Sunday, May 22, 2011

Over and under the CGB (for ‘tis closed)

Wednesday, 18th May: Another few days where the daily distance on my bicycle was close to zero. Well 1-2Km or around a mile a day. When I pop out to the shops I do cycle the long way – but there is a limit to how much I can extend the ride to the shops and back by. By the middle of the week I think I had saved up enough time, by not having to commute, to nip out for a ride, the advantage of working from home.

So where to go? – I didn’t have the luxury of oodles of time and I wanted to cycle rather than plan a route.  Under other circumstances I would have probably headed out towards St Ives, out via NCN51 and then back along the cycle track alongside the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB). Whilst they have been dithering around with the development of the CGB, which is now around two year late, cyclists and walkers have been making use of it (for the more complete story see

The development of the CGB does seem to be in the final stages, it has been handed over by the Contractors – BAM Nuttall to the Cambridge County Council (CCC). After finishing there was a 28-day period for the Contractor to fix any defects. That period has expired and the CCC has appointed a new Contractor – Jackson Civil Engineering to fix the problems which in theory get charged back to BAM Nuttall. Part of the issue is that BAM Nuttall and the CCC dispute the seriousness of the defects and how they ought to be fixed. Apparently under the terms of the contract BAM Nuttall have also incurred some sort of penalty for the late delivery.

The CCC put out a press release announcing the appointment of new contractors, which indicates that there will be work on: the River Great Ouse viaduct to fix a water leak problem,  the St Ives P&R car park to minimise flooding and to adjust the gaps on the concrete track beams to prevent damage in hot weather. There is no mention of the problems of the cycle track flooding up near St Ives though, or fixing it. There is also a news item in the Cambridge News – “Busway defect repairs could result in August opening”. This basically says the same, but also mentions that BAM Nuttall was fined £10.8million for the delays. I am not sure this is quite accurate though – it is not really a fine, I think it gets withheld from the final payments.

It will be interesting to see quite what gets agreed in the final analysis in terms of the overall cost of the CGB to the CCC. Things are rarely as black and white as they might seem and I am still worried that the flooding cycle track seems to have been forgotten.

The upshot is that the CGB has been closed – before it has even opened. Although the good news is that part of the reason for closing it is that there will be a tarmac surface on the Southern Section and on the Northern Section from Milton Road to Swavesey. Originally the latter section was only going to reach Longstanton. I still think it is a pity and short-sighted not to have sorted out a decent tarmac surface for the cycle track right up to St Ives in the first place though

I had seen a picture of some work taking place on the CGB on Cyclestreets, so I thought I would go and have a look for myself. As I couldn’t cycle along it I thought I would cycle over it.  I did wonder whether it would be “so closed” that even the byways and bridleway across the route would be barred. I am not quite sure of the legalities though of barring rights of way and would have thought that notices would have had to have been published in advance.

This is the route I took in the end and here is the BRT Link. It is around 53Km/33 miles and crosses the CGB seven times, not including the “cycle by” on the Milton Road end or the “visit” on the Park Lane Cycleway.

The view from Milton road – barriers and clear evidence of some sort of activity.

As well as a roller it looks like they have a Portaloo (or should that really be a Portable Sanitation Unit) there as well – they must mean business.

After  a visit to confirm that I really couldn’t cycle along the CGB I went up the Kings Hedges Road. Although there is some sort of provision for cyclists this rates as one of the worst examples in my book.  As you head out, the cycle lane on the left side of the road pops off and on the pavement. This Streetview link shows one section of that road – as it leaves the shared-use pavement and heads back to the road – where the cycle lane is blocked by a white van. This Streetview link shows where the cycle lane leaves the road to join the pavement. I wonder what Design manual that came from. On thing that did surprise me was that when I had a look for Design Guides I couldn’t believe how many there are (CTC list) especially given how crap so much cycling infrastructure is. It would seem that too many councils confuse writing about it with really doing it. The sad thing is that there is so much money wasted duplicating guidelines. I couldn’t resist adding this link to0: TFL’s Design Standards of Cycling – its glossary has two pages including the definition of x-height.

Actually I think that that is why “they" want us to wear helmets because the cycling infrastructure is so dangerous. Cyclists do not want bumps and ridges to negotiate – they are dangerous. Cyclists do not want random poles in the cycle lanes – they are dangerous. Cyclists do not want sharp turns with pedal height posts….

I try not to cycle along the King’s Hedges Road it annoys me too much, but of course the CGB is closed. It gets better when you get to the bit around Orchard park. I used the Cycleway by the CGB spur which was not closed and is pretty good.

I stopped to take a picture of the CGB from Bridge Road, Histon – this is the view towards Histon – no workmen here.

Looking from the bridge down towards Cambridge a couple of renegades have sneaked in and are walking the tracks – although no sign of work taking place here either.

