Monday, 20 December 2010

Snow, Grit and Democracy on Riverside

With Cambridge currently looking like a winter wonderland and with sheets of ice forming on the River Cam, what are the prospects this winter for cyclists who need to cycle along Riverside? 

Riverside is a popular and important arterial route, forming part of National Cycle Routes 11 and 51 and used by many as a part of their daily commute.  Opening of the Riverside Bridge in July 2008 has brought in many additional cyclists, with media reports suggesting that up to 1900 cyclists and pedestrians use the bridge daily.  Unfortunately a number of them soon found out the hard way that while major roads in Cambridge were being gritted, major cycle routes were being left untreated.  An online petition organised by Robert Oeffner calling on Cambridgeshire County Council to grit all cycle routes in Cambridge rapidly acquired over 1000 signatures and was presented to Council on 26 February 2009.  It was duly ignored by our elected representatives, so that come the winter of 2009/10 Riverside and many other cycle routes, were best left to skaters.  Mr T, in common with many others, took an undignified tumble whilst out cycling.

Big, yellow, and yes, on Riverside
But, Hurrah!, this winter is different.  Despite not being marked on the County Council's Gritting Map for Cambridge, Riverside received the gritter treatment on 1st December 2010.  Following more recent snowfall, the County Council's new quad bike has also been in action. What's brought about this amazing volte-face on the part of County Councillors?

Well it's hard to say for sure, but Oeffner's petition and subsequent comments from the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, Richard Taylor and Riverside Area Residents Association have probably all had an influence.  And I wouldn't bet against Mr Cycle Cambridge's Mike Davies having played a part, too.  Based on this issue it would seem that democracy in Cambridge is not dead - just very hard of hearing.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Mandatory Cycle Lanes for Gilbert Road

It has been a very long time coming, but on 19 October 2010 the decision was finally made in favour of constructing 1.7m wide mandatory cycle lanes on Gilbert Road.  If you want to find when discussions first started about how to deal with the problem of cars parked in the advisory cycle lanes, you'll have to search records dating back to the last century.  The Cambridge Cycling Campaign has been working on this particular issue for 15 years.

Gilbert Road is an important transport route for motorists and cyclists alike, linking the Histon and Milton roads on the north side of the city.  It's therefore a busy road but ought to be safe and convenient for cyclists because it is also very wide.  Yet judging my the number of cyclists who choose to use the pavement, it's obvious that something is very wrong.

The main problem is that some commuters and/or residents choose to park their vehicles - perfectly legally - in the 1.3m wide advisory cycle lane.  This forces the ca. 900 cyclists who use Gilbert Road every day to move out into the centre of the road.  This is fine at quiet times but potentially dangerous in the early morning and late afternoon.  There have been six reported accidents involving cyclists on Gilbert Road in the last five years and many cyclists regard the road as dangerous. 

The new cycle lanes will be quite different from those that exist at the moment.  They will be 40cm wider, be clearly demarcated in colour and have double yellow (no parking) lines along their entire length.  This should make for a safer and more pleasant experience for cyclists and motorists alike.

Funding is available for this project through Cycling England, so it is to be hoped that work on this project will commence in the very near future.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Plod Going the Wrong Way on Sidney Street

In a rush today are we, Sir?
October in Cambridge. Novice boats move crab-like down the Cam; College sommeliers dust off their Ch√Ęteau Ducru-Beaucaillou; and PC Plod makes us all safer by stopping cyclists going the wrong way along Sidney Street. Soon followed by an article in the CEN proclaiming a "Cycle Crime Crackdown". The pantomime season has started.

The latest ritual of catch-a-cycling-criminal took place on 7th October. Twenty cyclists were stopped and ten fixed penalty notices were issued in a two hour period for cyclists contravening the one way system.  Now if you know the area you might be wondering, how come they only stopped twenty cyclists in two hours?  Isn't cycling the wrong way along Sidney Street much more common than that?

