Sunday, 6 March 2011

Cambridge Traffic Jams

On two wheels I can filter past traffic so I rarely get stuck, and consequently I can choose a different route to work if I fancy a change. I think I have approached the outskirts of Cambridge from every direction and there is a queue from every spoke road that crosses the radial cordon.

The longest queue is normally from the A14-J30 (Oakington and Dry Drayton) all the way down Huntingdon Road and into Cambridge - some 4 or 5 miles. I have no idea how long it takes.

As I filter past on my motorcycle I always wonder why so many people grumble but do nothing about it. It's always someone elses fault. My two favourite grumbles are:

1) The frustrated car commuter pointing the blame at school run mums without questioning why their use of road space is more legitimate.

2) The frustrated car commuter unable to overtake a cyclist puts the blame squarely with the cyclist. On my motorcycle I often find myself being held up by a car unable to overtake a cyclist when I could.

From the my viewpoint, the car is a selfish use of road space when used to transport a single occupant.

When, as a driver, you are stuck behind a lorry who can't easily move through the city due to its size. Who gets the blame ? The lorry or the car ? I think most drivers would blame the lorry driver for bringing such a large and unsuitable vehicle.

In a similar way, when I see a car who cannot overtake a cyclist, they are usually being impeded by other cars from overtaking, not just the cyclist.

I've seen many dangerous overtakes by frustrated drivers on Histon Road at the location pictured. There is not enough room to overtake a cyclist safely when there are oncoming cars. Typically there will be a stream of oncoming cars, the line of parked cars and the queue of moving traffic behind the cyclist.

I have no doubt that the driver is annoyed but that road is really quite wide. Much of the width is taken up by three cars needing to be side by side.

The popularity of the car has made it a victim of its own success. If there were not so many oncoming cars there would be time to overtake in the other lane. Also, even those cars not being used are causing a problem. Just by being parked they are taking up space that prevents overtaking.

What we have here is a cyclist taking up only a small amount of road, and collectively, cars taking most of the space. A single car driver is being impeded by the cyclist within that one lane, but is unable to escape from that lane due to all the other cars oncoming and parked.

When you look at the problem of congestion and capacity from a road space per occupant point of view it is clear that the larger the vehicle, more more selfish it seems if it is only carrying few passengers. It's not just cars - central Cambridge fills pretty quickly with buses too, and if their average occupancy is low, they are part of the same problem.

The best video that represent the traffic in central Cambridge is below. What's interesting is how many individuals pass through the junction on bikes and how many in cars and vans. Imagine Cambridge with students trying to get to lectures in their cars. Then you would see serious congestion.

I'm not so blinded to think that two wheels suit all. A whole range of transport options are needed if Cambridge is to grow.


  1. i am a very keen cyclist and cycle most of the time lived in cambridge since 1996 traffic back then was minimal compared to current volumes of traffic , i used to live in ipswich which is very big 5 miles accross , has the same traffic but is able to move more freely due to not haveing rising bollards , and wider roads , if you put a bollard in a through route all you are doing is moving a problem and making a bottle neck else ware , only way forward is congestion charge as in london , or peak time flow traffic two lanes going in 1 lane out and vise versa am,pm , i think leicter or manchester has used this system , and above all stop the growth in central cambridge way to many blocks of flats around cb1 ,cambridge is loosing its historical foundation, and becoming more like a metropalice

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