Friday, May 9, 2014

Impermeability in the Fens

Thursday, 10th April 2014: I have a guilty secret – I have been looking at pictures of bicycles. I really don’t need another bike, but I would like to get a 29er with slightly fatter tyres to take the sting out of some of the rutted byways I cycle along. I am resisting though.

Part of the reason I cycle along byways and bridleways is that they can sometimes offer a more direct route and almost all of the time they are quieter. They can be a bit challenging though.

The trouble is cycle routes always seem to be an after thought in transport planning, certainly here in Cambridge. Anybody who drives around Cambridge during the rush hour can’t help but notice how bad the traffic gets. I had to head out along the A1307 towards the A11 the other day there was queuing almost from Babraham turn.  Then there was queuing up the A11. There are some roadworks – not sure what – but I reckon our road network is working at its limit and even when one set of roadworks gets fixed there will be another.

One approach to the problem is to build more roads or widen the roads that already exist. The result is more traffic – try driving around the M25 if you don’t believe me, look how London is congested and staying so.

Part of the problem is that we have become a nation of commuters. It has become reasonable part of many peoples lives to spend a chunk of time getting from home to work and vice versa. Apparently the average in Britain is 58 minutes for men and 47 minutes for women. Of course quoting the average time hides all sorts of detail. As you can imagine the Government (through the Department of Transport) investigates such matter – Personal Travel Factsheet – Commuting and Business Travel. Lots of data – but no real analysis.

One graph (Chart 3.) shows that Individuals in the highest income quintile travel almost 8 times further (2,529 miles) for commuting per year than those in the lowest quintile. However there is no attempt at analysing the issue – although I can just image some Conservative MP somewhere telling us that this is why more roads are so important to the health of the economy.

The bottom line is that the UK work force wastes nigh on 1 hour per person per day getting to and from work. That is time not spent with family, friends, exercising, or working overtime. (I know there might be exceptions here – people who walk or cycle do get exercise and people how have chauffeurs can carry on business whilst driving.

It seems to me that the situation will only get worse unless a more strategic view is taken. Certainly here in Cambridge there is quite a bit of co-location of companies. Look at London – a huge number of people commute in because that is where the work is. But there is a cost to commute and the cost of housing in London rises because there is a demand for housing that cuts commuting (for money and time reasons). This article suggests that the average cost of a UK house is £253,000 compared with that of London at £458,000).  Price is set by supply and demand.

This suggests that planning of housing, employment and transport needs to be driven in an integrated and strategic way.  The politicians speak of a housing crisis and you often hear people talk about housing being unaffordable.  You shouldn’t be surprised – the Government has a Policy – “Increasing the number of available homes”.   It is a supply and demand problem that is also affected by the fact that there are a significant bunch of people who are stakeholders. People on the housing ladder don’t want to see their biggest asset drop in value.  Builders have had planning permission for developments but developments haven’t started. (Northstowe is one development here in the Cambridge area that springs to mind as being slow of the blocks – with “ultimately 10,000 homes” planned). People also want homes where there is work and schools and amenities and transport.

As it happens Northstowe is or rather will be pretty well connected to the Science Park by the Cambridge Guided Busway, it is also less than 10Km/6 miles by bicycle. Assuming an average cycling speed of 20Km/hour / 12.5mph that make it 30 minutes each way. The road route is further at 14Km/ 8.75miles. So assuming a small car, that works out at running costs of 16.55p x 10 x 8.75 miles per week - £14.50 and assuming a mileage of 10,000 miles per year 19.18p x 10 x 8.75 miles per week - £16.78 – which in total is a little over £31 per week or £1,500 per year. I have used the AA figures for a small car, but knocked of 2p/mile on the running costs, buying a used car would reduce the costs or depreciation. You would also save on Gym membership.  Although bikes do cost money to buy and run.

So with all the features going for it and the dire shortage of housing and the low level of unemployment in Cambridge and planning permission Northstowe got delayed  Having said that there is a lot of building going on in Cambridge at the moment with Great Kneighton near to the Addenbrookes Biomedical campus – this is at the other end of the of the CGB and of course good for those working on the campus.

So what am I whining about – well I reckon that here in Cambridgeshire far more attention needs to be placed on connecting places where people live (or want to live) with places where people work. Clearly not all will live next to their place of work – but  real attention attention needs to be placed on the issue. To be fair that has happened to some extent over at Cambourne and there is industrial activity at Bar Hill, but they are road-locked disasters in other respects. There is also talk of improving the railway system with a new station in the North of Cambridge and even an Oxford – Cambridge rail-link.

