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?


  1. We get branded 'antisocial' for riding using these routes within the law. It ain't just us who can't work out where we're meant to ride - many of these ducks are indistinguishable from normal footpaths so we can't criticise folk who look at them and say we shouldn't be on them. Campkin Road is a good example (and if you're up that end of town text me and pop in for a cuppa and ogle the chickens if I'm not otherwise engaged).

    This of course means we're in trouble for staying within the law, whether we're on the shared use path (because we're 'anti social') or on the road (we're 'in the way'). This system seems well designed to make our lives hard!

  2. A quick note: it doesn't require a TRO to turn a pavement into a cycle track. Rather, this is done by "removing" the footway under section 66(4) of the Highways Act 1980 and simultaneously "constructing" a cycle track under section 65(1). As LTN 1/12 says, (paragraph 10.23), "The process need not necessarily involve physical construction work other than the erection of suitable signs, but there needs to be clear evidence that the local highway authority has exercised its powers. This can be provided by a resolution of the appropriate committee or portfolio holder etc. to ensure that a clear audit trail has been established." Good luck tracking down those resolutions in Cambridge!

  3. There has never been a strategic transport plan for Cambridge. Everything has been introduced piecemeal and consequently the quality, the connectivity, the safety and the usefulness is haphazard. I know Cambridge Cycling Campaign are doing their best, but they are banging their heads against the brick wall of collective council ineptitude.