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Cambridge city centre ‘should open to electric vehicles only’

Traffic in Cambridge city centre should be restricted to clean and electric vehicles only and a Transport for London-style management system put in place.

Cyclists, traffic congestion, Hills Rd Picture: Keith Heppell. (22223240)
Cyclists, traffic congestion, Hills Rd Picture: Keith Heppell. (22223240)

These are among the recommendations from members of the Greater Cambridge Citizens’ Assembly.

The findings from the pioneering assembly – the UK’s first dedicated to tackling transport issues – are being published on Wednesday, November 20.

The assembly, funded by a £60,000 grant from the government’s innovation in democracy programme, was called by the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP).

“We’ve been a trailblazer,” explained Isobel Wade, the GCP’s head of transport strategy. “The area has tested out something new and certainly it takes some kind of braveness from us and politicians to do this. It has been an exciting process to trial it out and learn how it works.”

Over two weekends in September and October, the citizens’ assembly heard evidence from experts in transport, economics and environmental issues, before casting votes on a series of potential measures to improve air quality and upgrade public transport services.

Involve, the charity which ran the citizens’ assembly, is publishing the report outlining the recommendations, votes and key messages put forward by assembly members.

The 53 members of the assembly were asked to set out what they wanted to see from future transport in Greater Cambridge.
They called for affordable, fast and reliable public transport, environmentally-friendly and zero carbon transport, and a city centre restricted to clean and electric vehicles. They also said the city should be ‘people-centred’ – prioritising pedestrians and cyclists – and managed as one co-ordinated system.

A Transport for Cambridge-style body, modelled on Transport for London, would enable better interconnection, they suggested.

Of the measures they considered, members voted most strongly in favour of road closures, followed by a series of road-charging options – including a pollution charge, a flexible charge based on peak-time travel and a clean air zone, as the Cambridge Independent reported when preliminary results were released in October.

Ms Wade continued: “What we wanted from it was to get this detailed feedback and get a clearer sense of actually when you bring together a demographically representative group of people, what do they want to do about this problem, and they told us about why they wanted it and what they wanted to see in a broader sense as well, which is helpful in understanding why they came up with what they did.

“It wasn’t just that we should close loads of roads, it was we want these things and therefore we think one of the ways we can get it is to close some roads. That was really helpful.”

Assembly members also prioritised supporting measures to enhance the transport network and improve air quality. These included a franchised bus service, planting more trees and hedges to absorb carbon, encouraging the use of electric bikes, improved routing of bus services with low emission electric vehicles, exploring the viability of long-distance buses using the Park & Ride, optimising traffic signals and establishing a heavy-duty depot outside of Cambridge, with last-mile delivery through electric van or pedal power.

The key messages developed by the assembly to be put to the GCP’s executive board urged them to be brave, be bold and take action.

They said that improvements in public transport need to come first and funding raised through charging needs to be ring-fenced for transport in Greater Cambridge and the wider area.

Fairness was also a key principle, the members suggested, to ensure those on low incomes and tourists are not adversely affected by charging.

Ms Wade added: “For me, what was very positive was that the key messages were all grounded in a very positive vision of what the place could be. So they talked about what they wanted to see: wanting to have much better public transport, having space for walking and cycling and for enjoying the place, having cleaner air and travel more sustainably, and a greener city – and they then talked about some of the actions you might take to achieve that.”

The assembly members were selected at random by a process called ‘sortition’, following invitations to 10,000 addresses across the travel to work area. The participants were selected from 211 who responded.

Ms Wade added: “It wasn’t just that the GCP wants the answers to these questions, they were able to broaden it out and think about things that they hadn’t been asked about.”

The presentations and expert panel discussions from the citizens’ assembly were live streamed on the GCP’s Facebook page and are available on the GCP’s YouTube page.

The GCP’s executive board will consider the findings outlined in the report in early 2020.

Citizens assemblies have been used regularly internationally and at a national level, particularly in Poland and Ireland. The National Infrastructure Commission is hoping to run some citizens’ assemblies on congestion nationally in the new year.

Visit Consult Cambs to view the citizens’ assembly presentation slides and for further information.

Read more:

Could a workplace parking levy work in Cambridge?

Assessing the environmental credentials of the Combined Authority and GCP

Cambridge residents and commuters invited to join citizens’ assembly

First citizens assembly in Cambridge will help sort out tough issues facing city

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