Thursday, March 31, 2011

Is the Cambridge Guided Busway clear for cyclists–what do you think!

Monday 28th March: I am not quite sure why but I ended up not cycling on Sunday, although I did do a bit of work then. As it happened I was out in meetings on Monday morning, but felt a bit under the weather and so decided not to cycle but to drive (arghh)  – just in case (the world fell out …). The good news was that I felt much better after lunch and decided that what I needed was to get some fresh air. I know it sounds like an excuse to cycle – but that comes tomorrow – the excuse that is. 

Although it wasn’t another month, because all the other byways and bridleways I’d been on were pretty dry I figured that I ought to go and check the high-quality cycle path alongside the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB) as that must be passable by now – surely.  Now that was an excuse for a decent leg-stretcher of a ride.  I rather like the CGB track, in concept anyway, as you cover a reasonable distance without worrying about traffic and weird cycle way street furniture and the twists and turns you seem to get.

Which got me thinking – there hasn’t been much in the press recently on the CGB.  So a quick look on the web – Cambridge County Council (CCC) has some news, but I guess it is not really new news. Here is the CCC busway page with, at the moment an update for the 31st of March.  Here is the report to be made to the Council on the 5th of April 2011. You can then check out the report – in Word format.

Essentially the Council has not received (or agreed) the completion documentation from BAM Nuttall, Apparently under normal circumstances a contractor would provide design and construction certificates throughout the course of the development as various stages are completed.  These certificates confirm that the works have been designed and built in accordance with the agreed specifications and to appropriate national standards. For some reason this did not happen in the case the the CGB construction. 

If my experience is anything to go by, digging up documentation from a couple of years ago can be quite challenging, especially if the people involved have moved onto other things. Having said that it would seem that most if not all of the documentation has now been submitted – but some clarifications are being sought on two certificates.

There is no further information on what happens next. The current CCC Busway webpage does mention the work to add a blacktop surface to the cycleway from Longstanton to Milton Road and on the Southern section and that at some unspecified time in the future the “entire” will be closed and the route will not be passable on some points on foot or bike as the guideway will be used in the surfacing.  That last bit implies that they either have some special vehicles or that they can run ordinary vehicles on it.

A quick look at the Cambridge Cycling Campaign (CCyC)  website suggests that the above work may be in April/May. It would certainly be helpful to get it available for cyclists to get in the habit of using it during the Summer months.

Back to this ride, for a change I headed out on the CGB and back via the NCN51 route. As far as I can see until the current flooding problems have been resolved it makes sense to continue maintaining both routes as alternate choices for NCN51 between Cambridge and St Ives. I am not quite sure I will be so positive about it when the buses start running – I’ll reserve judgement. Before I forget I should also mention that CCyC has published Cycling Vision 2016 – well worth a read – and don’t forget peak oil is not that far away. (Now perhaps that is an example of Big Society – CCyC – they certainly achieve results.)

Back to the ride it is 50Km /30 miles in length and whilst the buses aren’t running and when it isn’t windy it makes for a very pleasant cycle out into the countryside.  Thinking about it it would be nice to take a picnic and eat it somewhere around the Fen Drayton Lakes area. Here is the Bike Route Toaster link to the route.  You can even download it onto a GPS device. Although this particular route is well signposted and not very demanding. The only bit I don’t like is crossing the A1096 on the outskirts of St Ives.

This bit of the CGB runs alongside Histon. What intrigued me is the thought that buses using the CGB need a warning that a Guided Bus might be this point.  Of course what it really means is that there is a crossing, but since the bus drivers ought to know they are on the guided busway then surely just a sign indicating “crossing” would be sufficient? When I looked at the gap it surprised me that they had actually made a gap here. Most other paths that cross the busway require the “crossers” to clamber over the tracks. So why couldn’t more gaps have been built in?  It is a pretty short jump from one bit of the guide through the gap to the next bit.  I wonder what the standard practice will be for bus drivers. Will they be able to carry on without their hands on the steering wheel, or will they hold the wheel even when guided. Will they have to slow down here, for people crossing or because the gap requires it?

The gap is directional as well, one side is flared and the other isn’t. I wonder why they didn’t flare both sides, just in case they need to reverse the flow of traffic on one of the sides for instance.

There is quite a bit of grass growing up between the tracks here. Do they have a special grass cutting machine, or will the passage of buses keep the grass down?

This is the view up the track the path along the left will be black-topped – that will make this a good fast cycle-commuting route. Judging by the way the current loose surface has two smooth “ruts” it is already well used.

This is the cycle path alongside Oakington Airfield where Northstowe is to be built. The blacktop will continue up here to Longstanton.

After crossing Station Road (between Longstanton and Willingham – check out the WW2 spy story on the Willingham page) the track passes through burrowing countryside.  Just to be clear I was cycling on the maintenance path alongside, but I stopped to take this picture of some burrowing activity. Maybe it is that WW2 spy! This picture was taken looking back down the track towards Cambridge.

