Friday, March 4, 2011

A Loop around Cambridge - part 2, Cyclestreets route Bar Hill to the Science Park - visited

Tim's comment on a Post on whether a novice cyclist could use the CGB to get from Bar Hill got me thinking about the whole challenge of cycle navigation versus car navigation. Whether driving or cycling I don't use route planning websites to get around locally because I have lived in the Cambridgeshire area for nearly 30 years and have some fixed opinions about how to get around. One of those fixed opinions is that it is quicker for me to cycle to the railway station in the rush hour than to drive. If I cycle to the railway station then there are several routes I take which generally avoid the busy roads, because busy roads are noisy and polluting (pdf).

If you follow the last link and go to the Pollution heading - "noise from road traffic affects 30% of people in the UK (EPA)" and from the World Health Organisation - "Emissions from car exhausts are responsible for more deaths than road accidents." Indeed the UK Department for Transport estimates that "Air pollution reduces UK life expectancy by 7-8 months with a health cost of up to £20 billion each year."

I do use Route planning sites in the Cambridge area when heading somewhere on my bike I do check out the quality and availability of the nearest cycle parking if I am heading somewhere I haven't visited before. As I have reported before cycle theft is a big problem in Cambridge and it pays to be careful. I use a Website called Cyclestreets which has its origins in a Journey Planner and Photomap launched by the Cambridge Cycling Campaign in June 2006. The site is currently in Beta and and seeking feedback prior to its official launch. The Photomap shows a map with various icons to represent bicycle related matters and you can click on them to see photographs which in the main are supplied by users of the system (crowdsourced).

It is possible to register for additional features, but up until a couple of minutes ago I did not have an account. (When the system was migrated from its Cambridge Cycling Campaign roots I seemed to have some problems migrating my account and couldn't add pictures. I have now created an account that seems to work so I shall also be able to contribute to the excellent work.).

When I first started cycling around London (I used to commute there by train 2 days a week) I used a TFL route planner, but in addition got my wife to laminate a map for me to carry around as well as I found that it was easy to lose my way when cycling at night as the landmarks no longer looked so familiar. The route suggested was quite pleasant, but not so easy to find the first few times and I ended up taking a simpler but busier route. Perhaps I need to grow a bigger brain, however I find cycle navigation can be more of a challenge than car navigation. In general roads and signs are set up to make it easy for drivers to get from place to place and let's face it we tend not to be worried about the shortest route in a car. I am much more interested in shorter more peaceful routes on my bicycle and cycle-specific signage can be patch at the best of times and totally misleading at others.

Once I had my basic route sorted I started to explore variations - it was quite exhilarating cycling through London in the evening. I never found the traffic threatening, just noisy. Some of the road were also in poor condition for cycling as well. I used to cycle between King's Cross and a street near Green Park which was a lot shorter than I had realised compared with the Tube journey.

When exploring I use a combination of approaches, I generally check out the Sustrans map of the area to see what situation is with their cycle routes. If I haven't been somewhere before then Sustrans routes are always a good bet - although they are not always suitable (IMHO) for skinny-tyred racing bikes however on my touring bike with 25mm tyres I have yet to come across a Sustrans route that was unacceptable. Although that is not to say there can be some short local difficulties on paths. For instance the Lodes Way route can be unpleasant in places, especially when they were working on the new cattle grids in Wicken Fen. If I plan to cycle a long way I pay attention to possible route issues, but exploring does mean taking the rough with the smooth.

I cycled from Hull to Cambridge over two days and for that stuck essentially with the Sustrans 1 route and mapped the route onto my Garmin Edge 605 where I showed it as a route overlay rather than to provide turn-by-turn instructions. At the time I had a choice of using BikeRouteToaster (BRT) or BikeHike, I chose BRT because it allowed "auto-routing" based upon the OSM Cyclemap data. When I say auto-routing I mean it would find a path between two mouse clicks on points chosen by me I have never used full auto-routing to pick a complete cycle ride. (Whereas I do that in a car.)

Regular readers will know I have stuck with BRT ever since. Although my Hull to Cambridge routes pre-dated my publishing of route maps on BRT. At the time one lesson I learnt and it is still true, none of the maps can be relied upon 100%. - not even the OS maps. But that's part of the fun of exploring. There were times I had to check the OSM Cycle Map against the OS map when I was uncertain about the reliability of the data - that's when Where's The Path (WTP) was invaluable. WTP allows you to show two maps side by side with an OS map alongside one of a choice that includes - OSM Cyclemap, 1930's OS, 1940's OS and Satellite.

The trip was great fun and I covered around 200 miles staying in Boston in the middle of the two days. The mapping onto my GPS worked really well and just as importantly let me know how much cycling I was in for. The hardest bits of navigation tended to be in the towns - Hull - especially when the NCN route I thought I was following had been tweaked. I found it really useful finding the hotel in Boston though. At the end of the day when you are tired cycling around a busy town is not pleasant - so being "directed" straight through was great.