On the outskirts of Histon my plan was to cycle along a bridleway past Meadow farm to Westwick. It runs near to the CGB with a few kinks along the way and is one of two – I used the one closer to the CGB. Before cycling along it I did cycle down the Park Lane Cycleway to see what was happening. 

Well there has been activity here – putting up barriers and a warning sign – but not much else. This was what it looked like looking North – I didn’t bother with the view the other way - it looked just as empty.

I then popped back up to the bridleway, the Streetview picture shows that it is a popular spot to drive to and abandon your car when taking exercise. There are two cars in the picture and  when I cycled along it there were several people out walking dogs. There's an interesting thought to ponder – the design of our villages and towns is such that people drive to places like this to get exercise despite there being no real parking.

They’d better make the most of it – this could be the “beginning of the end of the car” – an article in the Independent discusses the decline in the number of young people who are learning to drive or hold driving licences (have they looked at the cost of insuring a young person to drive).  There was also a decline in private transport’s share of trips from 50% in 1993 to 41% in 2008. However the Department of Transport’s working assumption is that between 2003 and 2025 traffic access Britain will increase by 25%. So it would seem that we have a potential disconnect between our planning and reality – and mistakes will cost us all.

For what it is worth the idea of owning a car was sold to us as giving “freedom” – but with petrol costs rising, parking getting more and more difficult and congestion affecting many cities that promise is no longer true – in fact the reverse is true we become slaves to our cars. They no longer enhance our quality of life! Indeed here in Cambridge the apartment developments surrounding the railway station are “sold” on the benefit that they are a short walk to the Station and to jobs in London.

Back to the bridleway – this to me is one aspect of quality of life – being able to cycle out in countryside. Alright it is not very hilly or rugged – but it is still nature.

The bridleway ends up as a track in the grass through a field near Westwick Hall. This is that track passing through the parkland of Westwick Hall. Actually this is the view looking back – the trees are magnificent, and the sheep that sometimes graze the field can often be seen in the shade of the various trees on a hot summer day.

I then cycled from Westwick down through Oakington to the current route of NCN51 (part of the Sustrans Network) and headed out to Longstanton along the old airfield road  around what used to be Oakington Airfield  (RAF Oakington) and then became an Immigration Reception Centre and soon will become Northstowe ( a 9,5000 home settlement). I say soon, but actually I have no idea when that might be. (I did find a link with pictures of the WW2 defences around the airfield, now derelict, including the last picture of fox cubs at play.)

This is a controversial “road”, it is not open to general motor traffic (there are some exceptions)  and last year the police “targeted drivers on this rat-run” and caught more than 100 drivers using it illegally. Whenever I cycle this way I generally find quite a few cars and vans using it and no sooner had I stopped and took my camera out and several went by –including white van man. The problem is that the road surface is not well maintained and motorists speed along this narrow lane, either endangering vulnerable road users or putting them off from using it completely.

Apart from the danger I would imagine that some local residents do not really want to live on a rat-run road. I wonder what the plans for this road are when Northstowe gets built.

After counting the number of motor vehicles that looked as if they shouldn’t be on the Airfield Road (8) as I cycled along it I turned off NCN51 along past the Church-  St Michaels. There is another church in Longstanton – a two parish village, this one is redundant – but no less attractive. St Michaels Lane becomes a track (actually a byway) called St Michaels Road which then leads onto Long Lane (also a byway) which goes past Toad Acres Park. It then reaches the Rampton Road which might have once gone to Rampton but now peters out into a byway also called Rampton Road.

It was not closed off (as I had feared) and neither was there any sign of activity.

Apart from some daisies blowing in the wind. despite the fact that a byway crosses this part of the CGB there are no dropped kerbs. A search on the web and it turns out the that OS map on Where's the Path is out of date.  It also turns out that Byway 7 (Rampton Road Longstanton) and Byway 4 (Rampton Road – Rampton) have been converted to the status of a bridleway.  I am surprised how easy it is to extinguish rights of way – or down grade them.  I would imagine it saved money in terms of not having to provide a route through for vehicles and it makes it cheaper to maintain the bridleway as a rough track as there are “no obligations to facilitate the use of the bridleway by cyclists”.

It is referred to in a letter by the Cambridge Cycle Campaign but only to indicate that its use by cyclists is likely to increase with both the Busway development and the development of Northstowe. This is another example of a missed opportunity to promote the use of bicycles for inter-village transport. Rather than down-grading these sorts of routes they ought to be upgraded into decent cycle routes. That is a downside of the Busway – at least with a railway line you can build a level crossing which does not hamper the passage of bicycles and horses – unlike this set of barriers.

Anything other than a standard two wheeled bicycle becomes effectively blocked. If you were carrying a child on a bike seat or on a trike or load carrying bike this becomes an effective barrier.

