Monday, May 7, 2012

Pedalling & Paddling on the Guided Busway Cycleway & Double Decker bike racks–Cambridge Railway Station

Wednesday, 2nd May 2012: Although the weather wasn’t quite as good as it was for my ride up to King’s Lynn there was another matter than needed looking at.  Although the Cambridge Guided Busway and Cycleway is relatively old news there are some issues still be to worked out.

There has been some recent excitement in the legal process as the case grinds on. What will actually happen is anybody's guess.  The timescales are so long that people will retire, move on to other jobs or fail to get re-elected. Although perhaps that is an unintended benefit of the long timescales, it takes the heat out of the arguments and makes them more susceptible to cold hard logic?

The other issue that will plague the cycleway is that of flooding.  There have been and continue to be updates from “Travelling the Cambridgeshire guided busway” which pain a pretty wet picture and here as well.

Also if you follow the Fen Drayton Lakes blog there is also a flood update of the area the Cycleway passes through. On the 6th May 2012 apparently the various lakes had joined up to create a Superlake.

I also noticed that the names of the various Fen Drayton Lakes have been added to the OSM map, although thinking about it the problem I had was not naming the main lakes but the ones closer to St Ives – they don’t appear to have names. Looking at a 1930s map none of the lakes appear at all. There was a railway line heading North out of St Ives up to Chatteris and March though which also branched off to Ely – those were the days.

Back to the Cycleway alongside the Guided Busway, which was also once upon a time a railway line although for a far more interesting history read this link  on Disused Stations. The link is also a reminder of how things change. It discusses the Cambridge to March line and how its use fell with the rise of the use of cars through the1950s onwards.  Indeed we get waves, where a new wave does not replace an old wave but things certainly change considerably. Yet when in a single point of time things seem so fixed. In my lifetime I have seen a transition from rail to car. We did not have a car when I was young and journeys were made by train. However like many families of that era we did get a car which became essential for work and allowed the family to visit my Grandmother in Leicester once a month until she came to live with us.

I grew up in Wells and was there when they closed the railway and station – but I can’t remember it. (I am either too young or perhaps too old and my memory is failing me.

As I grew up and had a family we saw the rise of the car and the decline of public transport and indeed the increase of multi-car families. Having one car was no longer a luxury but instead had several cars became a necessity. Whatever we might think the real cost of car ownership got cheaper and cheaper  although we are feeling a bit of pain at the moment 2000 was one of the local peaks.

Here is an interesting chart of British Transport Mode Use 1952 to 2008. The last 50 years have seen a huge increase in journeys travelled, driven by the car (forgive the pun). Although the personal ownership aspect of it might have driven the rise as well. Indeed in my career having not flown in a plane until my early 20s (apart from when I was learning to fly a glider) I found my self flying long-haul once or twice a month. It was fun but tedious and tiring at the same time. You kind of get hooked on the altered reality of travel.

Which all makes me think that whilst we are in the moment with cars and motor vehicles dominating our lives these waves can get quickly replaced. For a while people have been talking about “Peak Oil”, point in time when the maximum rate of petroleum extraction is reached. Whilst it is seductive to think of Mother Earth (Pachamama) as having an endless supply of goodies as we scurrying around ant-like the world population is now estimated as 7billion. It was less than 3 billion when I was born.

Just a reminder that is over 7,000,000,000 people. The US consumes just under 70 barrels of oil per day per 1,000 people (22nd in the list I got the number from). So if the world “enjoyed” the same level of economic development that would equate to just under 0.5 billions of barrels per day or  just under 200bn barrels per year. The world's reserves are estimated to be between 300 and 1,200 billion barrels. So clearly we are heading for a major change.

These are all pieces of extrapolated data – another way of considering the problem is that of “peak car”. Whilst the current Transport Secretary, Phillip Hammond might say “We will end the war on motorists” we are already seeing a decline in car use. Why, well according to the article more work is needed and it is not just about the rising costs of motoring. The rise of; social networking, internet shopping, congestion, climate change and urbanisation of the shrinking countryside may all be considered as factors. Indeed sales of new cars in the US (the home of motormania?) have “almost halved from nearly 11 million in 1985 to about 5.5 million in 2009” Read the link – some is driven by the desire to inhabit pleasant convenient neighbourhoods – the ubiquity of the car is one of its alienating factors?

So just as the rail system was at one stage seen as the bright new future – that fizzled away to be replaced by the car, perhaps that time is near for the car. We are no longer in the bright new future for the car, whilst many cannot conceive of anything other than the status quo – it will change, what depresses me is how much of our “leadership” seems stuck in the past. In my web searches this item from the RAC came up – “Motoring towards the 2050” – what a depressingly narrow-minded view. What worries me is that type of view will influence planning decisions that will have ramifications for us all over the next 50 years.

