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‘No reason to delay’ Mill Road bridge closure in Cambridge, say campaigners

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Campaigners claim the result of a survey about the future of Mill Road in Cambridge has provided an “irrefutable mandate” to close the bridge to private vehicles.

Bus Lane cameras and signage on Mill Road bridge . Picture: Keith Heppell. (57751264)
Bus Lane cameras and signage on Mill Road bridge . Picture: Keith Heppell. (57751264)

The group Mill Road 4 People was jubilant after a report published by Cambridgeshire County Council this week showed a majority agreed the bridge closure should be reinstated. The group’s spokesperson claimed that there was now “no justifiable reason for further delay”.

But Mill Road Traders’ Association said many of those running businesses along the street were “on the breadline” and warned that a bridge closure would create “more empty shops”. The association also questioned the success of a piecemeal approach to dealing with traffic in the city, if the plan is just to close one bridge.

The report showed that 72 per cent of survey respondents supported “restricting motor vehicles from crossing Mill Road bridge” while 70 per cent backed “possible allowances for buses, taxis and drivers with disabilities and/or mobility needs”.

Respondents also said that motorised traffic parking on pavements and speeding were responsible for safety and congestion issues on Mill Road, with improved enforcement of rules required to curb this behaviour. The report said respondents had agreed that improvements to the width and general maintenance of the paths were needed to provide space and improve safety for pedestrians, particularly those using mobility aids.

However, many respondents cautioned that closing Mill Road to motorised traffic would cause increased congestion on nearby streets and negatively impact businesses and residents in the area. Alternative suggestions included making restrictions time-limited or making Mill Road a one-way street for motorised traffic.

Paul Lythgoe, chair of Mill Road 4 People (57751235)
Paul Lythgoe, chair of Mill Road 4 People (57751235)

After analysing the results, council officers have advised councillors to vote for a consultation on a new Traffic Regulation Order, which will create a modal filter restricting traffic on the bridge.

The report said: “The public consultation is therefore clearly supporting a reinstatement of the Mill Road modal filter, but with some important caveats. There is considerable support for a more nuanced position on the closure; allowing exemptions, for example, for disabled residents or taxis. Such exemptions are reflective of the [Greater Cambridge Partnership’s] City Access proposals, tackling air quality and congestion without compromising access.”

Cycling charity Camcycle welcomed the report.

Its spokesperson said: “The strong levels of support for change from this consultation back up the results from previous Mill Road surveys and recent research from Sustrans.

“The latter showed that 68 per cent of Greater Cambridge residents support low-traffic neighbourhoods and 65 per cent want more space for socialising, walking and cycling on their local high street.

“It’s pleasing to see a very high response rate from people who live close to Mill Road, with three-quarters shopping at least weekly on the street. It will be vital for local authorities to work closely with the local community to create a scheme that works for everyone.

Mill Rd Traders Association members against the closure of Mill Rd, from left Shapour Meftah, Piero D'angelico, Pamela Wesson and Abdul Arain. Picture: Keith Heppell. (57751247)
Mill Rd Traders Association members against the closure of Mill Rd, from left Shapour Meftah, Piero D'angelico, Pamela Wesson and Abdul Arain. Picture: Keith Heppell. (57751247)

“Through-traffic restrictions will be needed on Mill Road bridge in order to achieve the best outcome for the 83 per cent of respondents who said they walk along the street, the 80 per cent of people who said traffic could make cycling unsafe and the 90 per cent who thought Mill Road was important as a leisure destination. New powers from the Department for Transport will provide helpful ways for local authorities to design a flexible scheme with appropriate exemptions.

“While any future scheme must be well designed and considered in light of the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s broader City Access project, it’s important that a sense of urgency is retained. 77 per cent opposed doing nothing and 83 per cent wanted to see changes to the quality of the place. Lots of improvements could be made immediately to the streetscape, and there is scope for experimental trials to help define a successful long-term solution.

“The space freed up from traffic has huge potential to bring more people into the area to enjoy Mill Road’s many benefits. It’s time to move from words to action to achieve a thriving and sustainable street for the future.”