The distance via the Rampton Road bridleway from Bike to be and the Black Horse pub in Rampton is 3.86Km/2.41 miles, by road (through Willingham) it is 7.59Km/4.74 miles. So whilst neither village is that large nor relies on the other it makes it harder to travel between the two unless by car.

After that rant some flowers to calm me down.  This must have been planted slightly later than elsewhere as it seems to be later in flower.

Unfortunately the now-bridleway on the other side of the CGB towards Rampton is also a loose gravel surface and so not that inviting to cycle along. This is not actually the bit towards Rampton but a new bridleway towards Willingham, but they both have similar gravel surfaces.

I did pop into the village shop in Willingham and got a drink and a snack – this hopping the CGB was thirsty work. I think I also forgot to mention that there was a bit of rain in the air, although not near enough for the gardeners and farmers.  Because there was some rain around I wore a rain jacket and got too hot and sweaty, there wasn’t that much rain either.

I used to live in Willingham in the good old days – pre mobiles and broadband although I did have email at work. I rather liked this website – Old Willingham – with before and after pictures of Berrycroft. The after was after my time and the before was certainly before my time.

I was pleased to see that the road out of Willingham towards Longstanton has a shared-use cycleway – shown here. It is quite wide and so not too bad. I used it rather than cycle along the road – despite taking the primary position too many cars seemed to get too close for my comfort and they seemed to have no idea about Highway Code rule 163.

As I passed the CGB/Station road junction what a surprise there was some activity on the CGB. The gravel surface is being levelled and flattened prior to the tarmac being laid down. Good to see the driver of the dumper truck was wearing a face mask. A search for Willingham railway station proved fruitless it was called Long Stanton railway station being marginally closer to Longstanton – it amuses me how the railways used to use slightly different names  for their stations – not very good marketing. Here are some pictures of what it looked like.

There were other vehicles working away too, this genuinely was a Construction Site with at least three vehicles and four workmen.

I cycled along past the edge of Longstanton and out towards Over (or should that be Over and Out?) along Gravel bridge Road where if I zoom right in on this picture you can just about make out the work taking place in the last photograph.

I went through Over and out along Station Road into Swavesey. By my reckoning Swavesey Station would have been on the left hand side of this linear Construction site. The station was opened in 1847 and closed in 1970, 123 years later. The passenger service between Cambridge and St Ives continued until 5th October 1970 and the line formally closed  on 2nd August 2003 – I think I might once have been held up on the road between Longstanton and Willingham by a train passing through and the link shows a freight train at Swavesey in June 1991.

the building on the left celebrates another British tradition – it is the home of the MG Owners Club. I have never owned an MG, but a friend of my had an MG Magnette and we had some fun working on that.

After Swavesey I followed NCN51 back towards Longstanton and back along Rampton Road and now a bridleway, carefully lifting my bike over the high concrete kerbs or the Busway tracks and then into Rampton up the hill to Cottenham (an interesting website!!!) Here is their newsletter website. The road from Cottenham into Histon is not the most pleasant for cyclists but the footpath is getting widened and converted to a shred-use path. The Cottenham Cyclist features it in a recent Post: Update: B1049 Cottenham to Histon Cycle path.  The improvements (pdf) have required some negotiation for land purchase and as you can see work is progressing. The B1049 also has a website.

If you check out the Cottenham Cyclist’s blog he comments that the lamp posts will be removed – which is good – they are not the sort of thing you want clip with your handlebars as you go by.  A bit further along the path has special raised tables where it crosses side roads. I am not sure who has priority – in fact I think it will be vehicles on the side road, but at least it makes the motorists slow down and think about it.

Instead of heading back to Cambridge along the Histon Road I cycled through Impington to check out progress on the Milton-Impington cycleway along the aptly named Butt lane. Unfortunately it has only gotten a little less than halfway between Impington and Histon. To my mind this has been designed as  tidal shared-use path to get kids from Milton to Impington Village College and back. Give that this is a “new-build” you would have thought that the incremental cost of making it a more appropriate width would have been acceptable  Is it a case of too many design guides and not enough common sense?. As it is my advice is not to cycle against the flow of school kids.

The Milton Village website indicates that the former Poultry Farm on Butt Lane is being redeveloped and the developer will also construct the next length of this cycle way. I won’t hold my breath then.

There was controversy that the School bus between Milton and Impington would be withdrawn if a decent cycle path was put in – well apparently 1.5m is not deemed as  of a suitable standard so the bus will continue. Is this path being specified under some strange political criteria? (Read this letter if you don’t believe me.)

When I reached the end of the shared-use thin path and had to switch to the road I put on my rear flashing light to ensure I was seen – and it worked overtaking cars gave me space.

Local politics seems rather odd to me. Although I suppose rather than complain I could just have a  go  - er no thanks. What with the CGB, converting byways to bridleways and this half-finished, sub-standard cycleway there seems to be way too much compromise for my liking.

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