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Concern over new Cambridge cyclist paths and plans for bike QuickCAM network

A new network of bike lanes – called the QuickCAM – should be built to help Greater Cambridge avoid a return to the congestion and pollution of the pre-pandemic days.

Camcycle is putting forward the idea as a temporary measure for the area, drawing on more than 150 suggestions it received from the public as part of its Spaces to Breathe campaign.

It would include three routes connecting Ely and Cambridge, Cambourne and Addenbrooke’s, and Cambridge and Granta Park.

The idea was revealed after Cambridgeshire County Council announced its response to the government’s request for local authorities to encourage more active travel – there is a fear more people will resort to cars while capacity on public transport is severely restricted.

Last Thursday (May 21), the council said temporary cycle lanes would be created on a number of Greater Cambridge streets, some bus lanes would be converted into spaces for cyclists, and a one-way system will be introduced on Cambridge’s Mill Road (see panel).

Work would be in three waves, with some of the temporary cycle lanes already being installed in Milton High Street and Girton Road.

A bike lane in Aylestone Road, Leicester, with barriers to protect cyclist Picture: Leicester City Council
A bike lane in Aylestone Road, Leicester, with barriers to protect cyclist Picture: Leicester City Council

The council council was being criticised for not acting fast enough to install the temporary measures – some areas around the UK were much quicker to react. The scrutiny has now turned to how safe the new measures will be for cyclists and whether they are bold enough for the country’s cycling capital.

Camcyle, while pleased some action is being taken, believes the area could be more ambitious, suggesting the QuickCAM could be a viable alternative to cars, and urging the county council to take a network-first approach that looks at the corridors needed for people to make their journeys.

“These concepts consider routes which could deliver reliable journey times in comparison with driving on congested routes or taking public transport, particularly for those taking advantage of electrically-assisted pedal cycles – e-bikes,” a Camcyle spokesperson told the Cambridge Independent. “The majority of the routes could be delivered through temporary interventions, such as barriers and planters on the roads, within two weeks, and further improved with medium and long-term fixes.”

Park Lane in London is another example of good practice used by Camcycle Picture: Michiel Josephl/Twitter
Park Lane in London is another example of good practice used by Camcycle Picture: Michiel Josephl/Twitter

The group would also like to see the use of barriers on the temporary cycle lanes being installed over the next few weeks. So far, the group says, the council has instead opted for “tokenistic” white lines on the roads.

“We are concerned that the temporary schemes delivered last weekend on Milton High Street and Girton Road were done without the input of the cycling project team officers, nor Camcycle, and therefore are tokenistic efforts which do little to create the safe, physically-distanced routes mandated by government,” the spokesperson said.

“The statutory guidance released on May 9 states that: ‘Facilities should be segregated as far as possible, ie with physical measures separating cyclists and other traffic. Lanes indicated by road markings only are very unlikely to be sufficient to deliver the level of change needed, especially in the longer term.’

“Advisory painted lanes, such as those added in Milton and Girton, offer no protection from motor traffic and are potentially more unsafe than no lanes at all.”

Camcycle added that the Milton and Girton lanes were already being blocked by parked cars.

The Girton Road cycle lane Picture: Thomas Dorrington/Twitter
The Girton Road cycle lane Picture: Thomas Dorrington/Twitter

“To save wasting time and money on further schemes which fail to meet the government’s specifications, the council needs to urgently return to the drawing board using established best practice, in-house professional expertise and local knowledge to inform their programme of temporary measures,” the spokesperson said.

The group has suggested three alternatives to “dangerously-narrow painted lanes”. The first, Camcyle says, is to close rat-runs to traffic and instead open up the routes to walking and cycling, such as has been done in Camden and Hackney. The second option, on busier roads, is to reallocate a lane to active travel, and the third, used as a last resort, are advisory painted lanes that must be 2.25m wide.

The county council, which worked with Camcycle, Sustrans and the Combined Authority before announcing its measures, has said it wanted to help people make short trips on bike or foot while also allowing cyclings extra space for social distancing.

A council statement said: “These measures aim to make walking and cycling a default option, by making it as easy as possible to make short trips.”

It added: “As well as lessening the chances of spreading and catching Covid-19, walking and cycling also improves health and is better for the environment – two key factors which will help improve your chances of surviving the virus, should you get it.”

Cllr Ian Bates, chair of highways and transport at the county council, said: “Our transport team has been carefully considering this for some time, as we know from looking at other countries that walking and cycling is key in getting our county moving again during Covid-19.

“We’ve been working closely with partners, including Camcycle, to identify temporary changes we can make quickly to our existing network which will help residents to rely less on cars and public transport and instead, walk and cycle over the coming months.”

Further details about some of the council’s schemes are awaited, particularly the one-way system proposed for Mill Road.

Camcycle suggested a one-way system could be problematic.

“While we are pleased to see the county acknowledge the problems here, we are sceptical about the effectiveness of a one-way system as we believe this could create problems for bus services, exacerbate problems with speeding drivers and still not provide much-needed wider pavements and space for safe cycling,” the spokesperson said.

“We’ve long advocated for changes to Mill Road to make it safer and more accessible for people walking, cycling and shopping, and published our vision [preventing through-traffic] for Mill Road in August 2018.

“This put forward ideas that could be quickly, easily and cheaply trialled as part of the county’s Covid-19 response and we would like to see these ideas considered before the council commits to a one-way system.”

The spokesperson added: “It’s now time to build on the excellent collaborative work done so far, engage the extensive expertise of the county’s own cycling projects team and deliver solutions to keep the region’s residents safe, healthy and active as we rebuild the local economy.”

The Combined Authority has also applied to the government for money from a £250m fund to improve cycling and walking infrastructure, possibly encouraging more use of e-bikes and e-scooters.

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