Tuesday, July 6, 2010

As I was cycling to St Ives I caught the Guided Busway Back

I know I've used a similar title before but it is true. I've been catching up on a few miles (or kilometres) today - partly because I didn't get out yesterday and partly because this week and last week I've been involved in things that make it a bit harder to cycle. I've also been enjoying getting out on my touring bike and pedalling along. It is easier to go longer distances and the more stream-lined cycling position means that I can kid myself that the wind is not so much of a problem. (My Longstaff touring bike has drop-handlebars whilst my Marin Hybrid has flat bars.)

First a bit of news that I think typifies the issues we face today. "Too young to cycle to school", a BBC News report discussing the issues that a School has threatened to report parents for allowing their children of eight and five to cycle to school unaccompanied. They cycle on pavements and have to cross one road - where there is a a Lollipop person. In general we make judgements based upon our perceptions, as humans were do not have time to make evidence-based decisions, unless the evidence is fed to us on a plate. The trouble is what we might consider as evidence - newspaper reports - are really nothing of the sort - they are "what it say on the tin" news. So we have a regular diet of the horrors that can befall us. I read about cyclists involved in hit and run accidents and empathise - many times I have had motor vehicles overtake me with inches to spare or pull out in front of me. does this put me off riding on roads - yes. But, does it give me the information to decide what are the risks that I am taking - NO.

For a long time modern society has considered car ownership to be an important reflection of status and very few people are immune. I am a committed cyclists, I cycle more miles than I drive and yet I am not immune. When I bought my last car I did not need it, I wanted it. And yes I rationalised it - I only use it when I need it, it has the space to carry my bikes, as a 4x4 it can take me to interesting places to cycle - but all these are really just ways of excusing my conscience. The car is one of the pillars of the "class war" - how we demonstrate our ranking in the hierarchy of the pack. It becomes our travelling "castle", our territory.

What does this mean - well, in my view it means that there is huge pressure to denigrate anything that knocks the "right to drive a potentially lethal metal box". So cyclists are seen as an impediment to the right of drivers to free and uninterrupted passage. Yet it is the car that creates most of the problems. If I am out cycling on the road between 3pm and 4pm you only have to look at the chaos at school kicking out time caused by the number of people driving to pick up their children. Are we so time poor that we cannot walk to and from school with our children? Or is this another example of status display? Yet we have a problem with rising levels of obesity - so the evidence would suggest that children should be getting more exercise not less. Stuff the right to drive, what about the rights of residents near the school to a bit of peace and quiet, what about the right to walk or cycle without having to cross busy roads. Enough - rant off.

Actually one last point - I did read that RoSPA (Royal Society for the Prevent of Accidents) has the mantra "as safe as necessary" not "as safe as possible". I agree with the distinction - and the focus of increasing safety should first focus on reducing the necessity. For instance rather than focus on making cyclists wear helmets we should focus on what makes it necessary - er motor vehicles.

One of the problems with cycling off-road and on country lanes a lot is you "forget" how aggressive car drivers can be and how to assert oneself on the road. So there is nothing like a bit of mile-munching-nibbling on roads to re-awaken the instincts that help keep you safe amongst the traffic.

Having said all that I started my ride cycling alongside the River Cam on Sustrans 11 - it is a fairly flat track, picturesque and during the week not very busy. Which means it is quite a fast way out of Cambridge - just a pity that it does not go further (that leg of Sustrans 11 that is). There was a train coming at the level crossing next to Waterbeach Railway Station - so I took a picture of the train taking the strain - the car park was packed full with cars parked on the grass verge alongside. It is good to see the train being used - it is not so good to see that cycling to the station is not an attractive enough proposition.


As I have mentioned before I tend to take fewer photographs when cycling on the roads as I stop less. I did stop in Willingham for a drink by the Church and took a picture of the graveyard. Although what I first noticed was that the Horse Chestnut trees here had been attacked by the Horse Chestnut Leaf miner. The tree and leaves to the left belong to an affected Horse chestnut tree. This is really devastating the area. The road from Willingham to Earith (B1050) was not the most pleasant in terms of traffic although the road surface was not too bad. I was probably cycling at around 18mph and maintaining a position reasonably in the middle of the lane (actually left-middle) consequently most cars waited for a gap before over-taking me. There were still one or two that felt it was acceptable to "squeeze" by at speed. I generally then wave my right arm to indicate that they should give some space.

Give their poor driving they probably don't bother much with their rear-view mirrors and so don't actually see my signals. I do find though that if a car overtakes me too closely the one behind generally gives me more room - I like to think that they can see that it was obviously bad driving right in front of them and they realise that cars/vehicles need to leave more room.