Cyclists were well-represented in the survey, with 62 per cent of people who responded saying they cycled on Mill Road weekly or daily.

The bridge was closed to private vehicles from June 2020 to early August 2021 by Cambridgeshire County Council to help people walking and cycling to maintain social distancing amid the pandemic.

Businesses claimed to be badly affected and fears were raised that people with disabilities were being forced to take longer routes. However, many cyclists and pedestrians welcomed the reduction in traffic and air pollution.

Abdul Arain, treasurer of the Mill Road Traders’ Association and owner of Alamin supermarket, said: “This is just too much hard work. If you understand the effort and passion it takes to start a new business, you will also understand that I don’t know how many people will want to carry on now. I’ve got to that stage now where I think to myself it’s just too hard for us.

Mill Road bridge protest (57751253)
Mill Road bridge protest (57751253)

“It’s already really difficult with our energy costs having doubled, if not tripled, plus the wage costs and everything else that has been brought about by world events, like Brexit and the impact of the Ukraine war.

“People are on the breadline. We’ve seen our trade go down. I think people are hanging on the ropes. And, yes, businesses change and businesses come and go. But do you really want to see empty shops? If you lose some of the shops that are on Mill Road, all of a sudden the road changes.”

He also questioned the methods of the consultation which saw an online survey and five-hour Zoom meetings for selected participants, explaining many people – himself included – had been unable to secure a place at the meetings and that elderly people without access to the internet as well as ethnic minorities were not well represented.

Mr Arain added: “Whatever we do it must be Cambridge-wide. You can’t take Mill Road in isolation.

“If we look at an accident on the A14, it doesn’t matter which side of the A14 it happens on, Cambridge itself becomes gridlocked. That result amplifies when you have a narrow approach.”

It is not clear how a new modal filter on the bridge would affect traffic in nearby roads. The original Mill Road bridge closure was undertaken at the height of the pandemic when traffic volumes were considerably lower and travel patterns were abnormal.

The report states: “Conclusions cannot therefore be drawn on the impact on surrounding roads as a result of the closure. It is therefore important that in taking forward any closure on Mill Road, the county council should closely monitor the impact on the surrounding area and feed those results into the ongoing network hierarchy review work.”

An appendix to the report states: “Traffic displacement does look to have occurred to some extent along Coldhams Lane, however it is not possible to determine if this was as a direct result of redistribution away from Mill Road or, as the case may be, from other external factors. It is not possible to disaggregate the impact of the closure of the bridge from the general variations in travel during the pandemic over this period.”

Mill Road bridge protest (57751256)
Mill Road bridge protest (57751256)

Mill Road 4 People chair Paul Lythgoe told the Cambridge Independent: “The feedback from this consultation provides politicians with an irrefutable mandate for change, and we call on them to act both quickly and comprehensively. We have been waiting for years for a solution to traffic problems on Mill Road and there is now no justifiable reason for further delay.

“The consultation shows strong support for reinstating a filter on Mill Road bridge, but this alone would not be an adequate response to the demand for traffic restrictions. We need to see a holistic scheme which works for all areas of Mill Road, for instance to prevent the rat-running that was seen in some Petersfield streets when the bus gate was previously in place.

“We are and always have been fully supportive of exemptions for Blue Badge holders. We also believe that taxis form an important plank in enabling residents to cut down on personal car ownership and use. We therefore support exemptions for Cambridge Hackney cabs in principle.

“However, many residents remain concerned about problems such as speeding, pavement parking and close-passing of cyclists by taxi drivers and we would like to see a commitment to dealing with these issues before an exemption is granted.

“We want to see Mill Road become a model for more safe, pleasant, people-centred streets in our city. The clear desire that the people in our area have shown for this would undoubtedly be replicated in other areas. With these landslide results, there is no excuse for faint-heartedness.”

According to the report, the “Mill Road filter project” would offer “an opportunity to establish a template for future scheme monitoring”.

The highways and transport committee will vote on July 12 on whether to consult on a Traffic Regulation Order to close the bridge to private motorised traffic.

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