Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A not so sunny cycle to St Ives (Sustrans 51) and back on the CGB

After the unseasonal, but most welcome, warmth of the Ice-cream weekend the weather has returned to a more normal temperature - which is actually quite good, but seems quite cold in comparison. It was interesting that here in the Flatlands the change came around mid-day on Monday. For me Monday was a work day with a little bit of cycling thrown in - I had a lunchtime meeting in a near-ish village but I had some presentations that I am doing that needed writing. So the meeting was a good excuse to ride out and back. The meeting was in Reach at the Dyke's End - a great pub, especially on a sunny day when you can sit in the sheltered garden enjoy their home-brewed beer and great food and get some rays.

Just as I was ready to set off - only just on time as I had been getting carried away on ideas for my presentation, it occurred to me that I ought to slap a bit of sunscreen on as it was still very sunny. This made me late and so I had to "tank" along in non-cycling gear so as not to be too late, getting hotter and sweatier with each push of the pedals. The other problem was neither of us (who were meeting) had actually checked to see whether food was being served on a Monday and if you follow the pub link you will see that it was not. I had managed to keep up my pace and so was only a couple of minutes late as I came up to Reach - to find that the person I was meeting was driving towards me. We needed to find some where else, fortunately the village before Reach - Swaffham Prior has a pub - the Red Lion which serves food and fortunately for me, as I was cycling, it was open and serving food on a Monday. When you are followed by a car you feel that it is even more important to keep up a reasonable pace - so it was a fast cycle back to the Red Lion - in the end not a lot of distance - but faster than I normally cycle nowadays.

The Red Lion is a typical village pub (in my mind anyway) and one I visit from time to time - this time around it appears to have changed hands and appears to be owned by Batemans ( a brewing Company) and available as a Three Year Tenancy. I am sure it is pretty tough making a living from a village pub nowadays - but with the Church playing less of a role in people's daily lives where else acts as a nexus for the community? Good luck and lets hope that whoever takes it on can make it thrive and prosper for the benefit of the village. It might actually already be under a new tenancy - I did not ask when we were served as we had other things to discuss - so perhaps it should be good luck to the Tenant. Cambridge CAMRA is holding an Open Branch Meeting there on Tuesday 10th August.

So my plan for Tuesday was to work in the morning and evening and get out on my bike during the afternoon. Although I cannot resist referring to this piece of news: "Hundreds of cyclists fined for breaking rules of the road". The item talks about the many cyclists caught and fined for breaking the rules of the road with a quote from the Cambridge Cycling Campaign. As is often the case with news you don't always get everything you say printed. The quote looked a little blinkered in its one-sided view - the actual Press Release was a more measured and balanced view of the issues.

The Press Release started by highlighting the need for all road users to behave responsibly and then goes on to point out the problem of "anti-social behaviour by motorists" hitting the two hot-spots in a National Home Office Survey on Anti-Social Behaviour. The release mentioned one such issue being motorists parking in Cycle Lanes and referred to YouTube footage of a local cyclist being knocked off by a car from behind. Yet there had only been 5 ticket issued for motorists illegally parking in such lanes compared with 118 tickets to cyclists.

Frankly I believe that it is better to obey the law on a bicycle - it hurts a lot more to have an accident on a bike than in a car and therein lies the inequity. In vehicle/cycle interactions - the cyclist will generally come of worst in an accident so just as there is talk of cyclists damages being cut if they were not wearing a helmet then I feel that damages ought to be increased where the accident was caused by the motorist was at fault with an increasing scale for the degree of the fault.

However what I found really depressing was the tone of the comments left on the Cambridge News website at the end of the piece. When cycling and driving I often see people in vehicles jump red lights, try standing at the Cherry Hinton crossroads or at the lights where the Cherry Hinton Road meets Hills Road. Yes I agree that cyclists do it too, but cars/vans also do it all the time. It is the blinkered attitude of the motorists who commented on the website that makes cycling on the roads more dangerous than it used to be. Can we not just have enforcement of the law without fear or favour - all road users are subject to it. This means all the laws, speeding, illegal parking, parking on pavements, jumping red lights need to be enforced. So my suggestion is that a concerted effort to lift the general standards of driving/cycling of all road users would be helpful. This morning as I cycled near a school one parent stopped at a junction that was clear with no indication left or right and then allowed their little Herbert to jump out, holding up the traffic behind so they did not need to find somewhere safe to stop - that is just pure selfishness.

Whilst in "rant" mode I perhaps ought to pick up on the latest news on the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB) - "Anger over lack of progress on busway repairs". The report indicates that further physical work will be required on several issues including raising of the maintenance track. However more importantly there appears to have been a refusal to supply data by the contractor on the worst-case busway beam expansion due to heat. (They should have gone out to make measurements over the weekend - it was hot then.) I did pass two areas where there were workmen (working) on this visit to the CGB - one group seemed to be doing some ditching the other looked like it might have been drilling in the middle of the tracks (as part of the stability assessment). I am surprised that the contractual arrangements do not impose a greater sense of urgency on all parties though.

There were two reasons for choosing this route - it provides quite a pleasant and fastish run out and I had been looking at the Sustrans and OS maps and there appeared to be a slightly different route around Longstanton than the one I was aware of. Mind you I could not remember seeing any alternatives so thought I would check it out.

My route out of Cambridge followed Sustrans 51 through Girton and onto Oakington. This section of the route has a shared cycle/pedestrian path. Whilst not wide it is not too bad as there are not too many pedestrians using it and with care bicycles can pass each other. There are two main areas where you have to take care and which indicate how cycling is treated as a second class form of transport. The first problem area is where Park Lane forms a T-junction with the Oakington Road. Traffic on Oakington Road has priority - but the cycle path is on the right of the road and you have to give way to the side road (Park lane) as you can see on this Google Streetview link. At the pavement bend it is difficult to see whether cars are approaching along Park Lane and you don't have a very good view back along Oakington Road either.