The other form of cycle exploring I like to do is checking out routes along byways and bridleways. When I am planning a route I have not cycled before I tend to make sure that there is a balance between byways/bridleways and tarmac roads. Some of those paths can be quite challenging and the surfaces can change dramatically with the weather. On one path between Soham and Wicken there was so much mud that my wheels clogged right up and the Speedometer sensor got ripped off. WTP tends to fit the bill well as I can use the Satellite view to get a better sense of the route. The only snag is that WTP can only serve a certain number of the OS map web pages per day and so sometimes it runs out. I then use Streetmap to check out road names and things when I write about my ride in a post at the end of the day. Mind you I do use WTP to check out the historical links of some routes, in particular ones that follow old railway lines using the 30s and 40s OS maps.

This is the entire route I cycled, with this part of the Post starting at Dry Drayton

So as you can see, I use a rag-bag of approaches, but I very rarely use A to B auto-route planning for cycle rides. In fact the London route has been the only one to date. When I read Tim's comment a route sprang to mind, shown in yellow on the map below. That doesn't mean I would always go that way, but from memory it seemed to me to be a reasonable route. That got me thinking, what other routes might there be and why not give CycleStreets a try.

I picked a somewhat random start point in Bar Hill and an end point in the Science Park and had a look at what came out. Cyclestreets seems to keep all routes automatically which is rather neat, it saves faffing around saving them and it certainly makes it easier to share them. It produces three possible routes; the fastest, the quietest and a balanced route and here is the link. You can see it also produces a wealth of information with estimated journey times, turn by turn directions and will also output GPS information. Where pictures exist it will also show them along with the turn-by-turn directions.

It might not look it but Bar Hill is probably one of the worst places in terms of being cycle-isolated. .It is basically a large housing estate set around a hill with a large Tesco Supermarket along with some industrial units (including Domino Printing Sciences and Cambridge Optical Company, although I could not find a website for the latter). According to Wikipedia the population is around 4,000 and the name derives from the Toll bar/gate on the Roman Road it was built along. It has its own website and is 40 years old. The village lies on the edge of the infamous A14 road, there are only two possible road routes out of Bar Hill reached from the same roundabout, the A14 and the B1050 to Longstanton.

The A14 is both a haulage route between the Midlands and the East Coast ports and a major commuter route into Cambridge. There are frequent accidents and hold-ups and until recently plans were being made to improve it at a cost of £1.4bn, these are now on hold. The trouble, in my view Bar Hill is road-locked, there are only two pedestrian friendly routes out of Bar Hill, one is a shared-use path to Dry Drayton and the other is a footpath to the Lolworth a small village on the other side. I don't know about Cambridge I reckon bar Hill needs a cycling campaign, urgently.

Why am I saying all of this - well two reasons Bar Hill is a pretty difficult place to cycle from and the Cyclestreets suggestions were both different to the route I had in mind. I have cycled along the A14, but I can't imagine doing it ever again, not around here anyway. It is very busy, there are a lot of lorries and it is very noisy. Indeed a cyclist who lived in Bar Hill was tragically killed on the A14 near Bar Hill in a collision with a lorry (and yes he was wearing a fluorescent yellow jacket, helmet and had two red flashing lights). If you follow the link to the route you will see that there is a banner indicating feedback was received about the route. I commented that I would not recommend the A14 to any cyclist at this point. I received two replies very quickly - this is a live site run by cyclists so full marks for responsiveness. The challenge is how to flag and differentiate roads like the A14 versus say the A11, a road I have cycled along regularly and felt safe doing so.

The second route interested me - it was along a bridleway I have not cycled along, despite exploring routes in the area for the last several years. Which is why I though I would give it a go.

Bar Hill to the Science Park routes Abbt.jpg

This is Dry Drayton - there High Street (a no-through road) is to the right just beyond the yellow double decker bus (a school bus). That is the way to the Bar Hill Cycleway so it is only a no-through road to motor traffic.


This is the Oakington Road, which is the way I would have chosen to cycle along on the way from bar Hill through to the Science Park.


This time around I was heading for Bar Hill in order to check out the other Cyclestreets route. Just before the Bar Hill Cycleway between dry Drayton and Bar Hill was a "tree stump" guard celebrating St David's Day. There is a Bridleway to the right and shared-use path to the left


The path is not wide but the surface is fine, just beware the anti-motorcycle posts set across the Cycleway in several places. I wouldn't like to get a trailer bike through them and it is easy to go whizzing down the slope towards them.


