Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Commuter cycling in Cambridge

The Cambridge Cycling Campaign does an excellent job at raising awareness of the needs of everyday cyclists in Cambridge and promoting safe cycling. One of the problems they face in a place like this is that a lot is said and done on behalf of cyclists by people who may have the best intentions at heart but don't themselves make a daily cycle commute.

As someone who often used to do a 14-mile cycle commute and now mostly cycles to work but over a shorter distance, I take a different view of what is helpful than council officials often do.

If a bicycle is to replace a car then it needs to enable good, direct, progress without excessive stopping.

Some of the solutions that get proposed, however, I believe actually harm cycling. In many people's minds the obvious cycling measure to be deployed is a cycle lane. I think these can have a place, particularly if they are wide, but they rarely are (or can be) and are often relegated to second class lanes, disappearing or moving onto the pavement. They can be worse than useless, putting cyclists into more danger.

Shared-use cycle paths are another love of well-meaning bureaucrats, but a look at Milton Road should scotch that. Cyclists on that path should stop at each junction, which horribly detracts from progress and the temptation is just to go for it. Knowing someone whose teeth were broken in a resulting collision I don't think this is something that should be encouraged and I know that pedestrians feel intimidated by cyclists on the pavement. Progress is much better on the road itself but users who do that often suffer the ire of drivers who think the cyclists should be on their 'facility' (or 'psychle farcility' as some cam.transport posters rather endearingly call them). I can't help thinking Milton Road would be better for cyclists if widened (possibly by removing the bus lane if it turned out not to be that effective but I am not that familiar with bus progress rates on Milton Road to be able to comment competently on that at the moment.)

A good use of cycle lanes, in my view, is contraflow lanes, such as in Downing Street. These add genuine value to the cycling network and should be encouraged. It does help if delivery vehicles aren't parked in them, though!

There's a lot to be said for the shared space concept - in town or village centres - with large vehicles giving way to smaller ones in turn up to pedestrians. The centre of town could be cited as an example. Unobservant pedestrians make cycle progress slow, but that should be expected and accepted - the only problem is inconsiderate (and going-the-wrong-way) cyclists, who can make life unpleasant; motor vehicles can sometimes also be a menace in the evenings but that is partly a cultural problem.

I do value investment in cycling infrastructure. Their merit should be judged on whether they add value for cyclists - opening up new routes, speeding travel or genuinely improving safety (and not just the illusion of such). Schemes such as the Shelford DNA cycle path, which is really nice, and Coleridge Conservatives' proposed cycle route between Ashbury Close and Golding Road are, in my view, really valuable. But I am very sceptical of plans to entrench cycling on the pavement on Cherry Hinton Road (although if the shared-use footpath is to remain that then the proposed plans could be beneficial for safety), 'cycling town' money which could perhaps be better spent on other cycling infrastructure.

An alternative view is taken by Lib Dem Market Councillor Colin Rosenstiel who has argued in favour of narrow cycle lanes, even in the 'dooring zones' to the right of parked cars. Colin says that some people are not so confident on the roads and really value these facilities. I don't agree with Colin but perhaps my views are skewed by being a confident and experienced commuter cyclist. Has Colin got a point? What do you think?

[Picture from after this year's London to Cambridge cycle ride]

UPDATE: The original version of this article may have given the impression that the cycling campaign promotes pavement cycleways - that was not the intention as I know this is not the case.


Andrew Bower said...

Martin Lucas-Smith, the co-ordinator of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, got in touch with links to some of their articles where they've been arguing the same points:

"We've campaigned against narrow cycle lanes, often saying that no cycle lane is better

We've campaigned on priority over sideroads

We've campaigned about 'the Milton Road effect'

The Trumpington Road dooring lanes"

Andrew Bower said...

Oh, and before the Lib Dems try any deliberate misrepresentation, note that I am NOT calling for the removal of any trees on Milton Road or dualling in any way whatsoever or anything that can be shown would be detrimental to the bus service, just suggesting that any cycling facility ought to be located on the road not the pavement. We know what you are like.