The second problem area is near the end where Oakington Lane is now called Cambridge Road - although the cycle path is on the right hand side it finishes but does not leave any easy way for the cyclist to get back onto the left hand side of the road. There is a hint as a cycle track suddenly appears on the other side of the road - but no easy, safe way across. (Whilst proof-reading this I noticed I had muddled up left and right - sometimes they seem like arbitrary concepts to me!)

Mind you I took this photograph to highlight the pavement lighting that has been in use on this path for some time. These units appear to lie more flush with the pavement than those on the Sustrans 51 route the other side of Cambridge.


As I mentioned the OS and sustrans maps show a slightly different route out of Longstanton. I have annotated this OSM Cycle Map. At one scale the OS map has the Sustrans route detouring along the Over Road, whereas at a different scale it is shown as if it runs along a track slightly to the north and parallel with the road. This latter route is also shown on the Sustrans Map website. I was surprised to see that the data was not consistent on the OS maps I had assumed that they would share a common database with representations tuned to the scale being displayed. The difference implies that whilst the underlying data might be on a common database the Sustrans cycle path data is not). Sustrans also use the OS data as their underlying map (seen at a high zoom level), but I assume they retain their own data because they have the CGB cycleway shown as an alternate Sustrans 51 in use, whilst the OS map marks it as the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway but does not show any cycle way.

Interestingly although the OSM Cycle Map is not always up to date, in this matter they show the correct path and also show the CGB as a cycle route yet to be opened. There is a little section of CGB to the top right of this annotated map.

Longstanton S51.JPG

This is where I think they had hoped to have a cycleway. The current route runs on the road you can see in the picture. I think they were hoping to use the concrete track in the field and perhaps extend it. The road is a relatively new road, part of a by-pass and housing development for Longstanton. I wonder if developer's money (known as Section 106 or S106 and can be used to pay for this sort of thing) was used elsewhere or land negotiations got too protracted or it just got forgotten about.


Instead of following the route exactly I sometimes cycle through Fen Drayton Lakes which enters Fen Drayton from the other side to Sustrans 51. It has the advantage that it take you through the Reserve and the poor access track condition keeps cars from speeding along! I met two cars both travelling at less than 5mph, it is not a problem on a bicycle though. There was a nice view of the sail-less windmill across the Oilseed Rape fields. Listening to a science podcast I head the Oilseed rape referred to as Canola for American listeners. A quick check of Wikipedia and it appears that Canola is one of two cultivars of rapeseed (Brassica campestris) and the name derives from Canadian oil, low acid. This field looks to be at peak flower - elsewhere, on this route anyway, the flowers seem to be disappearing, a quick check implies it will not be harvested until Early August though and can get chemically dessicated to ensure even ripeness.


St Ives, not to be confused with the town of the same name in Cornwall has always struck me as a pretty and bustling market town alongside the River Great Ouse, but for some reason I have not really taken many pictures there or explored it. I have bought sandwiches at the Waitrose in the town a few times though. St Ives is approached by leaving the Sustrans 51 route just after crossing by the A1096 at a roundabout. I dislike crossing this road during rush hour, it is a dreadful place to cross for cyclists and pedestrians alike. You turn right onto London Road, a name which hints at previous days of "glory" but now the road has a "NO Entry at the Town bridge" sign greeting you and goes only a short distance in the other direction. The car parks nearby also seem to flood as well.

I have crossed this bridge (it is ok for bicycles) many times but not really stopped to look at it. There is a Chapel on the Bridge, one of only five examples in England. Also Wikipedia notes that the two arches on the left are rounded whilst the rest are arched. Apparently they were rebuilt after Oliver Cromwell blew them up in the English Civil War. The bridge was cleaned in 2001


After joining the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB) route I stopped to take a picture of the River Great Ouse (towards St Ives). It is crossed by a bridge built for the CGB, there were some issues with drainage apparently.


This is the bridge looking down towards St Ives, there seems to be grey plastic tape on the edges of the concrete channels - seems odd - perhaps to protect the edges during the building phase? There are also quite a few weeds poking up through the track near the bridge as well.


The view of the River Great Ouse looking towards Ely.


A fellow cyclist, he started using the concrete track after a short while. At this end, after all the flooding, in places the cycle track is either very squidgy because of all the soft mud, or very squidgy because they have dumped a load of loose gravel on top (to repair it!). In either case my advice is to be careful - it is very easy for the tyres to dig in and tip you off the bike. It is best to stay in a low gear and keep up moderate speed and pick a dry line or one without too much gravel on it. It is finally possible to cycle the route without washing your tyres in floodwater though and ABOUT TIME. Whilst cycling along the CGB, between 4pm and 5pm I counted 10 cyclists using the maintenance track and 23 using the concrete track. On the return journey there was a wind against me and at times I felt like switching to the concrete track (I didn't though!) Large chunks of the track are quite compacted, but near Oakington there are small potholes developing.


This field was past its peak flower level - although it is still fairly yellow.


From the same spot a view up-track towards St Ives. There is a Communications Mast on the left and Windmill on the right.


The same view without the Comms Mast.


As I mentioned the Oilseed Rape has passed the peak flowering - in this field it is noticeably so - although with the picture taken from this angle it still looks fairly yellow - but dotted around rather than a solid yellow.


Despite the weather only being seasonably warm rather than un-seasonably warm it was still very pleasant in Lycra shorts, t-shirt and sandals. I did notice that my drinks bottles remained cooler longer as the ice melted less slowly in them. I did not need any sunscreen though.

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