Cambridgeshire mayor’s metro plan dismissed as ‘fantasy’ in National Infrastructure Commission report
Cycling has been hailed as the way to solve the city’s congestion problems, with plans for a Cambridge metro and light rail being dismissed as “fantasy”.
A new report, commissioned by the National Infrastructure Commission, calls for new cycle infrastructure to be delivered in Cambridge as a priority, warning that light rail solutions are “slow to deliver” and expensive.
Andrew Gilligan, who wrote the report, said he was “very critical” of the plans for a Cambridge metro and light rail, calling them “fantasy”, and questioning whether it would ever happen at all.
“The report is quite a strong criticism of the mayor’s solution for a fantasy light rail system,” said Mr Gilligan, who is the former cycling commissioner for London. “Politicians spend too much time putting up pie-in-the-sky solutions.
“He (Mayor of Cambridge and Peterborough James Palmer) is never going to get enough money for a metro system. They already have a perfectly good solution called the bicycle.”
Mr Gilligan said the metro would be an expensive project, and would not help enough people. He said encouraging cycling and improving infrastructure for bikes would be far more effective.
“Even if it did happen, it would take decades to deliver and would only serve a fraction of the people who need to use it,” Mr Gilligan said. “I think people like the big, shiny, expensive options, but they don’t really deliver results for the money, while cycling can deliver for a huge amount of people for a small amount of money.”
The NIC report reads: “A tunnelled metro, suggested by some for Cambridge,
would also be destructive, disruptive and prohibitively expensive, would take a decade or more to deliver and would not serve most of the journeys that people will need to make.”
James Palmer, mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, acknowledged cycling was “part of the solution” to Cambridge’s transport situation, but questioned whether Mr Gilligan had considered the “complexity” of the region as a whole.
Mr Palmer said: “I don’t know Mr Gilligan and I welcome the study. I would hope that he might take some time to understand the complexity of the whole area before making glib comments. Cycling is an important part of Cambridge transport but can only ever be part of the solution.”
The NIC report calls on the Government to provide an extra £200 million for improvement work, which would be carried out in Oxford and Cambridge at either end of a proposed new Oxford-Cambridge expressway. This, Mr Gilligan says, would cut traffic by 15 per cent in the next four years.
Cllr Lewis Herbert, leader of Cambridge City Council and interim chair of the Greater Cambridge Partnership said improving cycling was a must, but questioned Mr Gilligan’s scepticism of the metro project.
Cllr Herbert said: “The report is detailed and offers a number of recommendations which we will all consider fully. We also welcome the general call for more funding for cycling as we recognise there is always more than can be done.
“However, while Andrew Gilligan is a champion for cycling worthy of respect, it is a major omission of his analysis to exclude other forms of transport from serious analysis, including the role of planned new public transport, the potential of CAM Metro and of investment already underway in cycling/walking routes.
“This joined up investment in infrastructure will result in a double shift from the car, both to cycling and also to high quality public transport for longer journeys.
“I pay tribute also to the contributions of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign and a succession of councillors and campaigners who have championed transformational cycling investment locally for over 20 years which means that, while we still have a long way to go, we have far better cycling infrastructure than comparable cities.”
Cllr Steve Count, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, said: “We have worked hard to obtain funding for many new cycling projects in recent years.
“While the report rightly highlights that cycling rates in Cambridge are the highest in the English speaking world, our objective is to get more people cycling by providing the right facilities and links. More people cycling means less congestion, boosts the economy and improves health.
“The report shows that cycling has a 43 per cent share of work journeys made entirely in Cambridge and a 29 per cent share of all work journeys by Cambridge residents – more than double that seen in Oxford.
“This is not by luck but by design, and is thanks to the high levels of investment in cycling schemes and development by the county council and, more recently, the Greater Cambridge Partnership.”
According to the report, other measures could include road closures, a congestion charge or a workplace parking levy – all of which are under consideration in one or both of the cities.
Phil Graham, chief executive of the National Infrastructure Commission, said: “Creating thriving and liveable communities supported by the right infrastructure is essential to safeguard the prosperity of one of the most economically important regions in the country. Maintaining its global lead in science and technology means retaining the brightest and best and providing them with new places to live and accessible routes to work.”
More by this authorJosh Thomas, Local Democracy Reporter