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‘Congestion in Arbury Road must be tackled’ say Cambridge residents as debate on closure to motor vehicles grows

Arbury Road in Cambridge is congested, polluted, and dangerous, say residents supporting plans to restrict through traffic.

Traffic in Arbury Road. Picture: Arbury Road East Residents' Association (50418215)
Traffic in Arbury Road. Picture: Arbury Road East Residents' Association (50418215)

Residents say their homes shake as a result of the volume of heavy traffic thundering down the street – and speeding vehicles have led to a number of serious accidents and near misses.

They argue that the street has been neglected by local authorities, with data collected by residents’ associations showing the road is used by 12,000 vehicles daily and action cannot be delayed.

As we reported last week, Cambridgeshire County Council is consulting on proposals to close the carriageway to motor vehicles, just north of the junction with Leys Road. It is one of a number of temporary measures being proposed to aid the city’s green recovery following the pandemic, with other plans for modal filters, cycle lanes, new signage and dropped kerbs, as we detail here.

Amid growing debate on the issue during the summer holidays, the council announced it was extending consultation on the plans until September 15 on Tuesday (August 17).

Vince Poole, secretary of the Arbury Road East Residents’ Association (ARERA) and resident of Arbury Road, told the Cambridge Independent: “The eastern end of Arbury Road is very narrow and it’s completely unsuitable for the volume of traffic it’s currently taking. We have terrible congestion with backed up traffic on some days all day long, and as a result, I suspect there’s bad pollution.

“And because it’s narrow, it’s a real danger to cyclists. We have two schools – and particularly at school times – people get driven off the road. We see this out of our window on a daily basis.”

He added: “It’s cutting the community in half and destroying our community. People want to support the local shops and be out on the street, but it’s just an oppressive place to be.”

There are cycle lanes along part of Arbury Road but not full the length despite it being designated a ‘high quality cycle route’ by Greater Cambridge Partnership.

Traffic backed up on Arbury Road from the Milton Road junction in February 2021. Picture: Arbury Road East Residents' Association (50418217)
Traffic backed up on Arbury Road from the Milton Road junction in February 2021. Picture: Arbury Road East Residents' Association (50418217)

George Vardulakis, a local resident who has been collecting data on behalf of ARERA and Hurst Park Estate Residents’ Association, added: “There have been some measures at the other end of Arbury Road to get cycleways in but these halt without warning in front of North Cambridge Academy school, abandoning cyclists into a sort of congested mess of speeding traffic and pollution.

“Of course, we will all need to sacrifice some convenience of access. A minority of people, a minority of the time, for a minority of their journeys, might have to make a small detour. The vast majority of people will not and all people will benefit from reduced pollution and from reduced speeding. The filter would save massive pollution and danger.

“Our cities must act – Cambridge must lead the way and set an example in the UK under obligations due to be agreed at COP26. If we can’t do it here in a thriving and modern ‘cycling city’ what chance do we have elsewhere in meeting our carbon reduction targets.”

He explained that the road had been the scene of a number of serious accidents, including two deaths in the past 10 years.

ARERA, which represents between 50 and 100 residents, has been campaigning for change for several years.

It says it has seen the situation worsened following the closure of Histon Road for works by the GCP, with sat navs diverting traffic down 20mph Arbury Road rather than along the higher capacity King’s Hedges Road or Milton Road.

The road also has narrow pavements cluttered with parked cars that are commonly used by cyclists in preference to the packed carriageway.

But, as we reported last week, residents living in Havenfield, a development of 68 retirement flats, argue that closing the road would do little to support the green agenda and would instead force motorists to increase the length of their journeys. They say the filter will cut them off, and force them to use a costly detour.

Residents at Havenfield off Arbury Road are not happy about the proposed road closure, Celia Conway a resident of 20 years . Picture: Keith Heppell. (50418227)
Residents at Havenfield off Arbury Road are not happy about the proposed road closure, Celia Conway a resident of 20 years . Picture: Keith Heppell. (50418227)

Linny Purr, who lives in Arbury Road, said: “For Havenfield and our neighbours at the barrier to circumnavigate the proposed roadblock is a distance of up to an extra four miles on a round trip.

“Instead of travelling down Arbury Road a distance of approximately 250 metres with one set of traffic lights, the journey will be be up to four miles extra according to the destination.”

She said various trips over the course of a week to test the detours were estimated to take at least 22 minutes for a return journey and at most 30 minutes.

Dr Cameron Petrie, who lives on Arbury Road at the point where the modal filter would be constructed, said: “It will have a direct material impact on how I use the road, but I can take it. We’ve lived on Arbury Road for 10 years and in that time, there has been a clear increase in the intensity of the traffic.”

He continued: “The traffic starts from the top end and you’ve got trucks well heavier than two tonnes. I can speak from direct personal experience that our house shakes when trucks go past.