The route suggested out of Bar Hill heads out towards Longstanton. There is no provision for cyclists - you share the road and then after crossing the A14 you turn off towards Hazlewell Court (as it appears on the OS map, but New Close Farm Business Park on the OSM Cycle map). It is the first right turn and heads towards some offices along a concrete road. .It is not clear to me quite what status the "road" has and you do end up cycling through the middle of an office complex - although think converted farm buildings. The concrete path continues although the route itself stops at the next hedgerow which turns out to be the Bridleway you are aiming for. The route forward does look as if it might somehow reach the Dry drayton Road, but there are lorry trailers parked along it which suggests the owners discourage its use..


This is the view from the Bridleway back towards the New Close Farm Business Park, they way I had just cycled.


It was not totally obvious (to me anyway) that I had reached the bridleway, but I set of up the edge of the field, which looked as if it was used by four-wheeled vehicles where I reached the left bit of the bridleway that runs parallel to the A14. This is it looking West. It turns right a bit along and heads up to Longstanton and appears as Wilson's Road on one of the various maps. The OS map shown by WTP does not show the Bridleway off to the Dry Drayton Road. If you use the Cambridge Country Council rights of way map and search for Oakington you will see that there is a bridleway heading to the Dry Drayton road, but stopping short at a small stream! The bridleway is designated as 168/9, Path No 9 in the parish of Oakington.


This is the bridleway in question. Judging from the gravel surface it has been used as a path in the past and perhaps only recently been recorded on the Rights of Way Map. There is a new gate and access for horses leading onto the path.


Just for completeness that is the bit of the bridleway I cycled up from the concrete path on, again looking back down it. It wasn't the easiest of route - a lumpy grass track. Perfectly passable, but lumpy and quite hard work.


This is the spot where the bridleway stops, according to the CCC Rights of Way Map, although someone has gone to some trouble to put in a rather good bridge to allow travellers to cross the stream. This bit was again not the most pleasant of surfaces, fine for a bit of exploring, but not a path I would really want to cycle along as a commute, especially in the dark.


This is a close-up of the path I'd just cycled along - see there is a bit of gravel there, but it is a lumpy. Mind you bridleways are rights of way for cyclists, but there is no duty to make them particularly cycle-able.


This is the missing link between the new bridge and the Dry Drayton Road, it emerges just by Poplar Villas. There is a Bridleway sign on the verge as well. On the Streetview link you can see the path, but there is not a sign.


Here are Poplar Villas and I was right the road is a bit of a rat-run between the A14 and Oakington from where you can get to various places in and around Cambridge.


The cars whizz by in both directions. Having said that I did not feel under pressure as I cycled up the road towards Oakington all the cars that overtook me gave me space. I would imagine that the rat-run is tidal. There is a gravel path alongside the road which almost reaches Oakington so it would be possible to put in a shared-use path. However it seems that Bar Hill has been left as an island and no real attempt has been made to make it a bit more cycle-able.


So there you have it. After turning onto the NCN11 shared-use path and then up the Park Lane Cycleway to the CGB it was all pretty uneventful. So using Cyclestreets has shown me a new place to cycle. However to be honest I think that if I lived in Bar Hill I would probably use the Dry Drayton route to get to the Dry Drayton Road. It would probably be a bit noisier, but it would be quicker and easier to cycle. It is a shame as Bar Hill is crying out for more non-motor-vehicle ways to get out of Bar Hill.

It also shows how difficult it is to create an auto-routing system for cyclists. I have to say Cyclestreets is pretty damn good, but it can't make up for the crappy cycling infrastructure we have to put up with here in the UK, even this close to Cambridge.

Just for the record I passed 5 cyclists on the CGB section I cycled along and all of them were on the concrete tracks. I also found some of the light-controlled crossings to be a bit weird, it was not always easy to work out what signals indicated whether you could cross or not when on foot or cycling. No wonder cyclists take their chances.


  1. I too find bicycle navigation a facinating subject. One of the best bicycle routing sites I have found is the OSM based with its very flexible bicycle routing options. It comes up with different routes to Cycle Streets so is often worth a look. Unfortunately the placename search can fail but pesist and you will be rewarded.

    Re the bridleway you found. It is quite new, the bridge was put in last year and was part of the Northstowe project. The PDF below, shows that this bridleway was one of many being joined to create a route parallel to the A14 from near Swavesey parallel with the A14 as far as Girton. Only the part you went on has been completed. The rest are probably on hold.

    See map on page 42 in the PDF:

  2. Hi Cottenham Cyclist,

    Thanks for the routing website it looks very flexible. I tried it last night on the Bar Hill to Cambridge Science Park route and it picked the route I would have chosen. I tried it again this morning and it was not working though.

    Thanks also for the link to the Northstowe document, it is good to see some attempt to reclaim old routes. It also seems to be moving away from the approach used with Bar Hill - a virtual motor-way locked village.

    Whilst I have nothing against horse-riders and indeed Lodes Way demonstrates how a route can be suitable for mixed-use I do wonder whether there is too much emphasis on cheap bridleways for a small number of users, versus slightly more expensive paths suitable for a larger number of cyclists, push-chairs and wheel chairs. But I am biased.