The road from Earith to St Ives (A1096), although faster is also slightly wider and there were fewer overtaking issues. Although I did have a small van pass me with around 12"/30cm to spare. I detoured off the main road through Needingworth, not to avoid cars, just because it is quite a pleasant village. I noticed a van parked by the side of the road - the driver was speaking on the phone. It seemed familiar. Later on the way out of the village it passed me with inches to spare - that's why it was familiar it had done it before. It was a pity that there were not some traffic lights to hold it up I would have then been able to give the driver some feedback on his poor driving style. I took the main road route around St Ives, very busy not pleasant, but the traffic does not move terribly fast as it has various roundabouts to negotiate.

On entering the St Ives Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB) I stopped to admire the car-park. This one has gradient problems and there could be flooding issues. I am surprised how many streetlights have been put in. I guess that they are concerned that car-park users would not like it if it were too dingy so a whole lot of energy gets burnt in the interests of perceived safety. (Or will do when it is in use.)

Cyclists are obviously a hardier breed - they don't need any lighting on the shared use path.


The section of the CGB at the St Ives end that suffered from flooding (at its worst there were seven flooded areas of path) is now dry. However to fix it loose chippings have been dumped and there are still deep dried-mud ruts in places. It is passable, but you have to keep your wits about you and follow the cycle tracks to ensure you get a reasonable cycling surface. It is ok with care and attention in the light - but I would hate to cycle it at night without some powerful lights. Once out of the flooding area (around the lakes) the surface is actually pretty good down to Histon.

The last time I used the cycle way I was amazed how poorly connected the village of Over is. They have a ropy bridleway, a plank bridge across a ditch to the CGB and then nothing on the CGB to indicate there might be a crossing. At this end of the CGB there seems to be frequent crossings for the benefit of visitors to the Lakes. These crossings are well signed and if you look closely you can see that there is a temporary interruption in the concrete track so the crossing is flat. I wonder if the bus driver has to grab the wheel at this point - just in case. In fact do the bus drivers hold the wheel whilst on the CGB or do they let go. If they let go do they get a warning when the track ends? Are there speed limits on the CGB at these crossing points?


As I was taking pictures a car passed by to demonstrate the crossing. See how weed free the tracks are.


The next crossing down. Notice how there are posts across the shared-used path with a small amount of (I hope) reflective material They are to stop vehicles turning onto the path - they are also going to be traps for unwary cyclists at night I think. So we have a County Council keen to see helmeted cyclists but apparently safety can get stuffed when it comes to a cheap way to uphold the law. Now I realise that it is in my interests as a cyclist to keep vehicles off the shared use path (with the exception of maintenance vehicles - or not!) but it does strike me as odd. The thing that will save cyclists is the whiter "cycle track" that has worn with regular use, which will stand out when cycling at night. There are no reflective strips on the backs of the signs and posts either. I think that these posts could really do with a lick of fluorescent paint. Or perhaps the assumption is that no-one will cycle along in the dark - there will be no winter cycling commuters. This does not really seem to be how to encourage healthier modes of transport. I feel that sometimes these decisions are made by people who have little concept of what cycling is about and how to genuinely encourage more cyclists.


As I stopped at the next crossing a cyclist happened by. I'll tally the numbers of cyclists on and on the path I passed at the end of the Post - but this guy was in the majority.


The same crossing - but as an HDR picture for comparison. Without the cyclist though - he couldn't balance in one place for long enough.


Yet another proper crossing - the CGB is riddled with them, until you get to Over. By the looks of things the route to the left is a footpath towards Over. I must have a look at it the next time -perhaps this could be developed as a decent route from Over to the CGB. From the looks of things there is another plan bridge to cross a river netween the CGB and Over.


I noticed that there appeared to be some burrowing in the infill between the Concrete Tracks and that there were a bunch of mounds that had been "built" alongside the track. My guess is that they were built to attract the rabbits away from the track - here is a picture of them. I was looking back towards St Ives, it is near Longstanton.


I cycled along a bridleway out of Histon towards Westwick a few days ago and took pictures of the line of Horse Chestnut trees. I mentioned that two had died as a result of the onslaught of Leaf Miner (and perhaps canker?). I was wrong - here they are three trees have succumbed so far.

I forgot to mention the concrete tracks looks as they have been weeded up at the St Ives end. My assumption is that they have used chemical warfare to get rid of the weeds - but I could be wrong. This end of the track the weeds are still around but appear to have died down a bit - not enough rain perhaps.


Some more cyclists on the - this time, unusually two on the shared path, one on the concrete track. See how the cyclists stick to the lines worn into the path. It is the safest line as the gravel gets swept off. (You can also see how the track is weedier at this end.)


I have to say that I find the CGB is a great route for cycling, it has some interesting places to visit and it makes for a useful return route when I have been exploring. It makes it easier to cycle a bit further afield. as it provides a fast, traffic free and direct route. You know I almost hope that the buses don't get to run until next year. (Not really - it would stick in my craw that so much money would get wasted.) It does irritate me that there was not a bit more imagination when it came to provisioning the route for cyclists though.

The tally by the way, I met 50 cyclists travelling along the concrete tracks and 16 on the shared use path from St Ives to Milton Road.

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