Monday, August 8, 2011

The Cambridge Guided Cycleway ( & Busway) is now open

Sunday, August 7th: The great day had finally arrived, after much delay (around 2 years) and an overspend of £64m  the “Cambridgeshire guided busway opened to passengers”. I have been on the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway (CGB) when it ran some trials for locals in April 2009. My impressions then were that leather seats and WiFi aside the ride was smooth but very noisy whilst riding on the bus.

I have certainly enjoyed using the cycleway alongside the CGB track and regular readers will no doubt be tired of the many posts that I have written about my trips up and down it. My main concern was just how noisy would the buses be as they zoomed up and down the track as I cycled along the cycleway. Later on in the Post I have a video of the bus noise so you can hear (and see) for yourselves.

There has been much delay and argument about responsibilities. On the plus side though the Cycleway has been put in place and the original plans to tarmac it have been extended so that eventually it will all be flat and smooth. At the moment that tarmac surface has only been completed on the Southern Section and from Milton road to Swavesey.

There are flooding issues on the bit beyond Swavesey and although there has been a commitment to tarmac that part apparently the cycleway was not built to the original specification and so has been very prone to flooding for what seems like most of the year. The plan is to raise the cycleway somewhat and then tarmac it. Apparently it is still expected to flood for a number of days per year though.

So fast the route has not been officially open and it has been impossible to cycle along both sections of the CGB. Now it is open I would be able to cycle it in one go.  The CGB around the Railway Station has for some reason taken longer to complete than you (well I) might have expected. Which is surprising since the whole thing is two years late.

My original plan was to attend the opening and to go on the Cambridge Cycling campaign ride. That was due to started from the Cambridge Railway Station at 10.30am. However although I normally get up reasonably early on Sundays I do like to have a leisurely look at the Sunday papers and so decided that I would go out i the afternoon.

Here is my route, the CGB was the easy bit, the bit through Cambridge from the Southern to the Northern Section is not so pleasant. I took a fairly direct route as you can see from the map, but it was not that good, even on a Sunday. here is the Bike Route Toaster link. In total I rode 63 Km/ 40 miles however it is not really a route I would normally take because of the disconnect in the middle.

It was quite windy on Sunday, which served as a reminder of how exposed it can be out on the CGB cycleway. The wind was pretty much blowing all day and the wind direction was from the South West so whilst it wasn’t very helpful it wasn’t too bad.

As days go it wasn’t too bad, there were a few spots or rain, but there were also some blue patches in the sky as I headed out towards Cherry Hinton via Airport Way and the NCN51.

I had planned to stop along Long road which passes over the CGB in the hope that I might see a bus or two passing underneath the bridge and get a few pictures. Just before I got to Long Road along Queen Edith’s Way I did stop to take a picture of this house. It is certainly quite striking and reminds me of an old-style petrol (gas) Station, at least I seem to remember seeing them as a boy.

The Southern Section of the CGB was a bit of a let-down. Not because of the cycleway or the concrete track. No, what disappointed me was that I didn’t see any buses running on it. The one positive was that the route was no longer blocked at the Railway Station. This is what it looks like. I was a little surprised to  see how unfinished it looks and apart from some celebrity buses it did not look as if they were really running a service on this section. It was also not clear quite where cyclists were supposed to go. I assume that it will be running buses on the Monday?

My route through to Milton Road was chosen for directness rather than suitability for cycling. I didn’t plan it but just followed my nose. Foolishly I went under the Newmarket Road/East Road roundabout rather than stick to the road. I am convinced that you are more at risk going under as you have several blind corners to negotiate.

I stuck to the road after that, except for the shared use path along Milton Road. You are left to fend for yourself at the junction next to the Golden Hind though, before a cycle path reappears.  I do wonder why it was decided to interrupt the busway and force the buses to drive through the Cambridge. The bus lanes do help the buses a little, but given the upheaval if I had been in charge I would have gone for a through solution. Which I know is easy for me to say.  I just hope that the plans to build the “Chisholm Trail” get the go ahead.

Given the publicity that the Busway has had along with the warnings about the trials and the opening in the press and on local TV I still passed four people walking on the concrete tracks. I almost began to wonder whether I would see buses running, had they stopped for the day?

You will be pleased to know that Guided Buses are just like normal buses – you don’t see any and then three come along at once. I guess that as it is a cross between a rail and road system then the same mechanisms that cause buses to bunch up apply to the Guided Buses.  Although you think that like trains there will be a reasonable separation there is no real need.

What did surprise me was how quiet the buses were are they came down the track.  The reason my first picture is of the back of a bus was that the bus had gone by before I had time to get my camera out and take a picture. They are like trains in that they seem to “glide” along the track  - they move pretty sharply, but they are a lot quieter than a train.

As I said they are buses and come in threes. I already had my camera out and was able to take a picture of the next bus from the front. This bus is advertising WiFi and if you look closely they have leather seats. I bet the view from the top deck is pretty good as you sail through the Fens. (Well the edge of the Fens).

This is the same bus – the driver is demonstrating that it really is hands-free by holding them both up clearly off the wheel.

After seeing three buses there was a bit of a gap and I didn’t see any running the other way. The wind was a bit unpleasant though.  This is Reynold’s Drove to Rampton, unfortunately there is not a bus stop otherwise it would make it really easy to get from Rampton to the Science Park. Although saying that I would cycle it.

