Wednesday 6 February 2013

Mill Road: a cycle casualty black spot.

I had an errand to run tonight, taking me away from my normal commute, and this time from the centre of Cambridge to the end of Mill Road and back. This journey, epitomised everything about the current state of Policing in this city.

My journey

First up, out of town on St Andrew's Street. I pass two Police Officers (maybe PCSOs) who are enforcing the Lights Instead of Tickets (LIT) scheme. I wholeheartedly approve of this scheme, but I do object to the amount of time spent on this. Let me say why.

Diagonally across Parker's Piece. I wanted to see the demonstration lights, but they have been vandalised. It's really dark across here and pedestrians walk in black invisibility cloaks but I respect that as a faster vehicle, its my responsibility to look out for them. Interestingly society has arrived at the opposite conclusion on the road - to allow us to travel faster.

Then I start my journey outbound on Mill Road. This is approximately 7pm on a Wednesday night. A few weeks ago I heard my village Officer tell us that either side of the rush hour is the most likely time to catch speeders as gaps start to appear in traffic flows.

Mill Road has a very poor collision record and as such has a 20mph zone.  You can see the collisions mapped on CycleStreets and Cambridge CC's websites. Allmost all of those dots are car-bicycle accidents.

Panther pounces

Twenty is how fast I cycle, but I find a taxi very close behind with an aggressive sounding engine threatening to pass. I am cycling in the left wheel track - trained cyclists will recognise as one of two advised road positions - and it is holding the taxi back whilst there is oncoming traffic. The taxi passes with hard acceleration a little too close for my liking and easily exceeding the 20mph speed limit. Other young adults are cycling nearer the gutter and I watch as taxi squeezes between them and the white line with oncoming traffic. This YouTube video demonstrates how close cars come when squeezing through and the risks taken. 

Of course, I caught the taxi up again. Plenty of risk to others, but nothing gained.

I am not one to rely on anecdotal examples, but this happens a second, and a third time, with all three driving aggressively and in a bullying way. 

I didn't notice any pavement cyclists, but I did see cyclists without lights on the road. It is very well lit by streetlights and everybody is easy to see if you look properly. There are plenty of unlit pedestrians crossing this busy road and you have to look out for them anyway. Cyclists are not any harder to spot under these streetlights.

After my errand I return inbound. I am overtaken by a car which accelerates aggressively up to, I estimate, 35mph. Then braked very sharply. A car was sitting stationary in the middle of the road, looking like it had pulled out from a side road. A female cyclist 40yrs old (with lights and helmet) was looking at her back wheel like the car had collided with it. I don't know who was at fault, but did hear the cyclist asking if the driver was ok. They must have been in shock.

Continuing along Mill Road, a van pulled out of a side road in front of me and I had to emergency stop. They had seen me - I know, they were looking into my eyes - this was a SMIDGAF, (Sorry Mate I Don't Give a Fuck). It's a variation on the SMIDSY (I Didn't See You). Again a taxi. All of the taxis were Panther Taxis.


This was a scary ride for me. I am a very experienced cyclist, motorcyclist and driver. I would not ride this route regularly at this time, it is too risky.

It is plainly obvious when cycling down Mill Road what the causes of accidents are - aggressive driving and failing to look properly. The story could be said to be anecdotal and unrepresentative, but my statistical analysis (summary) agrees and shows the extent of this problem. 

The council and councillors are aware of the problem. It's on their map, and a 20mph zone has been implemented. Now it's time for Cambridgeshire Police to step up and play their part. While they are sending 30 officers to target low level anti-social cycling, Mill Road traffic goes unpoliced and the casualty numbers continue to rise.

Ignoring this problem has gone on for too long. Cambridge has 32% of people cycling to work the highest rate in the country and needs new ideas and leadership from the highest levels in Cambs Police. Doing nothing is shameful.


  1. The official route from St Andrews Street to the bottom of Mill Road is as follows: Regent Terrace - Gresham Street - Lyndewode Road - Devonshire Road - over the railway line - Greville Road - Marmora Road - Montreal Road.

    In short, the official route for this journey completely avoids Mill Road, but is the situation on this road as unpleasant as you describe?

    Not according to CycleStreets. The 'quietest' route for this journey is identical to the one that you took. (Maybe this explains why the Cambridge Cycling Campaign does not include any proposals to make Mill Road more amenable for cyclists in its Vision for 2016.)

    "Ignoring this problem has gone on for too long," you say. Mill Road is not incorporated into the official cycle route 'network', and - if the campaign group's Vision is accepted - would most likely stay this way for many years to come. Under the circumstances, imposing a 20mph speed limit is probably as much as the council could be expected to do.

    "Doing nothing is shameful," you say. I wrote to Cambridge Cycling Campaign over two months ago at their suggestion (the suggestion was made by them to one of the GeoVation team) with my proposal to incorporate Mill Road into a comprehensive, city-wide cycle network. Let me tell you how they replied. What they said was .

    Given that the Council have done as much as they can, given that the campaign group are clearly ambivalent about plans to include it into a network, you're as well asking the police to sort this out as anybody. At least they might give you the courtesy of a reply.

  2. Are you the guy that has been promoting the idea of a London cycling tube map for 10 years?

    Maybe, in answer to your question, that's because, instead of spamming blogs promoting your idea of unintelligible lines over a map (if the London one I saw is anything to go by), when an existing signed Cambridge network exists, and when there are many very useful maps already, the campaign group you mention is actually busy **campaigning**.

    They were are the exhibition a few weeks ago, they've been pressing for 20mph limits, pushing for residential cycle parking around Mill Road, pressing for a route along the railway called the Chisom Trail, successfully stopping Sainsbury's parking on Mill Road, pushing for Tenison Road to be stopped as a ratrun etc. So I have no idea what you mean by ambivalence towards Mill Road!

    I see on their contact page they clearly state they are volunteers with limited time. Sounds to me like whatever idea you put forward really wasn't that compelling, or that they've had to prioritise, or both.

    Lastly, the idea of an 'official cycle route network' is nonsense. In Cambridge (I don't know where you live), people cycle everywhere and anywhere. Anyone like me who cycles in Romsey on a near-daily basis will know that the Carter bridge is a significant diversion for many journeys and that Mill Road, though not always pleasant, is the natural choice of journey. The more cyclists that use it, the safer it will be, and the more likely the council will actually do something about it.

    1. Are you a member of CTC, by chance? The idea of an 'official cycle route network' is nonsense. The more cyclists that use it, the safer it will be. Unintelligible lines over a map. What on earth are you talking about, you silly man?

      Why does all of the opposition to this proposal come from people like you? Get out of the way with your cobwebs!

  3. Oh, and on the main point of the blog entry, I couldn't agree more.

    Cambridge police seem to have a very warped idea of priorities. I always cycle with lights and give attention to other roadusers, but it objectively isn't cyclists that are causing **actual** danger.

    I know the police do things like occasional crackdowns on mobile phone drivers, and so on, but stand on Mill Road any time, especially at night, and bad driving is so common-place it's amazing the police aren't bothering to go and rack up fines.