Thursday, 26 May 2011

The safest way to Cambridge

I think by necessity I have turned myself into a head down, headphones on commuter. If I go fast, I spend less time in unpleasant traffic. But, since injuring my knee I have been taking it easy while it recovers and I am back at square one, noticing the unpleasantness of the gotta-get-to-work traffic. I have also been cycling around the village with my children, 5 and 8 quite a lot so I have been thinking about safe and traffic free cycling routes. This was a great opportunity to try and solve the puzzle that is:

What is the safest way to cycle from Cottenham to Cambridge ?

The route also passes through Rampton, Histon and Orchard Park.

Map: You can see the route on BikeRouteToaster. You'll want to switch to the Street or Cycle view.

Length: The route is just over 15km (10 miles) long to Jesus Green. If you went direct on the road it is under 10km (6 miles). Parts of the Cottenham to Histon cycleway are being built already so that will cut out a significant part of the distance once widened.

Is it busy ? It can be. There are two schools on the route once into Cambridge and like any road with a school they turn into chaos at 9am and 3pm. Avoid at these times.

Suitability: It is a mix of roads, shared use cycle paths, and guided bus track. The most difficult part is a shortish gravel section near Rampton. You could walk this part in under 5 minutes. My guess is that it is generally suitable for secondary school children and up but you'll know if you have an adventurous youngster.

Start by leaving Cottenham on the Rampton Road.

There is a wide shared use path between the villages. If I am cycling with my youngsters I like to cycle between them and the on-road traffic.

If you head direct to Histon you should be cycling on the road until the edge of the village although many do cycle on the path. You can see what I think of the un-upgraded path in a previous blog post

Rampton Road is fast and not that pleasant in places. I am told that occasionally a cars will leave the road near the corners. This is the worst part of the route mainly because you are cycling next to 60mph traffic.

Hang in there, once in Rampton, you leave the traffic behind for some time.

In Rampton, turn left at the Green and follow the tarmac until it ends. You will find yourself outside Rampton Breakers. Take the right along this gravel track.

If they top this gravel up it can be quite deep and tricky to ride on. The Guided Busway is less than a 5 minute walk away. If you are brave, it is actually easier to cycle on gravel (in a straight line) if you go faster.

This is the junction with the Guided Bus track. Turn left onto it.

For just a short amount of time you have the option of riding on the busway tracks or track alongside. Riding on the guides is fast, but means you can't take in the view as you concentrate on your line. Thankfully, this section's track will tarmac'd.

[edit: Buses now run on the guide rails, do not cycle on them, use the smooth tarmac alongside].

The track crosses, Oakington Road (Westwick) and Park Lane (nr Histon) before you arrive in Histon at the old err and new Station.

Continue straight on and under the A14.

At the first sign of houses - Orchard Park - take the first right alongside the Guided Bus spur.

and just after the station platform, take this route left over the Busway, then King Hedges Road.

Once, over Kings Hedges Road, follow the obvious route to Northfield Avenue.

Now, pay attention, it gets complicated here. Safe cycle routes are always complicated with many twists and turns, and even when signed they are easy to miss. If I was in a strange city, I would rely on my GPS to guide me over a pre-planned route. Alternatively, arm yourself with a paper version on the Cambridge Cycle Map

Take the right and immediate left into Roxburgh Road:

Next up is a T-junction at Arbury Road. Turn right here (take care in the fast traffic) ...

... then next left into Mere Way.

When you see this sign, follow straight on to 'West Cambridge'. This is also the way to the City Centre but you wouldn't know it.

This takes you past Arbury School.

When I came past here near 9am, it felt more dangerous than Histon Road. I think it was the number of parked cars and overtaking of parked cars and merging with traffic trying to rush past me that made it tricky. At this time, Histon Road seems safer in comparison.

Cross Gilbert Road (from Carlton Way, into Stretten Avenue)

Pay respect to this battle zone. Over ten years were spent by campaigners trying to get cycle lanes free of parked cars, and wow it is so much safer now.

The roads get quieter here. There are a few turns but they are easy to navigate.

