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New cycle paths “like putting a motorway down the high street”, say residents

The Cambridge-based cycling group Camcycle has also argued that the proposed greenways represent a missed opportunity for “game-changing” active travel improvements

The design of an ambitious active travel scheme, which aims to provide 150km of cycling and walking links between Cambridge and its surrounding towns and villages, has been criticised by residents and local cycling groups, who claim that some of the proposed routes could create conflict between cyclists and pedestrians, as well as increasing danger for both due to their proximity to motor traffic.

Cambridge-based statistician David Spiegelhalter also warned that the decision to converge three of the greenways into one area, which he claims is already a “contested space” for active travel, is “like putting a motorway down the high street”.

The Greater Cambridge Greenways, a scheme led by the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP), aims to provide a new network of active travel routes throughout the area, providing 150km of mostly three-metre-wide newly installed or improved active travel paths linking more than 50 communities and public transport hubs.

According to the GCP, the 12 routes feeding into the city “will make it easier both to travel in a pleasant and sustainable way into and out of Cambridge and to enjoy our countryside for leisure purposes”, as well providing essential commuter links.

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However, the Cambridge Independent has reported that locals have raised concerns about the proposals as the designs have continued to take shape, particularly regarding safety concerns related to the potential for conflict on shared-use paths, as well as the proximity of some of the paths to nearby traffic.

Cycling campaign group Camcycle has also expressed reservations about the standard of the designs, and noted that the opportunity for “game-changing” active travel improvements in parts of the city are being missed due to an unwillingness to address these concerns.

Speaking on behalf of the Riverside Area Residents’ Association at a council meeting this week, Sir David Spiegelhalter claimed that converging three of the proposed greenways on a narrow road beside the River Cam would increase the danger for all road users in what is already, he says, a “seriously contested space”.

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“We of course welcome the idea of greenways, but having three of them converge on Riverside – this does not appear to have been given sufficient attention,” the renowned University of Cambridge statistician, who has published on cyclists’ road safety, as well as the helmet debate, in the past, told the meeting.

“Riverside is a wonderful place to live, but it is already busy – not with cars, but cyclists, pedestrians and e-scooters, and increasingly, the space is contested. There’s not really sufficient space for pedestrian traffic, particularly at busy weekends. And of course we’d expect more if three greenways converge on Riverside.

“There are clear pinch points at the moment by the bridge and one between Saxon Road and River Lane and it’s not clear how a proposed separate cycle path made of red asphalt could actually be provided in this space in a safe way, particularly because a red asphalt cycle path does encourage a feeling of entitlement of being able to cycle fast. I know this because I’m sure I respond like that as well when I see a dedicated cycle path.”

He continued: “The image we’ve got is this could be like putting a motorway down the high street with fast cycle and e-scooter and e-bike traffic in a seriously contested space with pedestrians.

“And so our feeling is that this should be taken very seriously and in all the planning there should be an absolute prioritisation of pedestrian safety and free access to what is a really wonderful resource, not just for residents of Riverside but the residents of the city and, increasingly, visitors.”

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Meanwhile, Martin Wheatley, a housing association chair and resident of Swaffham Bulbeck, told the Cambridge Independent that a “tragedy” – such as the one that occurred in Huntingdon in 2020, when a pedestrian gestured towards a 77-year-old cyclist, causing the rider to fall from her bike and into the path of a passing vehicle, killing her – “could easily happen again” if the designs are not changed.

Wheatley warned that the common use of non-standard cycles and cargo bikes in the area was at odds with the scheme’s proposal to “make a barely 1.5m pavement in Swaffham Bulbeck right next to the busy main road with poor sightlines due to a hedge and bends into a shared walking/cycling/horse rider route” – evidence he says of the GCP’s assumption that all cyclists are “young and able-bodied”.

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He said: “This defies government guidance for shared routes. It is dangerous and seems to learn no lessons from the recent tragic fatality in Huntingdon on a shared path following conflict between a pedestrian and cyclist.

“It would be completely unsuitable for users of non-standard cycles – such as trikes or cargo bikes – as they would barely fit on the path, and there would be no way of passing anyone coming the other way safely. If a trike’s wheel fell off the path they could tip into the road where lorries, buses, and heavy farm vehicles regularly drive past.

“Cycling all the way into Cambridge from the Swaffhams will always be a minority interest. But people would like safe cycle routes between villages to go to the doctor or to church and the assumption by the GCP is that everyone who wants to cycle is young and able-bodied.

“That’s just not the case. People may want to use a trike if they are a bit older and this pathway will not be safe for them.”

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Wheatley was also joined by Camcycle in criticising the decision to abandon plans to run the route away from the road by upgrading an existing off-road path, instead opting to press ahead with an “unsatisfactory and dangerous” solution despite concerns raised by residents during previous consultations.

