Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The quiet, anti-social cycle routes of Cambridge

Cambridge has a whole load of cycle routes that avoid the main motor-vehicle routes through the city. My previous testing found they take longer but are are safer due to the limited amount of traffic. This is great if you live in the city and are making local journeys.

I've been trying to learn some of these local routes whenever I do short journeys within Cambridge. I briefly plan the journeys on OpenStreetMap, the OpenCycleMap layer, or CycleStreets which highlight the cycle routes. On OpenStreetMap, look out for blue dashed lines.

There is huge variability in the quality of the cycle routes across the city.  There are the typical wider dual use cycle tracks, sometimes with a painted white line to separate pedestrians and cyclists, sometimes not.  Some pavements are not wide, but have been made legal via signs and Traffic Regulation Orders in cases where it keeps cyclists off busy roads or provides useful connectivity.

There are also many cases where the council has put up signs to allow cycling on pavements, but has not issued a TRO to make this entirely legal - cost and bureaucracy must be why.  There are paths that make use of tight but short cut-throughs between houses. 

My point here is that a cycle routes in Cambridge are visually so variable, they often look just like footpaths. You know the Duck Test ?- If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck - my experience of legal Cambridge dual-use tracks leads to footways looking like a duck dual-use track you've used somewhere else in the city. 

As a user of dual-use cycle routes you get used to cycling in tight spaces amongst pedestrians. Sometimes the dual use routes end without an obvious warning and you drift into cycling on a footway.  This is called 'Anti-social' cycling and has been the target of local Police priorities.

Here are some examples, I've found.

Milton Road

Starting from Milton Road's junction with Gilbert Road you can head northeast towards the Science Park some 3km away. This is a major artery in and out of the city with very busy traffic. That's why it has dual use cycle track.  Except for a few gaps.

Near the Arbury Road shops where Cambridgeshire Police ticketed cyclists for anti-social cycling. My observations were that cyclists are ambling along the dual use track and drift into the footway past the shops over several busy driveways that lead to car parking. This lead to Richard Taylor's post Cyclists Branded Anti-Social for Trying to Stay Alive and eventually Cambridgeshire Police were persuaded that this should be dropped as a priority, not before cyclists were ticketed and one went to court and failed to make his case to the judge.

The dual use section restarts just past the junction with Arbury Road. Legal dual use tracks are at diagonally opposing sides of this junction. None of the traffic light crossings are 'Toucan' and thus cycling across them is actually illegal.

The next 1km from Arbury Road to Ramsden Square is legal dual-use track, but ends 300m before the formidable Milton and Kings-Hedges Road junction. Note that cycle paths start a small distance up Kings-Hedges Road; on the east side of the junction into Green End Road; and north-east towards the Science Park, but starting 120m past the junction next to Lovell Road. Again, none of the crossings are Toucans. 

If you were a cyclist who was afraid of the roads, it is likely you would ride through the pavements sections because they look much like other legal routes in the city and they are only  a short hop to the next legal section.

Kings Hedges Road

This one is hard to spot.  The entire 3km's of the southern side of Kings Hedges is dual use, except for this short hop around a bus stop at Kirkwood Road. It's almost impossible to spot heading west-to-east. I'm not entirely sure what the council expect you to do. Cross over for 60m then cross again, or walk through this section?

Campkin Road

Campkin Road on its south east side is what looks like a footpath despite a few sparse shared use signs. Somebody has made an attempt to rub out the cycle on the share use sign near Arbury Road. I have checked through the TRO's carefully and this is legally a shared-use path.

Check this section out. Footpath or Cycle-path?

St Andrew's Church, Chesterton

I thought I had spotted a great example of quiet cycle route between The Fort St George to Chesterton via Pretoria Road, Montague Road, then over Elizabeth Way and past St Andrew's Church. It's a fabulous link mostly with wide paths past Chesterton Recreation Ground and through the church grounds, many cyclists are using it. So many, Cambridgeshire Police use it to trap cyclists not using lights. 

Someone had the confidence to mark this a cycle route in OpenStreetMap. It sure does pass the Duck Test. Turns out, this is not a legal route. It's better than many I've legally used in Cambridge.  


It is impossible to for any normal person to stay legal on the dual-use paths of Cambridge.  It leaves me with mixed feelings about using these routes - they keep you safer but you can fall foul of the law so easily and most people want to stay on the right side of the law. I often find myself drifting onto footways and wonder if I am now branded an anti-social cyclist and the target of the Police.