“There are some really big trucks that use the road, particularly at night time. I sleep at the back of the house, and the whole house shakes. I’m woken up by my bed shaking.”

The comments were echoed by ARERA committee member and resident of Arbury Road for 42 years, Lucy Edgeley, 73, who also says she believes a pre-existing chest complaint has been exacerbated by the pollution.

She added: “In recent years, it’s got worse and worse but nothing like since the Histon Road closure.

“We can be woken up in the middle of the night when a great big something comes roaring down the road. Our house will shake.”

The speed limit of the road is 20mph but residents say this is rarely obeyed with some motorists travelling at speeds upwards of 40mph. This is backed up with speed camera data collected during a scheme implemented by Councillor Mike Sargeant.

Dr Petrie said: “I can see out of my window that every single car, and every single vehicle that uses Arbury Road goes faster than 20mph. And on occasion, we’ve spotted vehicles going at 42mph. This is lethal.”

Mr Poole added: “Ironically we also have a problem with speeding because in one direction, it’s all congested and in the other direction, vehicles really take off from Milton Road and drivers put their foot down.”

Traffic in Arbury Road. Picture: Arbury Road East Residents' Association (50418216)
Traffic in Arbury Road. Picture: Arbury Road East Residents' Association (50418216)

A pre-pandemic survey conducted on behalf of ARERA of 65 households found that 87 per cent of respondents supported a modal filter, with half of the remaining 13 per cent since changing their mind as a result of a recent increase in traffic.

Dr Petrie explained that current traffic measures in Arbury Road do nothing to reduce the speeds of motorists, with some using them as a “stunt park”.

He told the Cambridge Independent: “It has no material impact on the car as you drive over it.

“The road is about a mile in total and is made up of two very straight bits, and there’s a bend in the middle. As a car driver or a motorcyclist, it’s sort of a great opportunity to put your foot down and race along as fast as you can.

“And people just do that. And so as a result, it’s not used. It’s not used for the purpose or function in a way that works for anybody that lives in the local area.”

The proposed modal filter, those in favour say, presents an opportunity to gather information.

Mr Poole said: “We support a trial of a modal filter and it is a trial. The purpose of it is to gather evidence of the positive impacts we expect to see. It’s not going to last forever. It’s a trial with a limited end date. But I would expect and from the experience of other LTN trials, it will show there aren’t the knock-on effects that people worry about afterwards. With hindsight people can see that it was a good thing to do.”

A spokesperson for Camcycle said: “The government’s recent publication Gear Change: One Year On shows that 79 per cent of people support a reduction of traffic in their local area, including 71 per cent of those with mobility issues and 69 per cent of local business owners, and 69 per cent supported the reallocation of road space to walking and cycling. This support, along with new government policy, supports the range of active travel initiatives now proposed by the county council.

“Residents in the north of Cambridge are under-served with safe cycling routes and this prevents many people from having the choice of cycling. The south-east end of Arbury Road is a weak link in the cycling network as it is very constrained and dangerous for active travel. The pavements are extremely narrow and in poor condition, there is no safe space for cycling and traffic volumes and speeds are too high.

Panton Street and Pemberton Terrace junction with the 'Covid planter traffic restrictions' . Picture: Keith Heppell. (50418806)
Panton Street and Pemberton Terrace junction with the 'Covid planter traffic restrictions' . Picture: Keith Heppell. (50418806)

“A modal filter on Arbury Road would be absolutely transformative for cycling and walking in North Cambridge. Arbury Road is a key link between Orchard Park, King’s Hedges, Arbury, Chesterton and the river and then on to the city. It also serves two schools that are located on the road and is used by children heading to several other nearby ones.

“The modal filter on Arbury Road should be combined with similar traffic reducing measures on Union Lane (next to Milton Road) and Church Street to ensure complete safe cycling connections to the river and other cycling routes.

“Likewise, the proposal for Mitchams Corner to reduce the number of traffic lanes will help to create a safe environment for walking and cycling in what has long been a hostile gyratory inappropriate for the location. This will enable more people to walk and cycle to the shops and to get safe access to connected active travel routes.

“While it is good to see schemes coming forward for particular areas in Cambridge, what is still lacking from the county council and the Greater Cambridge Partnership is a comprehensive strategy for traffic reduction across the city combined with a planned network for active travel. There also continues to be poor communication and consultation approaches from our local authorities which is not helping to develop strong schemes with community buy-in. These approaches must be improved.”

Cambridgeshire County Council has around £1.6m in active travel funding for projects across the county – and says it is keen to “prioritise changes where there is support across local communities”.

The county council is inviting the public to review the ideas and share their views through a short survey.

The consultation will run through to Tuesday, September 15. Feedback will help councillors prioritise which projects will be taken forward.

Visit consultcambs.uk.engagementhq.com/cats to respond, ask questions and request paper versions of the survey via transport.delivery@cambridgeshire.gov.uk or call 0345 045 5212.

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