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.