Well of course it is.  This montage was created over a twenty minute period and gives a better idea of the scale of the problem.  And it's not only students - or even the much-maligned foreign students - who are breaking the law.  Lycra-man is in there as is a mother with an attached trailer for kids.  Forty cyclists an hour must be going the wrong way at certain times of the day.  For many it has become an accepted norm by default.

So how has it come about that so many people are choosing to ignore the one-way regulation? Well, for a start, the road use signage is poor and could certainly do with an upgrade.  Many cyclists are probably unaware that they're committing an offence.   It would certainly help if colleges gave out copies of the Cambridge Cycle Map to all new students and emphasised the importance of cycling according to the rules of the Highway Code.

Then there are the police.  Their tokenistic efforts such as the 7th October operation do little to serve the public good, but discriminate against an unlucky few.  For in case you thought that the small number of cyclists stopped was due to the presence of the mystery woman the real answer is more prosaic.  While the two police officers were questioning cyclists and taking their details, they simply didn't have time to observe and stop the many other anti-social cyclists who continued to travel the wrong way. 

If Cambridge really wants to tackle the problem of anti-social cycling - and there are many reasons why it should - then it will require a concerted and coordinated effort from all parties concerned.  That includes the Councils, cycling organisations, universities as well as the police.  Step forward if you would like to take the lead on this.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Bicycles as Advertising Hoardings

Want to get close to this map?  Think again
Cambridge City Council has a published policy on Illegal Advertising but is seemingly reluctant to enforce its own rules.  Aside from fly-posting which is commonplace (and about which the Council claims to have zero tolerance) there are now numerous bikes placed across the city centre which act as fixed advertising hoardings.

Many of these bikes are not in a road-worthy condition and have been parked so as to gain the retailer maximum exposure - regardless of the needs of those who need to use the pavement.  Bike polite, anyone?

Cycle advertisement fly-parking is taking place on some of the busiest shopping streets in the city often utilising railings, signposts or other street furniture.  Here they impede the space for pedestrians, prams, wheelchairs etc, contribute to a more cluttered street-scape and are liable to give all cyclists a bad name. 

With its stylish blue chain and sprayed white tyres this cafe owner won't be cycling anywhere soon, but he / she has certainly upped the ante on current Cambridge bicycle advertising.  And they've had the decency to park against a proper bike rack.  But do we really want this form of unauthorised advertising around our city streets?  Mr T thinks not.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Opening of the Reach Lode Bridge

One of the most enjoyable bike rides out of Cambridge is to the fine fenland city of Ely.  Famed for its cathedral, it has some decent pubs and restaurants along the riverside and also boasts an excellent bookshop.  Since there are good rail connections between the two cities, leisure riders can cycle to Ely, spend a good part of the day there and then take the train back in the evening.  With yesterday's opening of the bridge over Reach Lode and the associated cycleway, much more of this journey can now be undertaken on quiet lanes and off-road cycle tracks.

To mark this event, on Sunday Sustrans organised a bike ride from Ely to the opening event at Reach Lode.  Ca. 50 riders gathered outside the front of the cathedral and after a short safety talk departed at 11:15.  Cyclists from different organisations, age ranges and degrees of lycraness took part and there was a fair amount of good-natured bantering and discussion as we made our way out of Ely towards Wicken Fen.

The weather was delightful, allowing us to enjoy the famously large Fenland sky and spot wildlife such as cormorants and roe deer.  From Wicken Fen we were cycling along the Lodes Way - a 14km route designed to provide clear access for cyclists and walkers south to the village of Bottisham and passing close to Anglesea Abbey.  This route has been largely funded by Sustrans using funds it received from the Lottery Fund in 2007.

At Reach Lode we met other cyclists and walkers who had started out from places including Cambridge, Wicken Fen and Anglesea Abbey.  Altogether there were about 200 of us.  After speeches on behalf of the National Trust and Sustrans, the official opening ceremony was conducted by representatives from the nearby communities of Burwell, Lode, Reach and Wicken. 