To make it work then there has to be permeability that doesn’t rely on the roads – but actively encourages alternate forms of transport. If the target is to ensure that the average commute remains about 30mins each way per day then that requires an efficient system to support mixed modes. For instance It takes the train between 14 and 20m to get from Cambridge to Ely – if you want to encourage people to use it then  the rail journey time needs to be kept to a minimum. Just as importantly the transitions at each end need to be fast and convenient.

The distance from Ely to Cambridge is around 24Km/15miles. I have no idea how fast a train accelerates and 14m – 20m for the journey sounds pretty fast, although I’d settle for the 14 minutes rather than the 20m, so the next area to focus on would be the bit at each end. 

If you take a station like Cambridge there are 378 car spaces and 913 cycle spaces, although a CCyC survey in 2010 suggested that 1,000 cycles were parked and 1,200 went through the barriers and that doesn’t include the fly-parking. Why do so many use their bicycles well convenience and cheapness I would guess.

I often struggle to find a space when I cycle to the station and yet notice that there are car park spaces. So there is unsatisfied demand for more parking. The trouble is the Rail transport system is run with private rail companies and the railway infrastructure is owned by Network Rail, a Statutory corporation – which is regulated by the Office of Rail Reguilation (sic) – ORR.  At one stage station car parks were seen as a way to make money.

So we have a road system which was not set up to make money for shareholders competing with a rail system that  is supposed to make money – with various ways each gets money from taxation.  We often hear it said how important to our economy roads are – well what would happen if London commuters couldn’t get to work.

So already we see the importance of the synergy between cycles and trains and yet many cycle routes to the station meander and are disconnected and the motor vehicles have priority. It doesn’t make sense. Some of the problems arise from the rather higgledy-piggledy way transport arose her in the UK.

Routes connected where people lived, rivers were used, trains were built, which couldn't cope with steep gradients. Then motor vehicles came onto the scene. As motor vehicles became more prevalent more and more land was given over to roads. With an estimate in 2011 by the DoT of 245,000 miles in Great Britain. Of that total, minor roads make up 87%, A-roads 12% and motorways 1%.  As roads become more intrusive bypasses were built, like the A14 around Huntingdon – but through Fenstanton.

All other modes of transport were disregarded compared with the road network – some routes were simply blocked by bigger roads crossing them, others were effectively blocked. If you want to walk the Peddars Way then you end up crossing the A11 dual carriageway – not fun! I have mentioned how the Girton Interchange has an interesting bridleway route that looks like it will be closed after the A14 improvements!

If you look at the OSM cycle map of the Cambridge city area you can see how random the cycle “network” is.  There are challenges caused by the River Cam – such as a lack of decent cycle bridges and the challenges caused by the roads – A14, A11 and M11. 

The Fens present there own challenges – sometimes if is the sheer number of drainage ditches, sometimes the Rivers – Cam and Great Ouse and sometimes lack of decent cycleable routes.  I have mentioned before how the NCN11 has a dead end at Waterbeach. I have met people who got lost in the area because it just stops.  This is where it would come out on Lug Fen Droveway – the “11” next to the corner shows that it is NCN 11, but there is no way to get across to Bottisham Lock, by bike or horse. The sign shows that Waterbeach Station is 13/4 miles away by foot.

Simples – we need to be thinking about a more integrated transport network with separate, direct routes for cyclists to train stations, heck even Park and Cycle routes – I am not proud. They need to connect where people live with where they work and  the perceived benefit (quiet, direct, safe, exercise) must exceed the perceived cost cost (physical effort) if we really want to make the commute less of a grind.

Footpath from Lug Fen Drove to Bottisham Lock

To avoid any doubt a cyclist might have there is this sign on the gate in the last picture.

Footpath from Lug Fen Drove to Bottisham Lock

So I headed of towards Oily Hall.

Oily Hall

The arrow (on the link) marks the spot.The buildings are marked on the OS map as Oily Hall Farm.

Oily Hall

Oily Hall Wild Campsite

An old Stream bed across Oily Hall

The end of the track – Oily Hall

Drainage Ditch Crossroads plus Footbridge – corner Oily Hall

White Fen – Lodes Way – neatly mown

I sometimes take a farm track where the area is on the link and then re-join the Lodes Way after cycling down Rail Drove. This was my attempt are creating a picture from many pictures. I don’t think David Hockney has anything to worry about. I am clearly not taking anywhere enough pictures.

Two Daffodils on the edge of a field

Split Drove – you can just see a large spool of irrigation piping

Irrigation along Lodes Way

Preparing the Soil – Lodes Way

A Swedish Hercules above Lodes Way

At least the the Byways and Bridleways offer some permeability in some places.

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