The view up the track. Here there seems to be less vegetation growing between the concrete “rails” – I wonder why – chemical warfare perhaps. the bridge ahead has a Comms Tower to one side and a windmill on the other – not quite visible from this angle.

It wasn’t long before I reached the Lakes area on the outskirts of St Ives. This is the bit that is prone to flooding.  Although I can’t help feel that the worst flooding occurs on the maintenance path.  Since the path serves as both a cycle and walking path and an access/maintenance path for the busway are the any requirements on it being clear before buses are allowed to run.  If for instance there was a crash it the path were badly flooded then ambulances/fire engines and police cars would struggle to access the area.

I was surprised that there was still a pretty large puddle, although as you can see you can stick to the path and still get around it.  The gravel on the left is a bit loose though – not nice for cycling along. With any luck the rest of the cycle way will be like this.

At this point there are some lovely views of the lakes area.  For those people commuting from St Ives to Cambridge (or vice versa) it will certainly be a picturesque journey.

The next puddle – yep it looks as if the route is passable now.  Mind you it also looks as if someone has been putting down a load of large gravel  - you have to pick your route when cycling on this stuff – it ain’t pleasant.

What surprises me is that even where there aren’t any particular dips long-term puddles  have formed. They have also been hanging around for months.

It looks like I spoke (well thought really) too soon. This puddle has not yet dried out and is still effectively blocking the path.  I went around to the left, it was ok but gets very muddy when wet.  If you look on the track there is a person walking, another cycling and a dog. Clearly they’re not convinced that path is high-quality.

The path got even worse. The is a long-term long puddle which has left behind some pretty soft sticky mud.  I got past the first one, but took to the bank on the left for the second bit of puddle.  My wheels then sank in and the bike bogged down. I had to get off, heave it out and walk along the bank – not nice when you are wearing sandals. Thanks Mr CCC a high quality cycle path with in built mud-pack treatment. How can it have been possible for this cock-up to occur eh?

In all I saw around 15 cyclists using the CGB route – 2 on the high-quality path and the rest on the concrete tracks.

At St Ives I cycled through into the centre and then looped back onto NCN51 via the London Road and stuck to the route the whole way back to Cambridge. Between Fenstanton and Fen Drayton there are quite a collection of nurseries (plant-growing). I also passed this, as yet, unused Phone Box Gallery.  It looks like it could do with a bit of TLC as well as some art.

Fen Drayton is a picturesque village on the edge of the lakes.  When I was a boy and we were about to embark on a long car journey my parents would buy me and my brother an I-spy book – “I-Spy on a car journey” for instance which encouraged children to look around and spot features – and you get point for them. So you might get points for spotting an AA box or and old style road sign. Which is why this reminds me of the I-spy book – it is just the sort of old-style road sign that you would get a few points for.

Alongside the Fen Drayton nature reserve is a field that had a tall very green crop growing in it. It looked a bit bamboo like, although I am not really sure what it was. Well it has been bailed up – a strange time for baling, but then it isn’t your normal straw.

Such is the power of my newer photo filing system – there is no system except they get lumped under the particular place/destination, this is the field.  The tall green grass to the left of the road is the what it looked like in the Summer last year.

I stopped to take the picture after this and a cyclist came by so I took his picture first. Interesting to see that the CGB cycleway has not lured him away – it kind of tells you something really.

The picture I stopped for; the Windmill, Comms Tower and Water tower.  The first two straddle the route of the CGB. This was also my day for spotting road kill. My wife had mentioned seeing a hare running across a field the day before, today i saw a dead hare, fox and badger all dead by the side of (different) roads.  Humm, not really the way I want to see wildlife.

Talking about bloomin’ drivers, the NCN 51 route goes along a road around Oakington Airfield. This “rat-run” is banned to motor traffic (except for emergency vehicles and according to the Cambridge News piece taxis, mopeds and PSVs.)  I have just had a look at the sign in an old picture – the exceptions are:  “access, buses, taxis, mopeds and invalid carriages”. This picture was taken on the 23rd July 2010.

This time around I stopped briefly for a drink and a few energy giving jelly babies and realised just how bad this no-through road can be. In total there were over 60 cars and vans that used the road. I wonder how many met the exemption conditions. here are a few of the vehicles.

I was amused to see this sign warning drivers that there were going to be Toads crossing that night. To be honest I don’t hold out a great deal of hope for the toads, the motorists really don’t seem to give a toss. Including the 5 whizzing by in this picture.

The other thing that I noticed as I cycled along the shared-use path between Oakington and Girton was that it was a busy cycle commuter route. I passed 20-25 cyclists heading out of Cambridge, all but one were using the road.  Now I can hear some car drivers mumbling on about ungrateful cyclists who should £$%^$ know better.  What it tells me is that those cyclists probably feel safer because they do not have to pass umpteen driveways all where cars are liabilities liable to pop out.

I was alright on the shared-use path though and have to say thoroughly enjoyed my leg-stretcher- roll on Summer.

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