After the opening most folk stayed around for a picnic and staff from the National Trust were on hand to explain their plans for managing Burwell Fen.  Some parts of this Fen are two metres below sea level and the impending construction of a clay bund will facilitate the establishment of wet grassland habitats.

The Reach Lode bridge is a genuine boon for walkers, horse-riders and cyclists from Cambridge, Ely and adjoining villages.  What's needed now is a proper cycle / bridleway link from Waterbeach to the Lode Way. Mr T has it on good authority that the National Trust are trying to achieve just such a link and are in communication with a currently reticent landowner.

Friday, 10 September 2010

New On-Street Parking from Cycle Cambridge

Magnifying glass, anyone?

In March 2010 the Cycle Cambridge Team at Cambridgeshire County Council announced plans for " City Cycle Parking Improvements ".  Although Cycle Cambridge claim on their webpage to have been "consulting" about the changes, it is not clear how, or with whom, the consultation exercise was conducted.  Formal orders from the Area Manager Traffic City and South Cambridgeshire dated 5th March 2010 (concerning the planned introduction of new "pedal cycle parking places") were displayed near to where the cycle racks were to be introduced.  However, the notices were so nondescript, and set in such a small font, that few members of the public will have paid them much attention.

As shown on the notice, new cycle racks are being introduced at 11 on-street locations across the city - something Cycle Cambridge claims will "ensure footpaths are kept clear for pedestrians as bikes will not need to park on street furniture".

So let's take a look at what's being introduced.  Here are the figures:

              Location                    Cycle Parking Length               Est. No. New Cycle Stands
          Brookside (E)                            19.5m                                            13
          Free School Lane                       9.0m                                               6
          Gwydir Street                            3.5m                                                2
          Harvey Road (N)                         8.5m                                               6
          Harvey Road (S)                         2.5m                                               2
          King Street                                8.5m                                               6
          Mawson Road                            8.5m                                               6
          Pound Hill                                  8.0m                                               6
          St Phillips Road (N)                    5.0m                                               3
          St Phillips Road (S)                  10.5m                                                7
          Trumpington Street                     7.5m                                                5

          Total                                                                                               62

That's right, a measly 120 or so extra on-street places for cyclists to park.  This should be seen in the context of Cambridge having being awarded National Cycling Town status in 2008, not to mention £3.6 million to be spent on cycling improvements in the city and surrounding villages.  Given that there are well over 10,000 cyclists in Cambridge and that some 300 bicycles a month are stolen, this new provision from Cycle Cambridge is meagre in the extreme.  Sadly, it would appear that Cycle Cambridge lacks the will and / or ambition to provide Cambridge with the level of cycling facilities commensurate with being a National Cycling Town.
New on-street cycle parking on King Street

Although only recently installed, the new cycle stands on King Street are already being regularly used and at peak times cyclists are forced to find alternative places to park which is often still against walls and street furniture. 

It is now possible for the public to make suggestions as to where extra cycle parking
could be provided in Cambridge via the website Cycling Sorted, which is run by Cycle Cambridge.  We can but hope that there is a strong response from the public and that Cycle Cambridge in future is minded to propose much more radical proposals to County Council transport bosses.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Bicycle Cull at Cambridge Station

Alright, where should I park today?
Anyone who has tried to park their bike at Cambridge Railway Station in the last few years knows what a nightmare this has become.  Each day some 1000+ cyclists try to park at a facility with 748 spaces.  As a result, bikes have to be parked against walls, railings, street furniture and other bikes.  No wonder the station is a hot spot for bicycle theft.  And as the first view of the city for many visitors, the scene is a disgrace.

Every so often some bright spark suggests that that the bicycle parking crisis could be ameliorated if only those bikes that had been abandoned were removed.  The trouble is bicycle culls take time and effort, and there is little money to be made from the resale of rusting, unloved, machinery.

