Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Testing Cambridge's Safer Cycle Nework

This post contains a lot of road names, one of the following map sources will help you follow:

OpenCycleMap (opens on Cambridge)
Cambridge City Cycle Map (pdf)
CycleStreets Journey Planner (Cambridge)

I hate cycling in traffic. Even with every driver overtaking you perfectly, I've always got my hearing tuned for unusual behaviour from drivers behind and ready myself for evasive action. For every 99 drivers who are excellent, there will be just one who overtakes badly, or worse gives you a close pass. This is why, when there are safer routes I want to use them.

Histon Road

Avid readers will know that I no longer take Histon Road, Cambridge as part of my commute. At the times I travel, the traffic flows freely through the worst pinch point, with inadequate 1 metre on-road cycle lanes next to a traffic lane that is the same width as a bus.

Southbound, destination city centre, I prefer to avoid the worst part of Histon Road and divert down the parallel route just to the East, along Kings Hedges Road, Arbury Road, then Mere and Carlton Way. Upon reaching Gilbert Road I take the route into town via Gilbert Road, Milton Road and Victoria Avenue. There is a safer route that continues over Gilbert Road, into Stretten Avenue and over Jesus Green Lock.

If I hate traffic so much, why do I not take the safer Jesus Lock route? I am balancing additional time and safety. The direct route from Cottenham to the city centre takes me 24 minutes. My safer route takes around 27 minutes. Going via Jesus Lock, 33m00s. Actually, when I am in a rush, I find myself having to take Histon Road to save time - a forced but pragmatic decision. To put this into perspective, the same journey by motorcycle during rush hour takes me 25 minutes. I've never done it by car.


You can already see that on my usual commute route I am trading safety for time and extra distance.  Some of us who are very skilled in traffic (Bikeability 3, CycleCraft) can save time. For normal people these routes can be safer but force them to go further. I don't expect Granny will be too happy going the extra distance in a headwind.

The more fiddly routes require effort to learn.  This is fine for a regular journeys or trips close to home but becomes a pain for cross-town journeys.

You should know that my safe route along Mere and Carlton Way turns into a tricky and dangerous route at 8:45am as the school drop-offs turn the road to chaos. At this time, Histon Road is safer because the traffic is moving slower than bicycles.  Choosing a safe route can be hard.  Not all routes are consistently safe throughout the day.

The obstacles we put in the way are a straw-that-broke-the-camels-back problem. The more obstacles we make, the less journeys people are going to take by bicycle. Many of us have a car and it competes with the bicycle on physical effort, convenience and journey time. Not many people question CO2 when you need a loaf of bread in a hurry. Need to pop across town quickly and safely? Some will choose the car because its hard to find a safe route. You really do have to be a committed cyclist to make regular journeys.

Gilbert Road via Jesus Lock to City Centre

The safer route used by many normal cyclists from Gilbert Road into the city centre arrives via Jesus Lock and crosses Jesus Green towards Park Street car and cycle parks.

The legal route across town (green dots) feels like you are fighting the one way system. The natural desire-line is past Sainsbury on Sydney St, but is illegal due to a one-way system (for motor-vehicles) and is often Policed with PSCOs handing out fines to cyclists.

A legal route Southbound from Jesus Green.
Cambridgeshire County Council's cycling map.

Mill Road

I occasionally need to do errands to the far end of Mill Road. I've previously written about it being a cycle casualty black spot.

Cambridge City Printed Cycle Map
Mill Road has a safer parallel route which is quite popular. Last time I was at the far end I wanted to take that parallel route but I'd come unprepared. I was sat on the ring road at the junction of Brooks Road and Natal Road wondering how I could pickup the safer parallel route to the city centre rather than take Mill Road. Unbelievably, I was at the exact junction where the safer route started and had no idea. I gave up and used Mill Road.

I returned with a paper map in hand determined to test the safer route, from Parkers Piece to Natal Road and back. From Parkers Piece, I started my stopwatch and headed East picking up Gresham Road, following blue signs for Cherry Hinton. It's a wiggly route but I followed my nose and another cyclist. Signs for Cherry Hinton were lacking around Tenison Road but recognised Station Road was the wrong way and followed my nose into Devonshire Road. I just missed the ramp up onto the Carter Bridge but solved by a quick u-turn and over the railway I went. On the other/east side I reached a T-junction where I was stumped. My paper map saved me and I turned left then right into Greville Road and followed a reasonably obvious route.

Off Coleridge Road there was a comically thin cut through to Marmora Road. Funny because this is a classic route that mixes cyclists and pedestrians on pavements that have been legalised for dual-use just like many locations in Cambridge, but in at other locations you can receive a fine if enough locals badger the Police with their irritation.

The final off-road link was a pavement cut through from Mamora/Hobart Road to Natal Road. I rode this route in the dark and this location was unlit with a dark corner in a quiet location. I can't imagine women cycling alone would be happy here at night.

Arriving at the ring road, I realised I'd passed just a handful of moving cars. The route took me 11m20s over 2.6km.

I returned to Parkers Piece along the direct Mill Road route, with light traffic at 7:30pm, taking 6m10s over 2.1km. The safer route had cost me 5 minutes, and 500 metres.

Would I take this route again? If I lived in the area, without a doubt. For my occasional errand, perhaps not. It's a trip that I'm always squeezing into a busy schedule and the extra delay over such as short distance is hard to swallow.


