Sunday, November 14, 2010

Some good things about the CGB cycleway

Saturday, 13th November: I rather like cycling alongside rivers, there are some very picturesque rivers with decent paths alongside or nearby, in the Flatlands of East Anglia. I prefer not to cycle along busy roads and for the most part the cycle ways around the Flatlands aren't too bad in that respect either. As a digression the shared use cycle path between Lode and Swaffham Bulbeck can be surprisingly noisy as can NCN51 alongside the Newmarket Road. The high-frequency noise created by modern tyres at speed is remarkably unpleasant in my view - but we have all grown up with motor vehicles and there is a tendency to overlook their little foibles - like 2,222 people killed on British Roads in 2009.

Cambridgeshire County Council have more detail on road accidents in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, including this detailed section on Pedal Cycles. It turns out that 14% of all casualties in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough are Pedal cyclists. Even worse; 49% of those injured in Cambridge City were cyclists, where pedal cycles were involved in 56% of all accidents in 2009. Yet as reported by Richard Taylor on the Cambridgeshire County Council October 2010 Full Council Meeting one of the key points was the council approving the moving of £1.2m from funding cycleways in Cambridge so that it can be spent on main roads across the county. Apparently "the ruling Conservatives' reason is more lives are saved per pound" this way. Humm, if cycleway works are cheaper than road works and just under 50% of casualties in Cambridge City are pedal cyclists then how does their maths work? I am sure the answer is in the detail, but I would guess that improving cycle routes is at least 10 times cheaper than improving roads so that £1.2m could deal with the cycle accidents hotspots far more effectively than the more diffuse motor vehicle accident hotspots. The CCC do have an interactive map showing such data here.

That actually was a bit of a sidetrack, what I was going to mention was that I recently had an update on CamToo, an interesting project to make better use of the River Cam in unblocking the City's transport issues. It first caught my attention because it mentioned cycling. As you might imagine the River Cam plays an important role in Cambridge and not just in the naming of the city. What I had not realised is that whilst the centre of Cambridge gets highly congested during the rush hour, so does the Cam. In addition whilst we have the Cambridge Guided Busway running on dedicated tracks to the North and South of the city the guided buses have to take their chances when they get to Milton Road and take to the congested roads. There are some bus lanes around, but they tend to be piecemeal and lots of puzzled motorists seem to drive in bus lanes. (Does this mean that some car drivers can't tell the difference between driving a car and a bus!)

So the CamToo project proposes to cut an additional Cam channel which would provide material for banking and so enable the Guided Busway to "join" the railway line and so never have to switch to the roads. It would also allow additional railway tracks to the site of the proposed new railway station (Cambridge Parkway, to the north of the city), thus making the railway more effective. Sounds great, except of course the fatal flaw in our car-centric world - it spends money on other forms of transport. Or am I being too cynical. Actually this would seem to be a great way to really capitalise on the CGB and certainly boost the Cambridge St Ives corridor. It is no coincidence that there are some "high-quality" apartment developments around the Railway Station. The essential attraction is the ability to live in a decent City whilst minimising the pain of a commute to somewhere with high-paying job opportunities. Whilst I am not a great fan of gentrification it would bring money to the City.

Now I am not a great fan of creating yet more commuter channels, but we already have a hierarchy of commuting. People in the area commute to London, as a prime source of opportunity. People also commute to Cambridge again as a place of opportunity. Why else do we have dormitory villages encircling the city. We need to make the commuting routes less car-centric, more pleasant for both the users and the people who live around them. We also need to reduce the need to commute as well - which means better infrastructure to support rural businesses and to enable more people to work from home - Broadband for the 21st Century. Just as the rivers used to be important communication routes but were superseded by the railways, which in turn were superseded by the roads. We need to plan for what comes next. Better communications has to go virtual. Broadband should be "superseding" the roads.

Whilst I digress, I would like to have multiple screens in my study ('cos I work at home). Which show my colleagues in real-time throughout the working day. It would be quite easy to allow me to play music or the Internet Radio but filter that out so my colleagues only hear my voice if I need to talk about things. When I get a cup of coffee I would switch to coffee room mode where anyone also doing the same would also be available for a chat. If your boss wants a chat, you can go private. What stops this happening - bandwidth. The advantage is that this approach would free up the roads for stuff that really needs to be physically transported. Motorists hate getting blocked by lorries, but lorries should get more priority surely, they are life-blood of our society.