So back to the present – I popped up the Cycleway alongside the Guided Busway to check out the flooding situation at the St Ives end. (Neat how I justify going out for a spin on my back as part of my public duty.

In many ways the cycleway is a flagship for what could be achieved and yet equally it also represents what is so crap about the way in which we (both local and governmental politics) seem stuck in the past.  This is a major cycle route along an important economic corridor in Cambridgeshire – from St Ives down into the north of the city to a major employment centre – the Cambridge Science Park with around 5,000 people employed there.

The positive is that the CGB represents a new way to get people moving around rather than clogging up the A14 or even worse clogging up the countryside with another road that will clog up. (As an aside the Wikipedia page for the A14 does not display on Chrome on my desktop, but does display properly on my iPad and on IE9 on my desktop. Further investigate indicates that the page is there – just not showing so I am clearing the cache for Chrome to see if that fixes the problem – no. In fact other more arcane things like a Wikipedia page purge don’t work either – I’ll have to park this and try again later. Although I can’t leave it along – Firefox and IE9 show the page properly and indeed Chrome shows other pages properly.) (But I can’t leave it alone, it also fails to display on my Laptop with the same version of Chrome, so I have submitted a bug report.)

The expansion of the population of Cambridgeshire has been called for by the Government and this is driving the planning of developments like Northstowe. Yet I can’t help feeling that despite all of the blurb about Community and Climate it just isn’t forward-looking enough.

So what we get is a humongous amount of money spent on the Guided Busway – OK, but then we rely on hand-outs to complete the Cycleway alongside the busway. Like the £150,000 of charity to complete the Guided Busway’s cycle path hard surface (Sustrans). If we want more people to cycle then we have to overcome the barriers, such as the perceived danger and the third-class way in which cyclists are treated. (Bus passengers are second-class as far as I can see.)

What does this mean well we need far more doing than  has actually been achieved on the CGB if we really want to get non-cyclists cycling… We only have to look at the situation where Oakington parents tried to overturn a decision to withdraw the free school bus to Impington because the CGB cycleway was deemed a reasonable and safe route to school.  The parents do not perceive it as safe.   I don’t like knocking the Cycleway, it is a lot better than the Superhighways in London and cost a lot less. (Apparently their blue paint costs between £10m and  £20m per route!!!! - £2m - £4m per mile – unbelievable)

What sort of things – well the key issues for me are the flooding, constant hopping from side to side, lack of automatic detection of bicycles at the road crossings and all the random obstructions along the route.

Speaking of which – at least we have white paint to protect us in Cambridge (which I suspect was not very expensive). I wonder was any actual design involved here? I also wonder why this Girton-Histon footpath was allowed to “break” the concrete tracks whereas there are many examples further up the track where you have to stumble over the “rails”. I think the hashed area is because their is a concrete dimpled slab to assist visually impaired people crossing the track. This dimpled slab sits proud of the tarmac and when wet I find that the concrete can be more slippery than tarmac.

The Girton-Histon Footpath breaks the tracks

My route – there and back, with a bit of a detour around Cambridge to visit the Cambridge Railway Station to check out the double-decker cycle racks. Here is the Bike Route Toaster Link  the route  was a shade under 50Km/31 miles long and flat. What’s more the wind was behind me on the way back to Cambridge – I tried to avoid looking too smug as I passed people struggling into the wind heading towards St Ives.

Map of my ride to go paddling in St Ives and back

After crossing the Park Lane Cycleway I stopped to take a picture of the results of the Horse-chestnut Leaf Miner. Although the article does suggest that the Leaf miner infestation does not actually kill the tree, rather it is a combination of problems such as Bleeding canker. These tries run parallel to the cycleway along a bridleway leading from Park Lane (Histon) to Westwick.

Dead Horse Chestnut trees opposite the CGB Cycleway near Histon

A little further along the line of trees two more dead trees.

Dead Horse Chestnut trees opposite the CGB Cycleway near Histon

A little further along (where it passes the Oakington Road) and another example of some slightly less than friendly cycle infrastructure. Although before I moan you might also notice a platform belonging to Oakington Railway Station on the right of the picture.

My moans, well I think it would be good to have automatic detectors for cyclists on the track, the buses get them why not the cyclists. Although the complication is the the cycleway crosses from the left of the concrete track to the right. To further complicate matters there are some “random barriers” stuck across the route – or is it a purpose-designed slalom to engage cyclists more? No reflective paint, no markings just metal barriers – good design, fit for purpose, what purpose?.