My favourite part is when you get to Alexandra Gardens. The air is full of bird song, which I never notice on a normal commute.

The final road crossing to the bridge at Jesus Lock to get to Jesus Green.

Now, ice cream or a Fitzbillies Chelsea Bun ?

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Update: B1049 Cottenham to Histon cycle path

Update 10th May 2011

Cambridgeshire cyclists - we are a cynical lot. The shared used cycle path through Histon is half built, with temporary tarmac patching and street lights left in the middle of the path but quite a lot of us were starting to wonder if it would be left like that. I was also concerned with loss of priority which could potentially see a lot of cyclists shun the cycle path and remain on the road. The abolition of Cycling England also poured doubt on the finishing of the cycle path all the way to Cottenham.

I spotted some council minutes saying the cycle path will be good, but I had enough doubts, so I decided to make my issues known. The end result was that Mike Davies of Cycle Cambridge, who manages the builds offered to meet me on-site, also with members of the Cambridge Cycle Campaign.

I have previously documented the issues on the B1049 cycle path. So with those in mind I though I might be able to find out if the finish was going to cure any of the issues.

Here is a list of the main points of interest:

The Surface

The surface will be very smooth tarmac. Some has already been laid close to the lights at the Green and is fast rolling. The old tarmac was hand laid and as a result has minor ripples that sap speed. The new surface will be machine laid.

We spoke for around two hours in total over a sunny and warm morning rush hour. I couldn't help notice that those using the route were almost all male in their 30s-50s. When in Cambridge, women cyclists must be close to 50% and a good spread of ages are represented too (not just students).

The lamp-posts left in the middle of the path will removed. Lighting will be served by posts on the opposite side of the road (as used on Impington Lane).

Cottenham to Histon Boundary

This part of the build is going ahead.

The land purchases along this section are agreed in principal and now in the hands of the lawyers. In this age of Guided Bus deadlines, Mike was not prepared to even guess at a completion date.

It will be build in three stages. The third nearest to Histon will be built first; the section nearest Cottenham second, and the part in the middle last.

Most of the route is still next to the road, so I mentioned about the difficulty seeing the path at night due to oncoming traffic. Solar lighting is to be installed. I asked if these will work effectively during winter and Mike appeared to be unsure.

I have put in a couple of FixMyStreet requests to get the existing paths cleaned near Cottenham Skips. I have been battling to find out why they are not cleaned especially when the road is. Apparently the path is too thin for a street cleaning machine. Lets hope if fits when the path becomes wider.

Histon North Boundary to the Green

One of my first issues was the roller coaster of driveways. I was trying to press home the importance of a smooth route without interruption or some will opt for the road. At this point I could see that my issue was being dismissed as one for a fast road rider and didn't matter. Regardless of travelling speed, if your energy is sapped due to the surface or interruptions, you will opt for the road, or if you don't like that, back to your car. Safe AND efficient routes are important and achievable.

At Garden Walk, you have to cross this side road with limited visibility which involves slowing down. Unfortunately, this has already been built out and will not be improved further even though there is enough room. Additionally, a Cycle Campaign member asked Mike to put markings to assist the crossing.

The dropped kerbs here are a little proud. They fail what I call the 'laptop and grocery test'. If they were specified correctly, this can be fixed at the expense of the contractor.

The next two side road crossings at Orchard Road and Mill Lane are much better. The cycle path diverts away from the B1049 a little and crosses a slightly raised table with markings that should make traffic give way.

At, Orchard Road I could see that the entry was a little tight and I predict a few accidents on a frosty morning. It is built now, too late to fix.

There is an existing layby between Mill Lane and the lights. This will be used to rejoin the road. There was some debate regarding road markings and this is not finalised. We were all pushing for a solution that does not require cyclists to give way to motorcars.

The on-road cycle lane on the northbound lane with central hatching (north of Mill Lane turning) - I mentioned this as an issue. It seems to work when the traffic is fairly lightly loaded as it is in the current weather. However, back in winter time I saw far more close passes and also drivers being surprised by oncoming vehicles in the hatched area, and as a result squeezing the cycle lane. My guess would be that this is because overtaking a cyclist in a 1.2m lane is not an overtake in the mind of some drivers which means they don't have to look and plan ahead.

