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 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.
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.