Half Barriers obstruct the CGB Cycleway
next to the platform of the disused Oakington Railway Station

As I cycled up towards Comms Tower and Windmill by the bridge on Gravel Bridge Road there was a skater coming the other way. So I had to stop and get a picture – although not as common a sight as cyclists you do see a few skaters along here.

Oh look we’ve swapped sides again.

Skater on the CGB Cycleway between Longstanton and Swavesey

Just past the skater, but before the bridge there is a stone buttress, presumably to hold the bank back. Also on the bank were some primroses (Primula vulgaris).

Primroses growing along the banking on the CGB
(near Gravel Bridge Road)

So far so good, the Cycleway was well-drained with little evidence of the constant rain we have been enjoying. Mind you the flood area has yet to come.

What should you do when you design a cycleway – put in some random obstructions and place your cycle parking so that people have to walk across the path.  They have put LED lighting in front of those ankle bashers, so I suppose I shouldn't be too ungrateful.

Cycle parking – Swavesey Stop on the CGB

It appears that the cycle parking has also been increased – that is a good thing. It means that people are cycling to the CGB and it demonstrates that the powers that be are paying attention to the needs of cyclists. I hadn’t realised that the OSM Cycle map shows the number of cycle parking spaces in the map (40). Although I am not sure whether that includes the additional parking or not.

Actually I believe that the covered stands have 10 stands each  - parking for 40 bikes, so the new stands 2x7 add space for a further 28 bikes.  What’s more they are being used.

Extra Cycle parking – Swavesey Stop on the CGB

A bit further along and some evidence that there may be trouble ahead. There is a closed gate across most of the Cycleway (although with a gap). The bigger giveaway is the walker on the track and the other walker high up the bank. Rather strangely as well as trespassing she seems to be walking where she can cause maximum confusion for the buses in the middle.  I would not want to approach a bend with guided buses around.

Under the No entry sign on the right hand side is a reminder about trespass.

A walker on the Guided Busway Track – not clever

And this is what lay around the bend. To cross or not to cross that was the question. Actually the bigger question was how come this cycleway was designed to be so flawed that it would suffer from a significant amount of flooding each year. Clearly some thought was given to this ‘cos the CGB reports talk about the expectations of flooding on the cycleway.

Or is this supposed to be a scenic feature a ford perhaps. Maybe they stick disinfectant in it and it is a wheel dip to prevent Cambridge infections getting to St Ives? But no it can’t be a ford they normally have markers to indicate how deep they are. (Want to check out some Fords – try this – graded for their photogenicity and some more here and some Cambridgeshire ones here.)

No what this means is that someone decided that cyclists weren’t worth it (and walkers and horse riders). Of course what goes around comes around and that is why some ill-advised people then walk along the tracks. Fit for purpose – No.

Flooding on the Cambridge Guided Busway Cycleway May 2012

Now discretion is the better part of valour – so I got closer look rather than just pile in. The weather wasn’t that cold but cycling through water can hide rocks and slime that make cycling tricky. I was also wearing water proof socks (but not my water proof boots.

I decided to give it a go – but I stuck to the right hand edge in the hope that it would be the shallowest part.

Flooding on the Cambridge Guided Busway Cycleway May 2012

And yes I made it, what is even better is that I made it without getting my feet wet. I couldn’t pedal in circles as my feet would have dipped below the surface so instead I pedalled a bit and then back-pedalled so that neither foot dipped down too far.

I must admit I felt pretty chuffed with myself – nothing ventured nothing gained. The water was also reasonably clear so I could see the edge of the tarmac and there didn’t seem to be any accumulation of mud or rubble.  You can make out one of the brick artworks which I should have used to gauge the depth, but didn't pay any attention to until I cycled past.

You can see my cycle track about 30cm from the edge of the tarmac on the left.

Flooding on the Cambridge Guided Busway Cycleway May 2012

The only problem was the next bit of flooding looked a little more serious just after a culvert. The slightly worrying feature was how much higher the CGB concrete track seemed. If you assume that has been designed to be clear of flooding pretty much most of the time and the height difference to the cycleway was larger then this bit could be a bit deeper than the last.

Mind you the “SLOW” warning painted on the tarmac was still visible.

So I cautiously cycled into the water – pretty soon even half-pedalling wasn’t going to keep me moving and I could either attempt a turn or just carry on. Carrying on seemed safer. I would have definitely gotten wetter if I’d tumbled in and my camera would have gotten wet. At least on the bicycle my legs would not go as deep as  standing.  Also I’d got this far it would be a shame to turn back.

