Thursday, April 1, 2010

Another month - has the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB) Cycle path flooding subsided?

Another month has passed, where does the time go? The same place the nicer weather goes perhaps. Mind you this morning I was woken by glorious sunshine and thought, brilliant - I can sneak out early and get a longer cycle ride in. Unfortunately the best laid plans don't always work out and I did not end up sneaking out until 3pm. Too many things to catch up with before the bank Holiday weekend. Now if I had set off first thing this morning my plan was to cycle to Ipswich, partly because it is a nice route either on almost deserted country lanes or, even better, off-road routes and partly because the wind would have been behind me. I would then have caught the train back. In the event it was mid-afternoon before I set off and I did consider a loop around the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB) and back via the Sustrans 11 route - but I did not want to get caught in the wind on the way back and I did not want to get back home too late.

So I set off towards the Milton Road end of the CGB to assess things - it was quite windy - up to 20mph from a westerly direction and across, from the left, and in front as well. So I made a snap decision to cycle the route - to see whether it was possible to cycle the whole way along the cycleway alongside the concrete tracks and return by the same route. That way I would have a bit of wind assistance and it is good to have a goal. Mind you it was raining on and off and at one point I did consider stopping at the first flooding (if there were one) and heading back again. By co-incidence the CGB was back in the Cambridge news again: "Busway progress after talks". I did not see this until I returned from my ride though. Apparently some agreements have been made on the way forward between the County Council and BAM Nuttall. They have agreed to complete work to fix the St Ives Great River Ouse viaduct - their words I would have called it a bridge. Slightly worryingly they have only agreed to a design and flood assessment of the cycleway.

I have negotiated a fair few business contracts in my time and generally there are always a few things needing to be resolved at the end, before final agreement is reached. Often both sides will horse-trade, I am a little worried that in return for getting some stuff fixed the Cambridge County council will be more relaxed on getting the Cycleway sorted - either on timescales, or on the amount of flooding tolerated. More on that at the end.

As I joined the cycleway at Milton Road a Maintenance van also joined, I let him go ahead of me - I don't want to hold up the works any more than they already have been. They thanked me - however I did find myself catching them up at each point they had to unlock a barrier and in the end I overtook them and they never did pass me. Although they did say they were driving up to the end of the CGB and no I was not going fast - it was into the wind.

The first bit of the cycleway will be surfaced with tarmac, but at the moment it is an incomplete rough surface and unpleasant to cycle along on my drop handled touring bike. Not too difficult - just slow and bumpy - mind you I have reasonably thick tyres on the bike, (25mm) much less and it would have been horrible. This is not a criticism, it will be surfaced, but only after the busway has been handed over - so until the problems get resolved then this part of the works will get further delayed. Given that the bulk of the work has been completed at this end, it is a shame that it cannot be surfaced ahead of the original plans. Given the proximity of the college and science park it makes a great cycle commuting route between Histon and this part of Cambridge. Certainly it would be great if it could be sorted for the Summer.

Mind you at the moment I usually see cyclists on the concrete tracks, they are so smooth that it takes much less effort than cycling along the track by the side, even where the track is somewhat better. So until buses start running I guess that cyclists will continue to use the tracks. They are acceptably wide - but you have to take care not to knock a pedal into them - you would come a nasty cropper. (Have an unpleasant fall!). It makes me wonder what the difference is in terms of effort to cycle on; the smooth concrete track, the very lumpy cycleway up to Histon and the somewhat smoother but with small potholes appearing bit beyond Histon. With no evidence to support it my guess is I would happily cycle 50% further on the smooth track and 25% faster. I would feel happier about the decisions made by our County council on our behalf if they move visibly lead from the front and were seen to use the facilities they put in place. Cycling needs to be encouraged and frankly gritty tracks do not encourage cycle commuting.

As I approached the area things were looking up. It was not too rainy and I was making reasonable progress despite the blustery wind. I passed a couple of spaces where previously I had to take to the concrete track - but sadly no - the route is still not passable by bicycle. Here is the first bit - too long to risk cycling in and it looked quite deep. You have to remember that when pedalling the foot drops quite slow - you can't freewheel through with the pedals at "quarter to three!. On my touring bike the pedals get quite low my foot at 10cm above the ground compared with 14cm above the ground on my MTB. The splodges in the sky are where rain landed on the lens. You can see that the wind was whipping up ripples on the water.


There are two almost clear bits here that I did cycle through. In this case I took the picture looking back towards Cambridge to avoid getting more rain on the lens of the camera. Because of the flooding the surface was unpredictable, I went quite slowly in a low gear to ensure I could maintain momentum and despite it being quite sludgy and with my pedals only 2cm above the water surface I got through unscathed. Not a risk when wearing waterproof cycling socks (and cycling clothes), but not something I would have risked if cycle commuting to work in work clothes.


Things were not looking too good - another bit of flooded cycleway - looking forward this time as the rain had subsided a little. Again this was too long to risk cycling through - you can see how soft the ground was from the muddy vehicle tracks along the edge.


The third impassable bit of cycleway - again looking backwards to avoid rain on the lens. On a sunny day I would have given this a go - but not on a cold windy day and certainly not if I had been on my way to work.


After crossing the viaduct over the great River Ouse I came across the last bit of the cycleway that suffers from the flooding before reaching the St Ives Park and Ride stop. It looks as if they have dumped some more grit onto the path both to re-compact the surface after the long period spent underwater and perhaps to raise it slightly to reduce the number of days it might be predicted to be under water. My cynical view is that as this is the first bit you reach from the St Ives end then it might have been done for political expediency. (That is with a small p - it does allow the walkers and dog walkers to access some of the route.) This is looking towards St Ives - and so into the rain, hence the odd looking smudges in the sky. I am going to have to clean the lens when I get back.


On my journey I passed a total 15 cycle commuters, in both direction, despite the flooding, although apart from two girls with one bike and not included in the count, they all used the concrete tracks. I would like to know what the intentions are with respect to the cycleway can we expect something of commutable quality or is it seen as a leisure route where intermittent availability is the norm. Was any attempt made to seek Sustrans help and cycle specific funding to create a path capable of round the year use as a commuter route? It seems that serious amounts of money have been made available - is indicated in this Cambridge News report on a project to build a cycle and pedestrian bridge over the Great River Ouse at St Ives. I am not suggesting that the money in the article be diverted - however it would seem that by treating cycling as a primary (first class) means of transport alongside the CGB then a significant route could have been created - what worries me is that in the name of expediency this second class route will actually end up as a third class path.

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