Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Grey days on the Guided Busway

Wednesday 2nd, February: At one time I used to cycle along the route of the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB) at least once a month, both to check out the changes during its construction and because it makes for quite a nice mid-distance cycle ride out of Cambridge. With my recent lack of cycling I though that with a new month - February maybe I should try it out. Mind you I was pretty sure about one thing - that the cycle path would still suffer from flooding up near St Ives.

Here is the Bike Route Toaster link - I've used a map produced previously, I did take the detour through the RSPB Fen Drayton nature reserve, but did not take that little kink where it says "byway to be explored". I took my long lens again, but it was a gloomy and grey day so I wasn't hoping for much. In the end I did take a few pictures, although not many of them were HDR multiple-exposure pictures. A zoom lens is harder to hold steady (100mm to 300mm which is comparable to 200mm to 600mm in old "35mm SLR camera" money. Since you can only really use fast shutter speeds in bright light and since a HDR composite can be made from up to 7 exposures over a range of times it gets even harder. I did take some multiple-exposure shots but with only three different exposures rather than 7. They were still a bit more blurry than usual (and that is saying something.

It was also quite windy when I set off. The wind was really more across my path, but generally against me on the way out and almost with me on the way back so it was not too bad. The wind did make it harder to hold my camera steady and of course made the trees move between exposures.

My first surprise was Gilbert Road (or Giblet Road as I think of it), work has started on improving the cycle-ability. This is not a road I tend to drive along too often and so it was a pleasant surprise that I did not find myself counting the number of cars in the cycle lanes. As you can see here red tarmac has been put down to delineate the cycle lanes on either side of the road and double yellow lines added to ensure they remain clear. From memory I believe that the cycle lanes will be advisory rather than mandatory (I stopped using my memory - hence the link). As I cycled up I did feel that it seemed "calmer" as you can see I got three cyclists in shot without trying. A couple of vehicles have been parked on the grass verge, but is does seem to be an improvement. The red tarmac is not very "bright" though, I guess there will be dotted lines along the edge of each cycle lane.


Further up Gilbert Road, at the Histon Road end the double yellow lines have yet to be painted and there were two cars parked at the side of the road. (Not illegally since there were no markings I presume.) In this picture you can also see how, as the cars near the junction the left turning cars encroach on the cycle lane. Again without trying to capture the problems of parked cars my picture also illustrates why cars parked along a road increase the danger for cyclists and pedestrians - they both block the view of and hide cyclists trying to get onto the road.


This car parked in the partially constructed cycle lane gives an idea of how wide the lanes are. - about the width of a Ka. It is a shame that this route does not also have a 20mph speed limit as cyclists can still feel intimidated by large vehicles whizzing by. In my experience cycle lanes sometimes have the effect of giving drivers "permission" to pass cyclists more closely than they might/should do when there are no markings. The Highway code indicates you should pass a cyclist with as much room as you would give a car (Highway Code Rule 163) However where there a cycle lanes my own experience is that this doesn't happen.

Along Newmarket Road in Cambridge there is an advisory cycle lane set within a bus lane, next to a normal lane, (near Garlic Row). I find that when cycling along here buses rarely give any additional room and seem to whizz by at such as close distance that the bike feels as if it is getting sucked into the bus. I now avoid this road when cycling - I think it is dangerous and the advisory cycle lane gives a very dangerous illusion of safety.


Talking about safety, one of the nice things about many Sustrans routes is that they often follow "off-road" routes or other paths where motor vehicles are generally prohibited, such as on the NCN51 route between Oakington and Longstanton. If you follow the link you can see that it is prohibited to motor traffic except for access. Although I do wonder whether the Google Streetview pictures were taken by a bicycle mounted camera - or did a Google Streetview car also transgress? (Did it do evil?) If you want to see law-breaking motorists in action then this is an easy place to spot them. Here is one - nine cars in total passed me as I cycled along the stretch of road, I didn't count the cars/vans that were heading that way but were outside the signs at either end that limit the access (or rather are supposed to limit the access). I did not pass any cyclists or pedestrians though!


It was too grey and I was battling the wind too much to stop and take pictures until I reached the CGB high-quality cycle path. There were no surprises the flooding is more extensive than it was before Christmas. As you can see in this picture, the lady and her dog took to walking along the concrete tracks and so dear reader did I - there looked to be no other way around. What a shambles this high-quality cycle path is.


I was sufficiently disenchanted that I didn't both to stop to take pictures of the other flooded parts of the cycle path, I was to busy trying to avoid falling in the water as I picked routes around them. As I was approaching the place where the CGB crosses over the Station/Over Road near Swavesey I noticed that the concrete infill looked remarkably clean and new and fresh so I hopped off my bike to take a picture.


A bit further along the concrete rails and their infill looked much weedier and tatty. I was standing just near the crossing on the previous picture and this was taken at a focal length of 300m (or maximum zoom.) It compresses the distances and highlights how the tracks do not look that flat when seen like this. The distance to the bridge from where I was standing was around 1.6Km (about a mile).


The same picture but taken with almost minimal zoom (114mm). You might notice that all the way along the route of the CGB there are laminated documents on display which indicated that the rights of way are vesting with the Cambridge County Council. I presume that this is part of the handover process as we inch closer to a working (workable?) CGB.


Here is a close-up - although not so close that you can read what is said.


I passed around 16 cyclists using the concrete tracks and 4 using the high-quality maintenance path. Which implies that if they are going to get buses running before fixing the flooding problems on the path then we will be without a complete route for some period of time. I also saw another reason why cyclists might prefer to use the concrete tracks. I noticed that at the various points where the CGB crosses a road, cyclists on the concrete tracks must have automatically triggered a change in the lights and got priority, whereas I had to stop and push buttons to get the lights to change when travelling along the high quality cycle path. There might be an opportunity for some budding entrepreneur to develop a device to allow cyclists to be sensed from a distance.

The last cycle ride was enjoyable, I seemed to be getting back into cycling again. This was not quite so enjoyable. Don't get me wrong I did enjoy the outing, but my brain kept reminding me how much slower I seemed to be going and how much more of a struggle it was than the last time I was cycling along the CGB. If I have been out on my bike I allow myself a glass of beer or cider with my supper. I felt I'd earned it and it was delicious this time, but I felt shattered and even fell asleep in front of the TV I was so tired. Ah well, it will get easier.

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