At first the water seemed warm – just like when you go paddling in the shallows at the seaside. It got colder as I got deeper, and then I had to concentrate as the depth of the water meant I had to work at keeping the moving forward fast enough to make balance easy. Yes I had to keep pushing those pedals.

The water level reached a bit above my ankles say around 25cm-30cm deep and there was quite a satisfying bow wave.

Flooding on the Cambridge Guided Busway Cycleway May 2012

I made it through although I did have to shift to an easier gear just to be on the safe side. Also I cycled more to the middle as the water was not quite so clear and I didn’t want to drop off the edge of the tarmac. Two bits of flood down – one more to go. Having gotten this I hadn’t got much to lose by carrying on. Although I did so with care on the last bit – no point in pride before a fall.

Just to prove I did get to the St Ives P&R here are the bicycle parking stands.

St Ives P&R Cycle parking – Cambridgeshire Guided Busway

I had always planned to return the way I came, then I could take advantage of the  wind to blow me back to Cambridge. Knowing that I delayed taking some pictures until the return. As you can see after leaving the St Ives P&R area you quickly come across one of the gates warning of the flooded cycleway.

Path ahead flooded – just after leaving  the St Ives P&R on the CGB Cycleway

Thoughtfully someone has realised that the ankle-basher on the right had no horizontal stripes of paint – so they have put a vertical white strip on instead. As you can see there are LED lights either side of these ankle bashers.

Ankle bashers on the CGB Cycleway near St Ives

And this was the third of the three areas of flooding that I passed through, just before you reach the bridge over the River Great Ouse (which certainly is oozing all over the place).

This was not as deep as the middle one, but it was deeper than the first one and it was quite long. As I cycled down to plough through it a bus heading in the Cambridge direction slowed down. Now cyclists and buses don’t always mix. However all credit to this driver. he signed to me to check I was alight and then went through at my pace and then checked again that was ok on the other side. So a big thank you to that driver. He didn’t need to do it – if I’d gotten wet it would have been my own silly fault – but all the same it made my day to see such consideration.  Once again thank you.

Third area of flooding on the CGB Cycleway (nearest St Ives.)

When I got to the bridge over the River Great Ouse I poked my camera over the top and took this picture –without actually knowing what was being taken. I tend to use the viewfinder on my Lumix rather than LCD screen, that way the battery lasts longer.

When I saw the picture when I got home it looked more like the Tonle Sap, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see fishing villages down there somewhere (the link is my post when I was on Tonle Sap).

River Great Ouse – broken banks on the CGB Cycleway bridge: May 2012

The flooding was evident across the fields as well

The River Great Ouse has flooded its banks – May 2012

Although the paddling wasn’t too bad I was pleased to reach the last of the three flooded areas on my way home. with the wind behind me I could settle into some steady cycling and warm up. Although I was wearing waterproof socks the water level had gone over the top of them and they were now holding in the water. I didn’t bother with the half-pedalling though – I just ploughed through.

Flooding on the CGB Cycleway – May 2012

Just after passing the flooded area I was surprised to see a cyclist take to the concrete tracks.  I think it would have been possible to stay dry with plastic bags over my shoes and up my legs.  The distance from the Swavesey Stop to the St Ives stop via the CGB is 5.25Km, the distance via the road is more than double at 10.79

The trouble is whilst a detour my be troublesome in a car on a bicycle it can be much harder. The effort is real.

Cyclist avoiding the flooded Cycle on the CGB – May 2012

Another picture along the cycleway that reminded my of cycling in Cambodia – well a little bit – most of the trees and shrubs are different.

Flooding alongside the CGB Cycleway – may 2012

AI noticed this set of interesting cycle stands on the way up, but had decided to take a picture of them on the way back and here they are and on the Cyclestreets website. I wonder why they put in a wire fence and then put barbed wire along the top. Yet there is a gate – is this to ensure that random animals such as deer always use the gate?

I almost forgot to mention I heard my first cuckoo of the year, I almost stopped to try to record the sound on my camera. Normally I tend to hear them over at Wicken Fen a place I visit more frequently. It also shows that I can hear things around me even when listening to stuff on my MP3 players.

Cycle Stands alongside the Fen Drayton Nature Reserve Stop

Further back along the way to Cambridge you can see that the ditches alongside the CGB cycleway are doing their job.

A ditch full of water alongside the CGB Cycleway

One of the nameless (or at least names I can’t find) streams/brooks that run through the countryside around here. This one passes Childerley – it looks pretty full

One of the brooks the CGB Cycleway passes over

After that I kept up the pace just in case it might rain as the sky was getting darker. I did stop on Elizabeth Way to check out the state of the River Cam – not too bad.