To overcome the inherent economic barrier to culling, National Express has now teamed up with the social enterprise charity Opportunity Without Limits (OWL).  National Express are tagging seemingly abandoned bikes once a month and, after a grace period of 2 - 4 weeks, OWL are removing them to their workshop.  There they are restored, or taken apart for spares, by adults with learning difficulties or health problems.

National Express are clearly pleased with the scheme and large posters about it have appeared on a number of platforms.  We can all be reassured to learn that removing abandoned bikes is "part of an ongoing operation to ensure the most spaces possible are available for cycling customers".

The most spaces possible, eh?  Then Cambridge Station Duty Manager Graham Ellingham might want to take a look at the figures.  The number of bikes removed since the scheme was introduced has been as follows:
April - 24 removed; May - 32 removed; June - 26 removed; July - 22 removed.  Given the scale of the problem, these are small numbers.  There is an existing pent-up demand for secure parking at the station, with some cyclists declining to leave their bike there for fear of it being damaged or stolen.   Mr T regrettably predicts that this latest bicycle cull exercise will have no noticeable effect in improving cycle parking conditions.

Monday, 9 August 2010

20mph Speed Limit for Cambridge City Centre

Cambridge has today followed the pioneering example of Portsmouth and a number of other towns and cities, and implemented a 20mph speed limit within the entire area of the inner ring road.  This action by Cambridgeshire County Council, is for a 12 month trial period and follows their decision in April 2009 to change their speed limit policy.  Under their revised policy, in those urban areas of Cambridgeshire where the average speed of traffic is no greater than 24mph, the county council now has the power to introduce 20mph speed limits.  Using this policy they agreed in April 2009 to undertake a trial 20mph speed limit scheme in Cambridge City Centre, Whittlesea, St Ives and Soham.

The case for a 20mph speed limit throughout Cambridge City Centre has been made in some quarters for at least five years but has become more vociferous as formerly quiet neighbourhoods have experienced increased amounts of dangerous "rat-running" by motorists.  Speed limits of 30kph (19mph) have been the norm across many urban areas of northern Europe since the last century, and there is now a national campaigning group - 20's plenty for us - in the UK.

Proponents of 20mph speed limits point out that accidents have decreased in areas where reduced speeds have been introduced and that survival rates have increased.  Suggestions that lower speeds encourage a greater take-up of walking and cycling remain contentious.  Along with improving road safety, the County Council is hoping that the new measures will provide a more amenable environment for all road users.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Cycleway to Wandlebury is Open!

The speeches have been made, the ribbon cut and the ice cream eaten.  Which means, of course, that the shared use cycleway from the Babraham Park and Ride to Wandlebury Country Park is now officially open.  Hooray!

The rain held off against the forecast and about thirty people, including representatives from the councils, Cambridge PPF, Cambridge CTC and the Cambridge Cycling Campaign came along to celebrate.  This section may only be 2km long, but by connecting with pre-existing shared-use cycleways it completes a safe route from Wandlebury to the City Centre.

Jackson Civil Engineering were responsible for the construction of the shared-use cycleway, which has been built to a pleasingly high standard.   Some 400m along from the Park & Ride, the cycleway needs to cross Cherry Hinton Road at the Gog Magog roundabout.  The route here has been sensibly chosen so that Cherry Hinton Road is crossed in two stages by directing users to make use of a small triangular piece of land between the slip roads and the roundabout.  Tactile paving has been placed at each end of the uncontrolled crossing points on the Cherry Hinton slip roads and joins with the cycleway is a near seamless manner.  The tarmacked surface is very smooth, though I had expected it to be coloured rather than black.  Signage has been kept to a minimum and consist of shared use signs mounted on pleasing wooden bollards.