Cambridge has some very adult friendly cycle routes. The Mill Road area in particular has many one way streets for drivers and closed through routes. This does provide a useful secondary cycle network, but does require effort to learn. Improved signage would make their use much easier.

Some of the newer shared-use routes in Cambridge are far better than their previous generations - Madingley Road for example, and new off-road routes keep popping up such as The Tins towards Cherry Hinton. One of the greatest successes in Cambridge is limited motor vehicle access to the bollard protected city centre. The history of this precedes my time in Cambridge, but I bet it was highly controversial and required bold and courageous decision making - it's paid off.

But, outside of the bollard protected central shopping area, Cambridge suffers from a lack of direct and safe cycle routes. Cycles are allowed to use wide bus lanes, along routes such as Hills Road, Milton Road, and Newmarket Road, but these always end just before difficult junctions. The direct routes come into play for cross-city journeys and those commuting into Cambridge from outside the 'radial corden'.

In this city of cyclists, we still have to balance safety and journey time while traffic flow on the main routes takes priority over cyclist safety. Better junction design and re-allocating road space from motor-vehicles to bicycles are the current debates. These ideas will again require bold and courageous decision making from our local politicians.

Further reading:
Ely Cycle Campaign on Cambridge's Cycling Infrastructure and the use of a secondary network.
Cambridge Cycle Campaign's criticism of the Catholic Church junction design decision.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Cyclists' 10 worst junctions revealed

Cambridge News have published a story with collision counts at the junctions either end of Lensfield Road in Cambridge. The story contains some factual errors which have been analysed and corrected.

Cyclists' 10 worst junctions revealed

08:12 Monday 18 March 2013
Written byDebra Fox

It begins:

The 10 most dangerous junctions for cyclists in Cambridge have been revealed, with Lensfield Road the top hotspot for accidents.
The Lensfield Road, Trumpington Street and Fen Causeway junction was recorded as the most dangerous with 41 accidents recorded in six years, while 20 accidents put Perne Road, Radegund Road and Birdwood Road roundabout in at number 10.
The latest figures from Levenes Cycle Injury, the personal injury lawyers, show the number of accidents have increased at all of the 10 locations in the city. However, Cambridgeshire County Council disputes the figures.

The story is similar to one published a year ago in a number of sources. Levenes have previously published their own story on Levenes' web site dated 29th March 2012. Cambridge News themselves published a very similar story Most Dangerous Junctions for Cyclists Revealed 15th March 2012 with numbers. And the figures from Levenes were also used in a similarly named story by The Cambridge Student 22nd March 2012.

The story references the total number of collisions at two junctions, each at either end of Lensfield Road. Its a confusing set of numbers which become clearer when you see the source.

Levenes provided these numbers to Cambridge News and gave me the same data to help clear up factual errors:

The Junction2005-2010
6 years
7 years
1. Lensfield Rd/Trumpington St/The Fen Causeway3641
2. Queen Edith's Way/Fendon Rd/Hills Road Triangle3439
3. East Rd/Mill Rd3133
4. Maids Causeway/Victoria Ave/Jesus Lane Roundabout2733
5. Hills Road/Gonville Pl/Lensfield Rd/Regent St Cross Roads3031
6. Castle St/Northampton St/Chesterton Ln2627
7. Milton Rd/Elizabeth Way Roundabout2326
8. Hills Rd/Cherry Hinton Rd2325
9. Emmanuel St/St Andrews St/Downing St2022
10. Perne Rd/Radegund Rd/Birdwood Roundabout1520

Quotes from the story:

The Lensfield Road, Trumpington Street and Fen Causeway junction was recorded as the most dangerous with 41 accidents recorded in six years.

There is a mistake, 41 is the Levenes figure for 7 years, not 6 as stated.

The Catholic Church junction, where Hills Road, Gonville Place, Lensfield Road and Regent Street meet ... came fifth on the list after 31 cyclists were said to have been injured there between 2005 and 2011 [7 years].

This number is correctly quoted.

But a spokesman for Cambridgeshire County Council said the Lensfield Road junction with Fen Causeway had only had 31 accidents between 2005 and 2010  [6 years] – 10 fewer than the Levenes statistics.

This number is not correct. Given the earlier mistake by Cambridge News quoting the wrong year, we cannot be sure what question CN asked the council to answer, or if there were any mistakes whilst writing the story. This could be a case of "garbage in, garbage out".

A small part of the story said:

The latest figures from Levenes Cycle Injury, the personal injury lawyers, show the number of accidents have increased at all of the 10 locations in the city

The story did not give the numbers as they did in previous years so it was impossible for the reader to check this claim.  The total number of collisions has increased - obvious given one extra year of data - but the collision rate has not accelerated.

It is worth adding that Levenes and the Council take different approaches when working out which are the worst junctions for collisions.

Levenes have simply counted the total number of collisions involving cyclists.

Cambridgeshire County Council use an algorithm score the sites which skews results towards more severe collisions. The scoring process considers all collisions and road users, not just those involving cyclists.

Last year the story was more topical as cyclists were busy marking their most dangerous junctions on The Times Cycle Safe Map with the Hills Road end of Lensfield Road having twice as many submissions as the TrumpingtonSt/Fen Causeway end. Shortly after, the council announced they had plans to update the Catholic Church junction at Hills Road / Lensfield Road.

STATS19 data for 2012 will be released to the general public around July 2013 and that is when we'll start to see the next round of updates and headlines from all the news sources. Levenes have said they will be updating their map when the new data is released.

If you spot any errors or can provide clearer information, please do get in contact.