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Camcycle and Extinction Rebellion back Mill Road’s active travel changes

‘One road, one community’, it says on Mill Road. But whose community? Residents, cyclists, independent retailers, shoppers and local politicians all have a say in the outcome
‘One road, one community’, it says on Mill Road. But whose community? Residents, cyclists, independent retailers, shoppers and local politicians all have a say in the outcome

Plans to widen Cambridge pavements, including on Mill Road, have been welcomed by the city’s climate change and cycling organisations.

The plans are part of a wide-ranging redesignation of streets around the city in response to the need for social distancing as the country prepares for an ongoing on-off partial lockdown - and have been vociferously opposed by campaigners including Mill Road Traders, who helped organised a protest on the bridge today.

Calling the situation a “once-in-a-generation opportunity”, Extinction Rebellion Cambridge (XRC) says: “The plans include the closure of Mill Road Bridge to private motor vehicles, a step that many residents have requested for some time. Currently, it is impossible to socially distance while walking or cycling down the road, especially once on the bridge, yet doing so is crucial to containing the coronavirus pandemic. Lockdown cannot be eased safely without taking extra measures such as this.”

Speaking of today’s protests, the climate activist group said: “XRC and XR Youth Cambridge recognise some local traders are not in favour, and would urge the authorities to work with them to ensure these changes do not harm local businesses. We are confident this can be achieved; research shows that local businesses more often than not benefit from pedestrianisation as it increases footfall. We believe the full pedestrianisation of Mill Road would, in fact, be the most beneficial change for businesses, residents, and those who use wheelchairs or mobility scooters, as it would create much more space to move.

“The coronavirus crisis is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rethink and correct the biggest mistake of 20th century urban planning: the takeover of our cities by the private car. In the UK this mistake has led to tens of thousands of needless deaths from air pollution exposure, as well as the deaths of countless cyclists. In Cambridge, the air in traffic hotspots is often illegally polluted, and in many cases these hotspots occur close to schools. Air pollution is linked to a range of ill health effects in children, including cognitive impairment. There is no excuse for knowingly damaging children’s health, and we are pleased action is being taken.”

XRC’s one proviso is to make the roads accessible to blue badge holders.

“An exception to the car ban for disabled drivers entering Mill Road would be a sensible addition to the plan; indeed the closure itself will help disabled drivers as there will be far fewer competing cars. Safely easing lockdown will also bring long-term resilience to business on the road - if there’s a second peak in coronavirus cases, these businesses will have to close for a second prolonged period.”

Cambridge cycle campaign group Camcycle also backs the blue badge proposal - and the schemes in general.

“Camcycle acknowledges and supports the recently released county council plan to safeguard public health using an experimental bus gate and multiple pavement expansion schemes on Mill Road. The road is an important community hub and retail area; however, it lacks adequate pavement space to facilitate the social distancing required by the Covid-19 pandemic. The new proposals will address this issue and provide space for people to pass safely through and to access local amenities – vital for restoring businesses as lockdown eases. The measures will ensure traffic levels stay low, and in doing so allow a faster bus route between Addenbrooke’s and the city centre.

“We strongly believe that the automatic number plate recognition bus gate and supporting legislation should be adapted to allow blue badge holders through,” the organisation adds on its website. “Whilst all of Mill Road will remain accessible to motor vehicles, we believe it is reasonable to help shorten some journeys for people who must drive for disability or health reasons.

“In a similar vein, car parking should be provided at carefully selected locations along Mill Road and on side streets for those who need cars for larger shopping trips or to move large items – this should include a reasonable number of blue badge and short-stay spaces. If possible, cycle parking that is currently installed on the nearby pavement should be re-installed on the carriageway adjacent to these new car parking locations.

Both Camcycle and Extinction Rebellion agree that blue badge holders should be able to access the full length of Mill Road
Both Camcycle and Extinction Rebellion agree that blue badge holders should be able to access the full length of Mill Road

Under the new plans, Mill Road bridge would be open to buses, cyclists and pedestrians for six months as part of a series of Experimental Traffic Regulation Orders.

“This means you can experiment,” said Councillor Linda Jones, who represents Petersfield ward, on Cambridge 105 radio this morning. “The officer can hear feedback and make adjustments after the first six months. For the changes to become permanent is another consultation process.”

Camcycle noted: “Experimental schemes always come with a consultation period that begins immediately after they are installed, and we intend to respond to these consultations with our comments, both positive and negative. If the schemes are unpopular or failing, then we expect that the changes will be undone at the end of the trial period.

“We hope this will not be the case however, and look forward to engaging with all community and business stakeholders to design and implement permanent schemes that build on the successes and rectify the mistakes.”

XRC campaigner Nathan Williams concluded: “We are really pleased to see councillors and officers stepping up. The list of planned changes is impressive and when implemented will be a big step forward.

“We need these changes desperately. Without this sort of wide-scale change to road infrastructure, we risk walking into a pollution and congestion nightmare that we won’t be able to get out of. If we can lock in these changes and prevent pollution and congestion from going back to normal – or worse – it would be a positive legacy to come out of an incredibly difficult and upsetting time for many people.”

XR’s view is robust
XR’s view is robust

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