This the Longstanton Park & Ride the car park, which seemed pretty busy.  I think that quite a few people had decided to have a day out on the CGB. Certainly there were quite a few people at various stops along the way.

It is good to see that quite a few CGB users had cycled to the P&R. I would like to think that quite a few of the inhabitants of Longstanton and Willingham will take the opportunity to cycle to catch the bus.

After passing the Willingham – Longstanton road I came across the first puncture repair I recall seeing on the CGB. Hopefully the track will actually be kinder of bicycle tyres than normal roads with the debris that can accumulate by the road side.

This was the view looking up towards St Ives. I was impressed with the number of people I saw on the Cycleway, both walking and cycling. This stretch is wide enough for two rider to continue riding together whilst a single cyclist comes the other way. So hopefully this route will encourage more sociable cycling.

Another bus – just sailing through. It did make me realise they really are pretty quiet. Although the engines are not that quiet they make a lowish bass noise that isn’t too unpleasant. The real noise pollution is caused by modern tyres on modern tarmac. They seem to make a high-pitch noise that is far more unpleasant. So it would seem that my fears about buses making the Cycleway unpleasant were unfounded. Apparently there will be new regulations coming into force in November 2011 about tyre noise. There is also a Campaign for Better tyres. Most vehicles are well insulated so that the driver and passengers don’t hear just how bad their cars are.

Just to prove I did make it all the way to St Ives here is the All Saints parish church.  There were loads of people milling around the bus stops – either waiting or just having gotten off. Although the shared-use path is wide on the way past the bus stops, at the moment the trees seem to encroach significantly and so cycling through was not so easy.

I don’t normally take pictures of road kill – here is one that had expired between the cycleway and the concrete tracks.

The Church on the hill – St Andrews, on Honey Hill, Swavesey.

Some people buying their bus tickets at the Swavesey bus stop. I was surprised just how much the buses slow down when passing these junctions – I guess they need to get used to holding the steering wheel and then guiding the bus onto the concrete tracks again.

There are various walks leading off the Cycleway – this path seems to follow Swavesey Drain, but doesn’t appear as a right of way on the OS Map.

I stopped for a few nutritious jelly babies and a drink and waited for a bus to pass that I could video. Whilst waiting I also took a few more pictures of cyclists on the cycleway.  That sign in the middle is a warning to the bus drivers to watch out for horses. The bridge ahead is Windmill Bridge.

It wasn’t long before I saw a bus heading towards me from the St Ives direction.

Here is the bus going past me. The bus noise is almost drowned out by the wind noise on the camera microphone. I am reading Photoshop Premier for dummies at the moment so had a play with the features – why is why the video has a rather corny title.

It is a reminder that these buses are pretty quiet and move quickly so anyone crossing the path needs to take care. That includes cyclists crossing from one side of the CGB to the other at junctions when the cycleway changes sides.

I can see why the cyclist injured on the CGB was caught out, they are quiet and fast. personally that is the way I want it though.

A couple of cyclists – even quieter!

Before I set off again there was time to take some pictures of more cyclists. The good thing was there as well as Lycra-clad MAMILs there were older couples and families also out enjoying riding along the route. (I have also been known to wear Lycra when on longer tours, although normally I wear MTB shorts for riding around Cambridgeshire.)

Several times I thought it might rain, but apart from the odd few spots it was quite a pleasant day for cycling except for the wind.

One of the interesting features is that it is a criminal offence to trespass on the Concrete tracks and associated land in close proximity to the tracks. However unlike a railway – where it is also criminal to trespass these tracks encourage fairly close proximity by having a cycleway along side and quite a few footpaths and bridleways across.

One of the ticket machines, to be found at the bus stops.

I wondered whether the buses were not running on down to Milton Road as I stopped and hung around for a while, having a drink and a few jelly babies. There was a goodly number of cyclists, but now buses. I even check the Information Display at the bus stop – which also indicated there weren't any services.

This is one of the cycle parking areas on the edge of the Science Park, the only bike in it was mine as a I waited to see a bus go through and onto Milton Road.

This is where the CGB meets Milton Road, at this point Milton Road is quite wide so I presume it is not too difficult to manoeuvre a bus around.  The grass seems to be doing well between the tracks.

As I waited, yet more cyclists, again it was good to see some sociable cycling.

For one brief moment there were no cyclists or buses.

But pretty soon a whole bunch more cyclists appeared – no buses though.

So I feel much happier that the buses seem to be quite quiet, despite the fact they do travel at a reasonable speed along the busway. I must make sure I pay attention when crossing the path of the busway though.  I wonder how the drivers feel about not steering one minute and then having to steer the next.

Oh yes – here is a suggestion to one of the bus companies – around Christmas run Bertie the Bus trips up and down the CGB, preferably in conjunction with Christmas Markets in St Ives.  That way the kids have a bit of fun and it helps to create a bit of publicity. However Bertie needs to be red. Bertie is a small red bus from the Railway Series of books by Rev W Awdry (think Thomas the Tank Engine.) It mustn’t be a race though.

Winking smile


  1. Are most photos HDR? If so do you carry your tripod around when you cycle?

  2. Yes they are. Although some are single exposure and then processed using Photomatix s/w. In general I shoot 7 exposures , although if it is windy I switch to 3. I try to brace against fences or gates, but many pictures are hand-held. MikeC suggested using a Monopod, as a compromise between lightness and stability. I haven't tried a Monopod though.