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.


  1. Hi, a good report so thanks for the update.

    However the new path being laid from Cottenham is only 2.2M wide after the field and to the 1st bridge (around 1 ½ foot wider than currently). This is because the hedges could not be cut back due to Nesting Birds (Seriously). So, after we have all waited decades and with the amount of money being spent a bodge job has been done. Why didn't the Council do the middle bit first, wait for the birds and then cut back the hedge a bit more making the 3 + M.

    A great shame and this will of course never be rectified (due to no more money). This is a serious issue as now it will be quite easy to clip bars and either go down the ditch or into the road (so the same as before).

    I also asked why the new rear edge is so high at the back of the path just past Appletrees, resulting in an excessive angle towards the road but did not receive an answer.

    I have been advised that the Solar Cateyes may not go ahead (depends on what money is left), and I have also raised concerns about the height of the bank near to Appletrees Park (if this is pulled up in an Audit a fence might get built). Can you imagine going down the bank on a dark and cold wet / icy winters evening (so, the same as before then).

    I think that what has been done so far is better than before but why is it being bodged and the works not carried out correctly. Why was the 50MPH stretch not done before the Histon end? Why is the really dangerous stretch, the path between the two villages not widened to current standards with a large separation between path and road? (Like the new path between Sawston and Babraham.)

    I also agree about the path in Histon and the roller coaster ride. The Council need to ride this route so see what we all have to put up with. This is dangerous as my clips catch the highs and dips, as I’m sure others do.

    The long curved bend coming out of Histon is also very narrow and not being built to Current Standards. Why is the bank not being dug out more?

    So far I have had the path widened just after the Exit from Histon. It was curved into the last Houses driveway but I complained (the same day) and it was relaid straight which I was please about.

    I have also been asking about signage and road markings on entering Cottenham so both Vehicles and Cyclists are aware of the route (this also might be done, but depends on money).

    I have also notified SCDC about the path being very dangerous and slippy with the grit and they have used a mechanical sweeper along the stretch past the skips (this was a couple of months ago). It was slightly better, however the sweeper did not clean well and I was advised that was all that could be done. The only solution is a shovel and broom.

    Is there any chance that you could make some more noise and have another site meeting with the Council?

    I do hope that we get it all sorted soon, however the main 50 MPH path has only been increased around 1 1/2 feet and is not satisfactory in my opinion, so the project is a failure before it is even completed.

    Has anyone taken pictures of the construction so far?

    Lastly. If anyone has a few spare minutes can you also make contact with SCDC asking for the path between Cottenham and Rampton to be cut back (the more of us requesting this the better).

    Happy cycling.

  2. Hi Anon,

    First of all, I just wanted to make clear that I am just like every other individual and have no real influence over and above any other council tax payer. I think the presence of this blog may have helped get an ear.

    Regarding the compromises on width and it being done in three parts. This all comes down to time and budgets. For example, the nesting birds issue is a real frustration but the money to do the work in that area has a time limit, forcing the go ahead without removing the bushes.

    The non-perfect finish of the sloping path near Apple Trees, its not perfect but is it worth re-doing ? Probably not.

    Re the width at 2.2m. I gave it a test run where there was a temporary fence reducing the width to somewhere below 2m. Passing another cyclist was a squeeze but with the fence removed and the little extra width it should make it just adequate. Not spacious, not perfect and probably not that easy to ride two abreast talking to your friends. It's a real shame, but I would rather have this than nothing as it will be safer.

    Re the roller coaster. I previously tried my best to push home the point about a smooth ride - it makes it less effort for all - but I was dismissed as a fast road rider. Cutting a smooth path through the middle is not an option, it is whatever the tarmac laying machine gives you. I don't see the safety issue myself (are you talking about toe-clip straps dragging?). There are some steepish gradients on the house sides of the path - I wouldn't recommended riding there as you will have a poor view of anyone pulling out of their driveway.

    Re signage. I too have asked for something to be marked within the 30mph zone of Cottenham to legitimise cycling on the road. I again had a driver close-pass on purpose saying I should be on the cycle path (it is a footpath in Cottenham).

    Re the filth outside Cottenham Skips. I was told that the sweeper has difficult getting onto the path. Maybe once widened it can do better. If not, C.Skips should be leaned on to clean it given that they are the cause.

    Solar lights. We definitely need something to combat oncoming-car-headlamp induced blindness. They can easily be added later once a little more funding is found.

    The biggest issue still remaining for me is the difficultly crossing the road at either end, but especially at the Cottenham boundary. I've stood there too many times waiting for too long to cross the road. It makes me use the road the next time.

    Overall, I know it feels like a bodge and there are too many compromises, but just having the width increased is a massive improvement to safety. When first announced, I was dreaming of a pleasant Dutch style cycle path way back in the fields and behind the houses of Histon. Hopes dashed. The best we can do now is campaign higher up, to councillors and to MP's for better funding for cyclists and pedestrians.

  3. Update 18th July 2011

    I got some more information from Cycle Cambridge in an email.

    In a few weeks, work still start on lighting between the edge of Histon and Ambrose Way with a new style of white lights. Additionally they are at present working on [the planning of?] the Toucan crossings to get over the A14 slips roads.