“It has been clear throughout this stage of the greenways consultation that the previous work done has not been fully understood, considered, and acted upon,” Camcycle spokesperson Josh Grantham, who called for a scrutiny panel to be set up to review the designs, told the meeting this week.

“For example, where challenges were previously highlighted, little has been done to resolve the concerns. Furthermore, many of the major infrastructure elements have been removed, any decision-making process behind their removal apparently arbitrary.”

Grantham also added that “game-changing” improvements for active travel – similar to the city’s Chisholm Trail, itself a triumph of persistent campaigning – were currently being missed by the council.

“We have also heard in the response that an underpass on Ditton Lane would ‘represent poor value for money’ with the feasibility work identifying issues such as utilities, flood risk, and land acquisition and safety of underpasses,” he said.

“These are typical constraints for infrastructure like this and are very similar to those of the Chisholm Trail underpass on Newmarket Road, a piece of infrastructure that has transformed cycling in the local area. Where is the detailed review of alternatives, including those previously suggested, to the underpass?

“It is clear that the design teams employed by the GCP to do this work are not being held to a high enough standard. We therefore ask the GCP to create a scrutiny panel to review the design work at a much more regular interval. The current level of engagement with key stakeholders is simply not enough.”

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Responding to these concerns, Peter Blake, the GCP’s transport director, emphasised that all safety rules were being followed in the designs.

“I think it’s important to recognise that we follow very clear design guidance and there’s a lot of it in terms of development,” he said. “And also all of the schemes and all of the elements go through various stages of the safety audit process, which ensures that they are safe for all users.”

A GCP spokesperson added: “The Greater Cambridge Partnership – as set out at the joint assembly meeting – has committed to continue to look at and refine the greenways design to best meet the needs of local communities.

“The GCP already has a non-motorised user forum that includes Camcycle and other non-motorised user groups. These groups are given early sight of designs to help inform the development of different projects and Camcycle, alongside other NMU groups, were engaged with regarding the Swaffhams Greenway project. The greenways were also subject to detailed public engagement and consultation.

“The GCP carries out extensive public consultation and engagement across its schemes, which are all subject to an independent road safety audit. This work is fully considered, and reports on each greenway are put before the joint assembly and executive board setting out our response to any issues raised.”

The greenways are set to be completed in 2025.

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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7 comments

Avatar
brooksby | 10 months ago
1 like

Quote:

a red asphalt cycle path does encourage a feeling of entitlement of being able to cycle fast. I know this because I’m sure I respond like that as well when I see a dedicated cycle path.”

So, in exactly the same way that an asphalt roadway encourages a feeling of entitlement of being able to drive fast...?  Better dig up all the roads, then  3

 

Avatar
ChrisB200SX | 10 months ago
5 likes

Yeah, it's exactly the same as 6 lanes of motorvehicles travelling at 80mph.

Avatar
Secret_squirrel | 10 months ago
3 likes

I for one was shocked that the chair of the local residents association appeared to have genuine constructive criticism and was not at all nimby like.
Did sustrans slip him in as a ringer?

Avatar
eburtthebike | 10 months ago
2 likes

Whilst I have the highest regard for Dr David Spiegelhalter (Sir?) comparison with a motorway is so clearly gross exaggeration that it devalues his own argument.

Peter Blake, the GCP’s transport director:

“I think it’s important to recognise that we follow very clear design guidance and there’s a lot of it in terms of development,” he said. “And also all of the schemes and all of the elements go through various stages of the safety audit process, which ensures that they are safe for all users.”

Many and various are the schemes which claim this, but very few actually do, and even fewer make things better for cyclists.

Avatar
HoarseMann | 10 months ago
4 likes

Looking at streetview, one end of Riverside has already had the pavement widened. Whilst it's not perhaps the best cycling infrastructure, is it a 'motorway?'...

Avatar
HoarseMann | 10 months ago
11 likes

“Riverside is a wonderful place to live, but it is already busy – not with cars, but cyclists, pedestrians and e-scooters, and increasingly, the space is contested."

Hmm, not busy with cars you say...

Avatar
Oldfatgit | 10 months ago
5 likes

[Snip]
"People may want to use a trike"
[/snip]

Yes, they may want to... however the use of the word 'want' lessens the requirement for those that *need*.

With electric bikes becoming more accessible, there's a whole world opening up to people that want to see it.
Trailers (I wish I'd had an ebike when the kids were able to fit in a trailer), cargo bikes, recumbents, bikes that have been modified to be the prime mover for adapted wheelchairs ... for many people these aren't wants, they are needs; so maybe it's time for supporters in higher places to drop the want and replace it with a *need*.

(For the proposals above, I'm not familiar with the area or proposals and so I reserve the right not to pass comment)

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