become available.

    I was also expecting some commentary either way on whether any of the following are a welcome sight after years of campaigning for them:

    * 2.1/2.7m lanes rather than the usual 1.2-1.5m Cambridgeshire standard;

    * the first attempt at proper segregation;

    * willingness to try both segregation (dutch) or hybrid (danish) approaches to see what works best given the number of turnings off these streets;

    * the first case of (long-campaigned-for) priority over sideroads in Cambridgeshire;

    * the concept of a continuous unbroken route along most of a key road;

    * officers' desire to address the primary network rather than the historical attention on the secondary network;

    * the willingness to try the continental floating bus stop concept that campaigners have been asking the County to try for 10 years now.

    Again, there may be things in the specific execution that need improvement, but some analysis on what seem to be a clear by the County to aim much higher, would be worthwhile.

    Commenting positively on things that are actually good, whilst absolutely still criticising what is not, is a good way to get people on-side. Currently it comes across as a rant, obscuring what are perfectly reasonable comments on detail that is eminently fixable and which officers seem open to fixing as far as I can see.


    1. Martin, you can't pretend to be reasonable and interested in a reasonable discussion while accusing me of coming across as ranting. No, no, no. You can have reasonable discourse or a slanging match, you cannot straddle a line between the two. You've form on this, remember 'shouting from the sidelines and being grumpy'?

      Quit with the passive aggression and retract 'rant' else here, or anywhere else, I suspect we have nothing further to discuss.

  3. You're right Martin, they should have only built the southbound lane of our shiny new Forth Bridge, and then only thought about building the northbound direction if people ever show a demand for it! I'm beginning to think like a highway engineer now! And we didn't even need to connect the new bridge to any other roads by upgrading the junctions elsewhere! Yup great idea, we could have saved £2 billion and yet also somehow still expect people to choose the shiny new infra to get around in their daily lives...

    1. Analogies with motor infra don't work. While private motor cars remain the dominant form of transport, their argument is already won. Even in Cambridge there are many, vocal, people who are opposed to cycle infra in principle. Many more oppose specific measure which make it possible, such as parking removal, tree removal, severing through-routes, loading restrictions... Demanding one's rights equal to motorists is not, I think, the route to actually achieving what we want. We have to take the long way around.

      In any case, if Huntingdon Rd were complete on both sides, any given journey would still be incomplete. No changes to Girton Rd, or Victoria Rd, or Castle Hill, or Madingley Rd, or Chesterton Rd... Networks have to start somewhere. I'd rather be able to point to this as an example of what is possible in Cambridge than have twice the distance at half the quality. Currently you still have parents around the city asking for shared use to get their children to school. They don't know there is another way, because they've never seen it.

    2. If this were being hailed as 'stage 1' to test whether the infra. works prior to roll-out on both sides, or roll-out all the way down the road in to the city centre, that'd be one thing. If we were getting this as part of an overall plan, that'd be better. But it isn't - I see no reference to any greater plan for continuation of the route in either direction.

      I get what you're saying about this being a test for real segregation, but its not being pitched as 'trying this out to see whether we can roll it out further'. If thats what Cambridgeshire County are saying, let 'em say it - but I'm not going to infer from this that they've had a road to Damascus conversion to segregated infrastructure if they could only get people to see their way of thinking.

      If we install this and we DON'T get a big increase in cycling on the route because the return route remains bad, by the reasoning you're using, haven't we just seen a demonstration that segregation DOESN'T increase cycling uptake?

    3. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw an increase even without infra, to be honest. With the NIAB development on one side of the road, and North-West Cambridge on the other, this will shortly be a much more used route. It will be a disaster for Huntingdon Rd if many of those journeys aren't cycled.

      I certainly don't think the route is going to be dead after the changes. To start with it might not create cyclists - it might just move them from elsewhere. I could use Huntingdon Rd for my commute, but I don't, as there's no compelling reason to do so. But I'll sometimes voluntarily cycle an extra mile to work just to be able to use the commons and Coton Path because it's less stressful (also pretty).

      Hills Rd bridge, despite only being a paint on the road scheme, has seen a massive increase in cycling since the redesign. You can argue cause and effect, but it certainly doesn't look like a failure.

    4. Fair point that the route is getting busier, so we'll see an increase in cycling with or without this. Rather seems the case with Hills Road bridge too - but here I stand by what I've said about normal, confident adults who refuse to ride it because its terrifying.

      I think its hard to empathise with newbie cyclists when we've spent so many years on the saddle - and the question I'd ask of any new facility is 'would your gran or your child be happy using it'. And for much of the current proposal that would be 'yes', however the junction, the crossing and the fact that its only a small part of any real journey make it still 'no'.

      I'd more happily support this if it being part of an overall plan to make the whole route good was explicit, rather than inferred. And I'm disappointed that Camcycle aren't requiring that before offering support.

      I'll give you a proper rant about Camcycle and their passive support for half measures and crap schemes presntly, as it would seem Martin wants hostility :(

    5. Hester, I'm not making an analogy with motor infra, I'm making an analogy with the human being's fundamental need, probably shaped by billions of years of evolution, to be able to get home safely after a day out.

      If we say to people you can happily go by bike but you can't come back safely, if you have to 'share' with buses and lorries, if you have to swim through crocodile infested water, if you have to go through a dangerous obstacle course to get home, then your decision to leave it in the first place is no longer free.

    6. Well put. Provision of good infrastructure on a small part of one direction of a route is all well and good - as a staging post towards doing the whole thing. Without that it is, as you say, a pretty poor choice to have to make.

  4. Nice post!

    One minor(ish) point that I've mentioned to various councillers (who just sort of shrug it off) is - are they going to move the horrific iron works out of the cycle lanes before they curb them off?

    Speaking as someone with a friend who's just spent 2 weeks in Addenbrooks after (almost certainly) stacking it on an ironwork on Huntington Road - I'd really like to not be forced to cycle over those evil things.

    1. Excellent point. I'll add it to my post above as an edit.

    2. Unless you want the segregated lane to turn into a river some amount of ironwork is going to be needed (short of replacing the existing kerbs with combined drainage kerbs = £££s).

      However, there are 'cycle friendly' gully grates available, which have smaller openings, and also have a higher skid resistance, together with after-market anti-skid treatments which can be applied to manhole covers and the like. (This may well be highlighted in the Road Safety Audit).

      Andy R

  5. Cab, you are ranting in my book. What you appear to be after is the moon, on a stick. And I'd say having a reasonable discussion with some who is after that sort of infra is pretty difficult.


    1. What a peculiar little post. But heck, at least its just aggressive rather than passive aggressive, I can respect that.

      Of course it isn't ranting - I'm asking for some small improvements while saying the scheme looks good. Those small improvements would make it better. The biggest one, for me, is that this must very clearly be viewed as part of a route, and upon cyclists not being treated like shit not bringing about the end of the world I want it to be clear that this will be the model for the rest of the route. I won't view half measures, such as a small part of any real journey not sucking, as a success on its own. Why should I?