My issue is recorded for the purposes of a safety audit which sounds pointless - it is actually to ensure the road design is safe for motor vehicles.

There was also some discussion of a crossing to get to the cycle path if travelling northbound. This is not going ahead. Personally, from the amount of people I see trying to cross, I think Histon needs one near Orchard Road for pedestrians to get into Pages Close. This provides a pleasant quiet walking route into the centre of the village.

A14(J32)/B1049 roundabout

There is money to put in Toucan lights to assist crossing the A14 entry slip roads. I don't recall anyone mentioning cycle loop detectors (yes please!). The ones crossing the A14 exit slips will be simpler and linked to the main roundabout green phase.


In general the works do look quite good although definitely not perfect.

Small and time limited budgets are forcing compromises in design but the Cycle Cambridge Team do seem to be working hard to delivering the best bang for buck (bar some minor mistakes)

It's a shame that there is not access to in-house builders. Some of the finish could be better if it wasn't contracted out and there was more long term care taken.

If I have a reservation, it is that cycling within Cottenham's 30mph zone on Histon Road is not being addressed. It's quite a hostile road and may prevent some who would like to cycle from reaching the new widened path. There are a fair number who have solved this problem by cycling on the footpath.

Monday, 9 May 2011

Increase in Anti Social Cycling ?

Short answer: No.

The Cambridge Evening News Reports:

The police report for Cambridge City Council’s west/central area committee said 2,025 incidents of anti-social cycling took place between December 2010 and March 2011, compared with 1,529 incidents during the same period the previous year.
Cyclists were caught by officers for riding anti-socially – for example, along the pavement or the wrong way along a one-way street or cycling without lights.

Police have created a new city centre squad to tackle the problems and have warned if cyclists persist in dangerous cycling they will be dealt with robustly.

Chief Insp Dave Sargent said: “With extra officers policing the city centre it is only natural that the number of people caught committing this kind of behaviour will also increase.

Read the full story here (if you want to increase their hit count)

Oh dear. Another story to fuel the ignorance and generate a few more page hits and profit. Damn I am fuelling that again.

The main point here is that cycling offences is not going up, just the amount of monitoring. To be fair, the CEN do put in a tiny bit of balance like the quote from the Chief Inspector but these kinds of quotes are always lost near the bottom of the article.

If the author, Raymond Brown, had done 10 minutes of Googling, he could add something more to this story rather than churning out another copy and paste story.

If you want to read the source report, that is here: West/Central area profile April 2011 (PDF 408Kb). The relevant paragraph is on page 10:

Approximately 2,025 incidents of anti-social cycling occurred between
December 2010 and March 2011, compared with approximately 1,529
incidents during the same period the previous year. Hotspots during the
2010/11 period included Sidney Street with 481 (compared with 356 during
the 2009/10 period), Bridge Street with 325 (compared with 260
previously), Trinity Street with 298 (compared with 281 previously), Market
Street with 288 (compared with 186 previously) and Petty Cury with 237
(compared with 178 previously).

What a shame the numbers are not broken down further into the type of offence. If they were then perhaps the councillors could more easily home in on the problems and help to fix them. To be honest though, I doubt they are that interested in anti-social cycling once they read the rest of the report - about the violent crime, burglaries and needles left lying about in their ward. The recommended priorities are actually: alcohol related anti-social behaviour and cycle crime (ie cycle theft). A logical and correct solution in my opinion.

The eight police officers and six PCSOs ... and will crack down on night-time crime hotspots, cycle crime and retail offences.

If you've ever wondered about PCSOs, what follows is part of my 10 minutes spent Googling:

The Police have handily answered a question I had on my mind:

Given that PCSOs can deal with anti-social cycling such as riding on footpaths, can they deal with anti-social parking on footpaths and cycle lanes?

