Traders alarmed by Mill Road bridge traffic plan
Traders reacted with shock after a surprise decision by Cambridgeshire County Council that Mill Road bridge in Cambridge will close next week to all traffic except bikes and buses.
The decision that cars will no longer be able to travel between the Romsey and Petersfield sides was made at a county council meeting yesterday (Tuesday).
The move is part of a broad public safety drive, with more than 90 schemes, that will allow pavements to be widened, enabling people to pass each other at a safe distance during the Covid-19 pandemic.
This would make the road on the bridge too narrow for vehicles to pass each other safely. Work is due to start on Wednesday June 24.
Mill Road Traders spokesperson Piero D’Angelico, who runs a hairdressers salon on the road, said: “We won’t let them do it. This situation is going to leave us no choice but for the traders to strike. We are not going to let them close our bridge. We have made a very clear statement that we don’t want this to happen and we have reassurance from the authorities this scheme was not on the list. It’s not very democratic.”
The scheme, and a host of other measures relating to cycling and pedestrian routes, was passed by a highways committee and campaigners have welcomed the general push to promote cycling.
Many schemes, including the Mill Road plan, will be enforced using an experimental traffic regulation order (ETRO), which will be in place for 18 months, with the first six months deemed a consultation period.
After the meeting, the council said: “Temporary cycling and walking measures are being put in place across the county during the coronavirus crisis to help people get out and socially distance during this pandemic.
“The government has given authorities funding through the Combined Authority to deliver pop-up cycle lanes, wider pavements, safer junctions and bus-only corridors.
“As part of the government’s ‘emergency active travel fund’, the county council is implementing changes across the county; some examples include... on-road cycle lanes on Newmarket Road and examples include on-road cycle lanes on Newmarket Road and closing Mill Road Bridge in Cambridge to all vehicles other than buses and cycles.”
But Mr D’Angelico said: “I will use every resource to make sure this is not going to happen. People are fed up with the way the authorities are behaving.
“I don’t think my business is going to make it because I’ll already be struggling to operate with the new Covid-19 restrictions.”
Abdul Arain who owns Al-Amin convenience store, said: “Personally, I think it’s devastating for Mill Road. For anyone like myself who is near Cherry Hinton will need to go all the way around.
“Considering the mess with the traffic system on Coldhams Lane as well as Mill Road, that means I have to add an hour to my journey. It is just chock-a-block.”
But Cllr Linda Jones, a county councillor for the area, who helped to shape the plan with council officers and the other local county councillor, Noel Kavannagh, said: “The key focus is public health. In my division, Petersfield, and over the bridge in Romsey, there are quite narrow pavements – some are just over a metre wide and people have always stepped into the road.
“It is very difficult to socially distance there. The proposal is to have a number of buildouts to enable pedestrians to stand and wait while others pass by to make that safe. The key focus is safety and if there are buildouts, there has to be a way of managing down traffic. One of the key things for residents is to manage down traffic as far as we can and to keep the buses running. So having the road open to two-way traffic is important. There will be a bus gate.”
Traffic lights would be impractical, she suggested, and leave long waits for cyclists of up to one and a half minutes or cause potential clashes between buses and cycles if cyclists jumped the lights.
She added she had negotiated a solution that would suit everyone and would encourage people to feel safe to shop on Mill Road.
“At the core of it was a public health message about safe distancing and enabling pedestrians to feel secure, cyclists to feel more secure and people to still have their bus service.”
The bridge was closed last summer for roadworks, which led to a strong debate about its future.
“One of the things we learned last year was that residents wanted to keep their bus service and having two-way traffic was really important to be able to do that,” said Cllr Jones, who said, on balance, the scheme would be “helpful” to traders because people would feel 'safer' on Mill Road following the changes.
“These schemes are experimental. My judgment is because one or two of these pavement buildouts are high up on the road some motorists will think twice about whether their journey is necessary so I think there will be less traffic. In that situation it could be easier for traders to manage deliveries and easier for people to find places to park.
“I have had several residents saying ‘I’m not shopping on Mill Road because it doesn’t feel safe’. We want our road to be flourishing. I’m sure there will be concerns raised by traders and some residents but this is for the good of public health.
“There will be opportunities to make adjustments if some things are not working as well as they might.”
There was no time for a consultation in advance, she added.
Cllr Kavanagh, who represents part of Mill Road and holds the cross-party role of Cycling Champion for Cambridgeshire, said: “This has all had to be done very fast. The Combined Authority and county council had less than a fortnight to get all the projects across the county. There was a deadline to get that list to central government to qualify for the funding, there was no time for the usual periods of consultation. We are trying to react in an emergency.
“We are elected to represent local people and sometimes we have to make decisions on behalf of the local community. During this very abnormal time, I’m afraid that’s how this has to happen.”
Cllr Lewis Herbert, the Labour leader of Cambridge City Council, said he was keen to support schemes to aid cycling, but wanted to see the detail of this scheme including a map of the proposed changes.
People can provide feedback on any of the schemes by emailing email@example.com or write to Policy and Regulation Team, Highways Depot, Stanton Way, Huntingdon, Cambs, PE29 6PY.
If the measures are successful, they could be made permanent or more permanent measures could be considered.