All better roads really do is attract more commuters/freight until the overall pain is back to where it was, they rarely make things much better.

So what brought this on, well my Saturday afternoon cycle ride started it. With wet byways and bridleways one of the more pleasant (which means away from motor vehicles) longer-distance rides for an afternoon ride is to cycle out to St Ives along the NCN51 route and then back on the Cambridge misGuided Buscycleway (CGBC). This is a link to the BikeRouteToaster (BRT) map, shown below. It is a route I have taken a few times before. It follows NCN51 out of Cambridge but detours between Longstanton and Swavesey and also detours through Fen Drayton Lakes. It is around 53Km in length and pretty flat. I am not sure whether I will like it quite so much when the Guided Buses start to run though.

So the digression about CamToo was brought on by the "traffic jams" I saw on the on the River Cam as I cycled across Riverside Bridge. This lot must be novices and are racing the width of the Cam rather than along it. They don't get too tired that way.


Although I think of the River Cam as quite big as you can see here it is not that wide. It means that racing actually involves Bumps, the river is not wide enough for boats to race side by side and overtake. Races are started with boats in lines, separated by a gap of one and a half boat lengths. The aim is to catch up and bump the boat in front (and avoid the boat behind doing the same) and that way move up the order for the next race. This lot aren't racing - the boats ahead are all moving upriver. I assume that the boat in the foreground is about to turn around? A nice smile from the Cox anyway.


The boats look a little like some form of techo-water spider. I guess there is also conflict between the rowers and the moored boats. Well, actually I don't guess I read about it in the paper - "'Battleship Bob' in hot water over river clash". There is also conflict with the anglers as well - "This river's just not big enough for the both of us". Now what was the name of that project CamToo - ah yes a parallel channel for the Cam - (number 2). Sounds like a good idea.


My route out of Cambridge took me along Gilbert Road - where there were 14 cars parked in the Advisory Cycle Lanes. I wonder if anyone has ever studied what benefit there is from having Advisory cycle Lanes or are are they just used to allow Councillors to make claims about how green they are on the cheap. I would also be interested in knowing how often Cycling Infrastructure Guidelines are ignored. Frankly I have seen far too many poor cycle facilities, even in Cambridgeshire to think that cyclists are viewed as much more than a second-class nuisance. Talking of nuisances-

I should have grown out of it by I can't help getting a little pleasure out of seeing how long it is before I see a motor vehicle drive along the Oakington Airfield Road - which is banned to motor vehicles except for access. I think they must be a bit puzzled about what the sign means. Or perhaps they get confused by the yellow H sign, the speed de-restriction signs and the NCN51 signs and miss those big yellow signs showing a motorbike jumping over a car.


Yes it didn't take more than a minute or two for a car to drive by. As you can see the road isn't particularly wide so cars tend to drive in the middle of the road.


A little further on I stopped to take a picture of the sun setting across the fields looking towards the A14. The picture is made from two (x7) pictures stitched together. All in all 11 cars went by me on the Oakington Airfield Road, I am pretty sure that none of them were there for access.

Oakington Airfield road view.jpg

I vary my route out to St Ives, this particular one crosses the CGB twice by detouring to east of Swavesey and passing on the outskirts of Over. This is the view of the first crossing. This is Windmill Hill bridge. There is a windmill and Communications tower just behind the point at which I took this picture.


I also detoured through Fen Drayton Lakes, both detours add a slight bit onto the distance, but the first detour is no busier and the second detour is less busy than the alternate route. Although the roads through Fen Drayton Lakes are at best very bumpy and at worst rather potholed. At the Fen Drayton end I had cars driving towards me on my side of the track as they tried to avoid large potholes. They weren't going very fast though, but being a Saturday it was quite busy. (I passed 4 or 5 cars!)

I normally moan about how difficult it can be crossing the main road into St Ives, well today it was easy, perhaps because it was a Saturday and there were different traffic patterns. It was also dry and I did not get splashed cycling along the skinny shared-use cycle way on Low Road.

On my way into St Ives I took a picture of the River Great Ouse from the Chapel Bridge, the spire is All Saints Church, which has been in the town since 970. The sunset was starting to look rather good. I like the reflections of the buildings in the water.