In Cambridgeshire, all our PCSOs are also appointed as traffic wardens and have full traffic warden powers. However, in some areas, illegal parking is the responsibility of the local authority. In these areas, PCSOs are unable to intervene, however they do work closely with the local authority to address problem areas. PCSOs using their traffic warden powers can and do issue fixed penalty tickets for offences such as vehicles being left in dangerous positions, obstructing the highway, certain yellow line offences or parking a goods vehicle on footpath. The law is very limiting in what it allows a PCSOs, even using traffic warden powers, to do with cycle lanes. For example at the moment our PCSOs cannot stop or ticket someone for driving in a cycle lane.

If you want to know what powers a PCSO has in Cambridge, handily rtaylor put in a Freedom of Information request to find out: Powers of PCSOs in Cambridgeshire

From what I understand, a PCSO can write tickets for cyclists and pedestrians, but if you are anti-social and moving in your motor car they can jolly well demand your name and address.

Parking offences are dealt with by PCSO where they are dangerous or obstructing, and for others the local authority deal with them. The Cambridge Cycle Campaign has long been trying to get somebody to issue tickets to mandatory cycle lane offenders but is failing.
[source] [source2]

I also wonder about traffic policing. I heard somewhere that Cambridgeshire has six traffic officers. It sounds unbelievable and I can't find a source for that. Mind you, I can't think when I last saw a traffic patrol car, but I do recall seeing them mostly on the motorway. They could be hanging out in unmarked cars though [optimistic].

When I am cycling, what really affects me on a daily basis is close passing and excessive speed whilst overtaking on out 40mph+ roads. Very occasionally you get close passing and speed combined which is at the very least extremely anti-social. I wish that could be targeted to balance out the policing effort.

Unfortunately, moving offences are exactly what the modern police force is not able to deal with effectively. What they do deal with is the yes/no offence. Was the driver speeding ? Seatbelt ? Mobile Phone ? Insurance ?

I've often wondered if there should be a maximum speed that an cyclist or pedestrian can be passed at. It would be clear what is unacceptable, and also the police could (rarely) enforce this with their excellent and existing radar guns. This would be somewhat easier to enforce than 3 Feet Please. I don't actually like that campaign, three feet is not enough at 60mph - it feels like you've just been shot at.

From the outraged comments you get in the CEN section you would imagine that there would be carnage on the streets of Cambridge due to the amount bikes with no lights and the amount of red light jumping. It is just not born out in the statistics. Students are obviously quite capable of assessing the level of danger to themselves. From what I see, where there are plenty of street lights you see plenty of no-(or hardly working)-light offenders, but where there are few street lights you see everybody with lights. There is no trail of cyclist-road-kill.

Red light jumpers (RLJ) have self preservation in mind and what I witness in Cambridge is not the London style of RLJ, it is mostly cyclists going through crossings after the pedestrian has crossed, plus cyclists using pedestrian phases to gain an advantage. If it is so dangerous to cross out of turn, perhaps it is time we controlled pedestrians too and clamp down on Jaywalking? (no I didn't really mean that, it would be ridiculous!)

The one way streets around Cambridge City centre are confusing to a new arrival and the one way signs are lost in a sea of bright lights and advertising boards, over zealous signage, pedestrians and other street furniture and if confused you will just copy what others do. It just doesn't surprise me that there are one-way offences. They don't appear to be particularly dangerous however.

My experience of policing is that, if I exclude fixed (and therefore predictable) speed cameras, my chances of being caught offending are equal when cycling, motorcycling and driving. The trouble is, I can do a lot more damage with a motor vehicle and prevention and prosecution should reflect that.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Cambridge to Hitchin via Ashwell. It's a bit hilly.

Recalling from my last post, I had already travelled from Cottenham (north of Cambridge) via Potton to Hitchin on my road bike, clicking up 67km in 2hr20m with the plan to cycle back via Ashwell.

This was Easter Sunday and I was visiting family so there was plenty of time to refuel, rest and have fun.

A slight interlude, I forgot a highlight of the journey to Hitchin. I am new to skinny-tyre road biking and I am pleasantly surprised by how quickly mine accelerates especially down hills. Whilst descending into Potton on the B1040 I was actually doing a constant 30mph inside the 30mph zone. Even then, somebody did a risky overtake. It is amazing how strong the 'gotta get past cyclist' force is in some people. :-)

Back to the route. This particular one I love, I think because of just how quiet it is between Cambridge and Baldock, and because I live on the edge of the flat Fens, the hills. I think the combination makes this route one of the best routes I have found for road cycling near Cambridge. I always see a lot of other cyclists too so it seems popular.