And for those who find themselves drifting onto the wrong side of the law, does it make them more likely to intentionally break the law?  It might start with just riding any footpaths they want to, but then may lead to red light jumping, and spiralling downwards. If anyone has any further reading in this area, do comment and share your links.

I have been involved in conversations about anti-social cyclists where it turns out the complainer did not know the route was legal. I've also witnessed first hand a Police Officer saying they couldn't tell which paths were cycle routes or not. It's a mess and just feeds animosity in the city.

Ticketing cyclists for simply being on pavements is not a sound strategy in Cambridge.  I would, however, support ticketing those who are not taking due care around pedestrians regardless of the legality of the path. That is the end game isn't it, allowing people to travel safely regardless of their transport choice?

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Reflecting on my Cycle to Work purchase.

It four years since I purchased my Dawes Super Galaxy using the Cycle-to-Work scheme. It was an expensive purchase for a commuter bike, but I wanted to own a quality bike for the first time in my life and dreamed of doing some cycle touring. A self-justifying cycle buyer once told me that you would ride a quality bike more. They were right.

Never before have I worn a bike out so quickly. I'm on my second set of tyres; I've just installed a third set of brake pads; whilst doing that I noticed the back wheel rim is down to the wear-limit; I checked the chain and she needs her third; and now the bottom bracket has just stiffened and I shall replace it.

I've probably ridden the Galaxy about 3000km a year, mostly to work and back, sometimes taking the long way in summer as extra fitness training, and usually direct through winter.

The Galaxy has only been on two cycle camping tours so far, but they were epic, Wales bottom to top over three mountain ranges, and another week long trip through Normandy. I only ever had rear panniers and all that static weight was on the back wheel. Being able to take that weight, she's also done me proud on many supermarket shopping trips.  Throughout, the wheels have never broken a spoke and stayed true. Whoever built that wheel I salute you.

She came with 32mm Schwalbe Marathon tyres (not the 'plus' model) and punctures are extremely rare. I can only recall fixing a flat at the side of the road once.  Out near Lode I was riding with headphones when I noticed the beat of the music I was listening to had gone out of time. Removing headphones I realised I'd been cycling with an arrow-head flint stuck in the tyre and with every revolution it was being hammered into the tyre, for how long I don't know.  Every other deflation was slow and only noticed after I'd parked up at my destination.

This was my first bike with 'drops'.  At first I couldn't use those damn things, being far too low for comfort but after about a year of stretching and being incentivised by seeming endless Fenland headwinds and I cracked it.

I am often reminded in pub conversations that my Dawes Super Galaxy came with a pipe and slippers as mandatory accessories. Aye, she has that image, but she is no slouch.  I'll give any carbon road biker a crack on the commute home, I've got nothing to loose, and if I do, I get fitter.  I've since discovered Strava and set many of my personal bests on the tourer, even though I now own a road bike. It's about being out there, just riding, and making the most of an opportunistic tail wind.

Since last summer, I've been putting 25mm slicks on instead of the puncture proof 32mm tyres and the have made her slightly faster, not quite as quick as a road bike, but maybe that's because I'm always riding with a pannier causing extra wind resistance.  I've since bought a cheap second hand alu-frame-carbon-forked road bike that's measurably faster but somewhere after 3 hours of riding my back aches and I'm read to chuck it in a hedge and walk home.  I can and have ridden the Dawes for 8 hours without trouble.  One day I'll try a lightweight carbon road bike, but for now I shall resist. I have a plan to attempt a 100 mile road ride, and I'll go for it on the comfy Dawes.

Many carbon enthusiasts own a winter-hack bike. I just keep riding the Dawes all year round. I love mudguards, keeping all that winter crud away from you, and besides, it rains in summer too. Even if the roads are just wet, the road bike stays in, and out comes the Dawes. No day is a brown stripe day for me.

Off-road the Dawes can take the punishment a bumpy track can dish out.  To be honest, I wouldn't swap my full suspension mountain bike in these conditions, modern suspension is just so comfy, but if you ride Sustrans routes, you'll know that there are plenty of smoothish gravel tracks and sometimes worse, surfaces bad enough that I would not risk my tender road bike spokes on.  The ability to ride the Dawes pretty much anywhere is a bonus, even if I wouldn't plan it.

To be honest, I ride the Dawes like it was an audax bike most of the time. It's slightly heavy but with so few local hills it doesn't normally matter.

The Dawes Super Galaxy is quite an all-rounder. I still love riding it and that's why she'll be getting a whole load of new parts. There's plenty of life left in the ol' Super-Gal yet.