After trying out the route to Wandlebury, cyclists headed into the park and through the old stable-block to be met by a classic 1920s ice cream bike.  This was the excellent Icicle-Tricycle.  Their ice creams are sourced from Suffolk and I can personally vouch for the quality of their toffee variety.  With snack in hand the park was a lovely setting to meet other cycling enthusiasts in Cambridge.  Thanks to Carolin Gohler of Cambridge PPF and colleagues from partner organisations for holding this event.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

New Cycleway to Wandlebury Opens on 6th August

Wandlebury Country Park is situated on chalklands of the Gog Magog hills, less than 10km from Cambridge City Centre.  It boasts an Iron Age hill fort,  meandering scenic footpaths and picnic areas set in 110 acres of woods and grassland.  Owned and managed by Cambridge Past Present and Future (formerly the Cambridge Preservation Society) they carefully tend the grounds to encourage a diversity of fauna and flora making this a fine destination for families and nature-lovers.  Yet, incredibly, until now it hasn't been a particularly convenient place to reach by bike.

This is because the journey necessitated cycling along a 2km section of the Babraham Road (A1307) with fast-moving traffic passing at a close distance.  Supposed safety improvements in 2003 consisted of narrowing the width of the outbound lane leading up the hill to Wandlebury in the belief that this would cause traffic to slow down.  Whether it had the desired effect or not is debatable, but it certainly caused fast-moving vehicles to pass cyclists at ever closer distances.  Not surprisingly, many residents chose to make the journey by car instead.

Wishing to encourage visitors to arrive at Wandlebury by bicycle, CambridgePPF took the bold step of applying, together with Cambridgeshire County Council, for central Government funding for a new shared cycle path from the Babraham Park and Ride to the park entrance.  The bid for £585,000 was successful and construction work began on 12th April 2010.

Schematic from: County Council consultation plan, 2009
Official opening of the shared-use cycle path takes place on 6th August and Mr T plans to be on hand to participate in the opening celebrations and to see how well the shared cycleway operates.  A "consultation briefing note" of August 2009 proposed a shared use cycleway of 2.5 - 3.0 metres width; Cambridge Cycling Campaign favouring 3.0 metres.  Yet by the time approval was sought at Cambridgeshire County Council cabinet in September 2009, reference in the briefing paper was solely to "a 2.5 metre wide shared use path".  Such criticism notwithstanding, improved cycling routes around Cambridge are very much to be welcomed.  Well done all those who have made this cycleway a reality.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Waiting for the Ambulance

Time to get my bike sorted, so it was off to the Bicycle Ambulance repair service at the Park Street Cycle Park. Just in case you don't know the location, it's on the basement level of the Park Street car park.  That's the one near Magdalene Street which has all the architectural merit of the recently demolished car park in Gateshead but without the benefit of a cult film association. 

While Rick was attending to another customer I had a look around the cycle park  which was opened in July 2002.  The conversion cost ca. £75,000, and at the time was the largest indoor city centre cycle park in the country.  But before we get too carried away it's worth looking at a few details.  

The cycle park receives little natural light and aside from a bicycle-inspired mural near the entrance the walls are badly scuffed or simply bare concrete.  The ceiling lights are dim and old car park markings still remain on the floor.  This is not a particularly welcoming environment and overall compares unfavourably with the recent Brunel West car park to cycle park conversion in Swindon.
Yet on the plus side there are plenty of well-spaced, secure, parking stands available, including ca. 100 rounded A stands and seven extended Sheffield stands suitable for tandems or trailers. 

For those cyclists who prefer lockers to racks, the cycle park is equipped with 19 vertical lockers (by Bikeaway) and 12 wider horizontal lockers (by Glazdon).  These are available through the City Council for £10 a week after leaving a £30 deposit.

Another City Council scheme - and a brilliant one - allows those with a young child, to park at the cycle park, borrow a free push chair at the Bicycle Ambulance shop and continue around town. 

Recently 14 "swimming pool" style lockers - large enough to store clothing, helmet or pannier - have appeared.  It looks as though they ought to operate with a refundable one pound coin but none of the lockers had keys in when I visited.  Then again, neither did similar lockers at the Grand Arcade cycle park the last time I looked.

News just in.  The car park will shortly require significant structural repair work which may cost ca. £2 million.  A future change of use is not out of the question.