Click to view in BikeRouteToaster

The first time I did this route I went with a list of places to travel through in my pocket, which goes like this:

Cottenham, Histon, Cambridge, Barton, Haslingfield, Barrington, Shepreth, Bassingbourn-cum-Kneesworth, Littlington, Steeple-Morden, Ashwell, Bygrave, Baldock, Letworth, Hitchin, Ickleford.

I was a bit daunted by this as the distance struck home - 58km.

The great thing about this route is that it runs quite parallel to the main train line so you have a safety net to fall back on, or you can do it one way and return by train.

To those living in Cambridge, this is quite a hilly route. To me, the hills that pass by Luton, Hitchin and Royston are in effect an extension of the Chiltern Hills. The Chilterns are really quite hilly - they don't go high, but the number of hills and steepness really adds up and will having you climbing the same as you would in Welsh mountains ranges for the same distance. It's not quite that bad here but to the average Cantabrigian it might as well be mountains.

This route has a couple of peaks of note.

Chapel Hill between Haslingfield and Barrington.

Click to view in OpenCycleMap

Non locals will scoff at our hill but it is the nearest steepest undulation we have near Cambridge. It's only a 40m climb but its enough to get the heart pumping. The Haslingfield side is pretty steep too. It's 1 in just about doable without a granny gear. My cycle touring partner went over this 40 times in a row whilst training for a Welsh cycle camping tour.

The second peak is Claybush Hill near Ashwell where you can reach the dizzy heights of 100m !

Click to view in OpenCycleMap

Ashwell is a pretty village. I often get distracted and miss my turn here because of the pretty houses. My absolute favourite road is Springhead which is full of pretty houses and is baeutifully tree lined at the top. Here is a fab picture of the spring which I only just realised was there despite the road name. It is the source of the River Rhee, which is one of the tributaries of the River Cam.

Whilst route planning in a new area I often start with the National Cycle Network. There are some really well chosen quiet routes for recreation. Sometimes however, I am frustrated by the lack of routes in some areas.

Those that are on the network are very safe (there are bound to be exceptions!) and I wish for some further routes that are perhaps less safe but will get you somewhere rather than meander.

Here is the National Cycle Network SW of Cambridge:

The red routes are the main network. (The dark blue are local routes and the light blue is the National Byway).

It would be great to fill in some of the National Cycle Network. The route I take past Royston is quite and very good if you are a confident rider so I wonder if another sort of Cycle Network is required. Some sort of Road Rider Network for those wanting to get between major towns and cities.

I did the route in reverse, from Hitchin to Cambridge. As soon as I started it, I realised I had a head wind (for the next 58km) and I was feeling a bit stiff. That feeling normally wears off after about 30 mins.

Luck was against me on this day however. On Claybush Hill just before Ashwell I was running low on gears due to the hill and headwind. My road bike's lowest gear has a 25-39 tooth combination. In real terms 16kmh (10 mph) is the lowest speed this is geared for. I had to stand up to pedal (I do that alot) which is when a low level knee grumble turned into a return of an old injury - ITBS.

I pushed on for a bit, mostly just pedalling with my other leg and at one point the other dangling unclipped. At this point I looked down at my GPS and realised I had 32km to go. I also have a one week cycle tour in France to look forward to in 6 weeks time. Not wanting to risk the tour, and realising that one leg cycling for 32km was possible but silly, I gave up and called for backup.

My wife wasn't far behind me in the car and I managed to arrange a pickup 20 minutes later at Bassingbourn-cum-Kneesworth. I had to relay that location through my 8 year old on a mobile with plenty of car-road-noise. This proved to be the most head-banging game of Chinese Whispers ever! Next time I will stop somewhere with a simpler and less amusing name.

95km done that day. Great cycling until I aborted. Such a fab route.