The River Cam, Elizabeth Way Bridge, May 2012

All the world is a stage and we are merely cyclists. Riverside after the re-work.

 Riverside near the Elizabeth Way Bridge

Exit stage right.

Riverside near the Elizabeth Way Bridge

And Riverside again – but showing more of the pedestrian area.

Riverside near the Elizabeth Way Bridge

After that I nipped through to the station to check out the double-decker cycle racks. I seen they allow bikes to be locked up to the edges as well – which will happen unless they put in sufficient spaces.

Trial Double Decker Cycle Parking – Cambridge Railway Station

Oh look you can also lock you helmet on as well. There is also a bike sticking out further than might be expected – I wonder if that is in a gap and will it make it harder to get the bike on top down.

Trial Double Decker Cycle Parking – Cambridge Railway Station

Interesting, someone else taking pictures – although he has got a tape measure on the ground – perhaps I ought to carry a tape measure with me.

Disabled Access Ramp, Cambridge Railway Station

It seems that the important issues are how easy will it be to get a bike off and on the top deck and they will need to put enough capacity in, otherwise there will be bikes locked up where they are not supposed to be getting in the way of people wanting to retrieve their bikes.

Trial Double Decker Cycle Parking – Cambridge Railway Station

I then cycled back along through the the Cambridge Retail park – just for a change and because I’d had not been that way before. Of course I was now quite dry – except for the water in my waterproof socks.


  1. Lovely report and lovely photos of an area I know well (I cycle Swavesey-Cambridge each day and also ride a horse throughout the busway area).

    Few answers to some of your question:
    > 1930s map no lakes visible.
    This is because the area was originally flood meadow but then bought up by Hansons for sand and gravel extraction which took place through the latter part of 20th century. Afterwards the RSPB bought most of the lakes area for a rumoured £6.5 million to form RSPB Fen Drayton.
    The area has been a birdwatching maget, particularly wintering wildfowl and bitterns, ever since the lakes were dug.

    >Girton-Histon Footpath breaks the tracks.
    This is because it's a short length of Byway so must be crossable by motorised traffic. The busway tracks have a break in them at the 3 Swavesey Byways and the Fen Drayton/Holywell Ferry byway too.

    >Flood gate and No Entry Sign.
    The busway bridleway is designated as Public Bridleway, so it can't be closed when it floods. It's up to the public to take care (same as with any other public rights of way around river floodmeadows. I suspect the gate/signage is for the use of maintenance vehicles and staff, and that would explain why a gap is left to the side but within the bridleway width for riders, cyclists and walkers to pass through.

    >the three areas of flooding
    These three areas flooded during flood times throughout the guided busway works when the busway bridleway (not open officially but used nonetheless by all three user groups) and would then remain flooded for months after the lake levels had dropped. The funding for tarmacking it was also to improve drainage/camber, etc so that floodwater would drain off, and some raising of the height though we were told at the time it wouldn't be raised sufficiently to keep it flood-free at all times. It is a shame as it's a valuable and much-used commuter route for cyclists as well as leisure route for all 3 user groups.

    >wire fence and barbed wire by RSPB Fen Drayton bird hide
    I wondered why this fencing was erected too. Perhaps it's to mark the boundary between Cambridge Council-owned and RSPB-owned land?

    >the ditch full of water is on stretch between Mow Fen and Middle Fen Droves, Swavesey.

    >the nameless brook is SWAVESEY DRAIN. It's incredibly important. It takes all the waste water from homes/businesses in Swavesey, run-off from the A14, and several other villages including CAMBOURNE! it discharges at Webbs Sluice (between Swavesey and Over) into the Ouse, and if the Ouse is overfull, it spills over the drainbank tops into the flood meadows of Middle Fen Drove and Mare Fen, Swavesey (which is the area of riverside fen between Swavesey and Over).

  2. Excellent - thank you for all the details. Although I used to live in Willingham it wasn't until I moved that I started cycling around the byways and bridleways of the area and that was over 20 years ago now. That was a large sum to pay for such a wet area - but a good thing they did I think.

    I hadn't realised that the byway from Girton crossed the tracks. I've cycled that way (Girton to Histon) a few times, but as it doesn't appear on the various OS maps I use on the web (mainly WTP and Streetmap) I'd forgotten it even got close. In fact the Cambs County rights of way map doesn't actually show it crossing either. I am not complaining though. The concrete tracks are not the easiest things to lug a bike over.

    Swavesey Drain - thank you, it seemed too extensive not to have been named. Knowing what it is called also makes it easier to search for information on the web. And now you mention it I remember taking a picture of flooded Mare Fen. About five pictures down. (

    Thanks again for taking the time.