I had to stop and take a picture of the "Kiss and Ride" stop in the St Ives CGB Park and Ride, At the moment you could stop and go for the full seduction whilst waiting for the bus.


As I cycled up the cycle path alongside the CGB I noticed a chap taking a picture of the sunset with his mobile phone. I couldn't see the sunset from where I was as there were trees in the way. It was not disappointing. The sky was a glorious colour and it was all reflected in the Lake.


The colours varied from an intense blue through to the golden orange on the skyline. When the CGB is up and running regular commuters will be treated to some fantastic sunsets.

St Ives Lakes sunset.jpg

Further along the CGB, there is good news for Buses and other users of the bridge, the Viaduct is no longer closed to traffic. Umm whoever planned that work managed to get the scheduling right - I am not quite sure what the work taking place was though, but at least it did not overrun - unlike the CGB itself. (Although there is that little matter of sealing the joints of the bridge that still needs to take place I assume.)

The high-quality cycle path is, I am afraid, getting worse, it is more flooded and more chewed up than ever. At one point I had to cycle though an area of flooded path. Well I suppose I could have used the concrete tracks instead. I really would not be happy if I had to used the path for regular cycle commuting especially in the dark. I suppose that as it is not officially open the CCC can wash their hands in it of it at the moment. Whilst they are happy to minute its unofficial use, they don't need to worry about how safe it is. The trouble is the probable response would be to close it - where's the Big Society when you need it.

As the sun carried on setting it seemed to light up the woods opposite.


This is a closeup of the tree across the lake - I can't have been holding the camera still enough as it is a bit blurred - but not too bad.


I passed four cyclists on my way into Cambridge - all using the concrete tracks. Which tells you something.. I did suffer a wobble when my front wheel went over a small rock I hadn't seen somewhere near Windmill Hill.

So the good points about the CGB - glorious sunsets, the bad points - the cycle track is rapidly deteriorating and seems set to get worse over Winter. It is a good job, for cyclists and walkers, that buses aren't running at the moment.

I did pop up to NCN51 to try to get more pictures of the cycle-path lighting with a better camera. This is what it looks like. A runway of lights heading off into the distance.


I like cycling at night and the middle section of the CGB cycle path is pretty good for cycling at night. There were one or two dog walkers dressed in dark clothing but my lights were up to the job. I find the road crossing points not so cycling friendly. I assume that once buses are running they will switch on the street lights around them, which should help. The barriers do not have reflective materials on them.

At the moment both ends are really bad for cycling at night as you can't see the track surface well enough to compensate for the sogginess at one end and the loose rubble at the other. One end is going to get tarmac and the other is the subject of disagreement between the CCC and the Contractors - in the meantime we taxpayers struggle on.


  1. I think the camToo proposal is that there'll be a busway from Newmarket Road (Barnwell Junction, basically) to the point at which the old St Ives line crossed Milton Road. Hopefully the land beside the railway up to Barnwell Junction will be earmarked and protected for a cycle route similar to the Chisholm Trail idea.

  2. I would really like to see a more direct route to the Lodes Way from Cambridge. The CamToo maps seem to imply a tunnel under the A14 where it heads out towards Burwell, along the route of the old railway line. I also think that cycle commuter routes should also have a decent tarmac surface unlike the soggy CGB route! I am not going to hold my breath though :-)

  3. The CGB maintenance track between Milton Road and Longstanton (Park and Ride, perhaps) *should* be tarmac'd. There's a tiny-wee section outside Cambridge Regional College that was surfaced a good year or so ago but the whole route up until Longstanton should be surfaced properly; no-one's got around to doing it and there hasn't been much of a fuss about it---which is a bit of a shame.

  4. Apparently it will be cheaper for the CCC to use another contractor to do the tarmac between Cambridge and Milton! There was a suggestion that the other contractor could start early but the disagreements on the completion of the CGB have made this a non-starter.

    It is a shame because returning in the dark that last bit of rubble strewn path near the CRC is rather unsettling!

    In my cynical view the CGB Cycle path is used for secondary PR value but should have been treated as a *separate* cycle amenity in the first place. I believe that given the issues then the current NCN11 (between Cambridge and St Ives) will need to remain as a fair weather route.

  5. Those sunset photos are just amazing.


  6. Thank you. A bit of luck being up at the lakes end at the right time. When the buses are running the commuters will have an interesting journey I think.