Monday, August 1, 2011

Not up the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB) just down it

Wednesday, July 27th: After a few busy weeks, which in my case means weeks where I can’t get as much cycling in as I would like I have been able to sneak out a bit more often.  Cycling is good musing time for me.  If I have to create a presentation then I tend to mull it over as I cycle. I also tend to look at the changes as well as the changing seasons in the places I cycle.  I also think about cycling and how I feel using the road along with potentially dangerous metal boxes on wheels.

It is no secret that I feel that the level of discourtesy on the roads has increased, which is not pleasant if you are a motorist and makes the roads feel more dangerous if you one of the un-cocooned in a dangerous metal box road users. So I really do enjoy heading out along the byways, bridleways and country lanes when cycling. There is more courtesy and less noise.

That is one of the reasons I like the cycle way alongside the Cambridge Guided Busway (CGB). Mind you you can have too much of a good thing so for this ride I set out along the “old” NCN51 through places like Girton and Longstanton before heading back along the CGB and then through the Fens – well Quy-cum-Stow Fen anyway. I didn’t actually follow the route exactly. I detoured over Windmill Bridge (and Over) as I was hoping to catch sight (and pictures) of some Guided Buses in action. I do want to get a sense of just how noisy they are and what is it like to be cycling along the cycle way when buses go past.  I didn’t see any buses though, they are a bit more elusive than I thought.

Here is the actual route and here is the Bike Route Toaster link.  It is a very pleasant 70Km/44 miles in length, flat and most of it can be cycled either off-road or on roads with cycle lanes.  

There has been a lot of work on Riverside to make it a more pedestrian and cycle friendly route.  It runs parallel to Newmarket Road and was being used as a rat run to bypass the queues that build up during the rush hour. I couldn’t easily find a link to point to, so here is a picture I took of one of the information boards earlier this year. There is more work being considered for the whole area – here is the Cambridge City Council Riverside Appraisal document (8Mb pdf).

I was struck by the sharpness of the cycle exit for those wanting to carry cycling alongside the river. It doesn’t look it on the board but on a bike is quite a change in direction. I do hope that the parking for cars will be changed when the work is finished. This is the bit under Elizabeth Way Bridge and the car parking space actually overlaps with the cycle route at the moment. According to the Wikipedia link there is a target shooting range under the bridge – you learn something new every day.

There are quite a few cameras around here, to discourage “undesirables” from hanging around in the shelter of the bridge.

After looking at my BRT map I realise that I have gotten the detail wrong. As you can see from this picture I was on the town side of the River Cam, but my BRT map shows me crossing the Riverside Bridge, Actually I crossed by the bridge next to the Fort St George a slightly more direct route.

I have to say that Gilbert Road improvements, which caused much controversy when it was being considered really is much more pleasant to cycle along. There were no vehicles parked in the cycle lanes, although I note that there were some vehicles parked on the grass verge, which I believe is also illegal, but apart from affecting sight lines for the driveways on the road weren’t interesting enough to take any pictures of.

The route took me past Oakington Airfield on a road that is banned to most motor vehicles (except for things like buses and taxis), not that you would know it though. I stopped for a couple of minutes to see what came past. I was pleased to see a bike go by.

Although the bike was followed almost immediately by a car which didn’t seem to fall into any of the exempt categories of vehicle.

I kept an eye on things (well a lens as well) to make sure that the cyclist was ok!

It got me thinking, not about this patch of road, but about road use in general. It is not unusual to see calls for compulsory training for cyclists  - “Edinburgh City Council urged to make cycle training compulsory in primary schools”. Before I was allowed by my parents to cycle freely around part of the deal was that I passed my Cycling proficiency test. When I drive in foreign countries I don’t just assume it will be like the UK but also try to understand the important differences. (I don’t just mean which side of the road you drive on either.) Indeed the “Former Mayor of Cambridge has called for the education of foreign cyclists”. Apparently some cyclists don’t appreciate that it is dangerous to cycle on the pavement – perhaps it is not always clear to them why some pavements are shared and some aren’t.

the trouble is for some time we have been told how cycling is so dangerous that you have to take special precautions – such as wearing helmets and wearing high visibility clothing and taking the primary position. Yet motorists don’t really get it drummed into them how they share the roads safely with cyclists.

So I was a little surprised to see that the Telegraph reports that “Bicycle helmets should not be compulsory, say doctors”. Indeed I was also heartened to see a letter in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) suggesting that if the BMJ should really focus on the real danger on our roads – motor vehicles, if it is to focus on the improvement in “health” or rather reduction in death and serious injury.

Strangely enough I also missed an item, in which the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM) suggested that “cycle training ‘more important then helmets’: IAM”. Although the comments suggest that the sentiment is not as cut and dried as the headline suggests. When I was knocked of my bike I was wearing high-visibility clothing and so this item also caught my attention “Cyclist queries worth of high-visibility clothing” where a teenager has been twice hit by a car whilst wearing high-visibility gear (in New Zealand).

I think that the issue is that those responsible for the roads – both construction and policing have to take responsibility for the safety of the road users, but not in terms of the vulnerability or the road users but rather the lethality of the road users. What do I mean, well the more potentially dangerous your vehicle then the more oversight there needs to be of your activity. Why are more cyclists dying on Britain’s roads? Well it is an attitudinal issue.

I don’t really know how true it is but the Daily Mail reports that: “the average Briton will break the speed limit 18,000 times over their life”.  It also claims that the average driver will check their phone for texts 1,292 times – flip since I know that there are many drivers who don’t do that sort of thing at all it means there are some drivers doing it all the time.  It also goes on to say how 4% of drivers have dozed off whilst driving. I am not proud of it, but I am honest enough to admit I have fallen briefly asleep at the wheel, fortunately apart from scaring me half to death I just screeched my tyres a bit.

There are also drivers who race their Sat-navs by trying to beat the estimated time to complete a journey. Also there are loads of foreign drivers slipping through the speeding net. So forgive me if I get a little annoyed with people preaching the importance of wearing a cycle helmet when I have to share the road with these sorts of antics.

It is worse though as far as Cycling infrastructure goes we are fighting over the scraps. Look at the situation in London with the problems of Blackfriars Bridge the agenda for the powers that be in London still seems to be car-centric. Let’s hope that they take notice of the protests.  Every cyclist is one less polluting car driver, look at the Boris bikes – talk about mixed messages coming out of the powers that be.

Oh those poor “cash-strapped motorists”, for whom “Petrol prices near record high”. the answer is simple drive more steadily or better still use alternative means of transport. Having said all that I am not sure I really think that police cameras everywhere is the solution is happens just down the road in Royston.

So one of my thoughts whilst watching motorists transgress was perhaps we need to focus on the high mileage drivers.  In my experience it is the higher mileage drivers that I tend to watch out for when cycling. I am sorry to say it but the vehicles I steer clear of if I can are the white van drivers, buses and taxi drivers. These are motorists for whom time is money, they tend to be regular and confident drivers with what sometimes seems scant regard for less confident drivers.

As it happens I used to have a job where I did quite a lot of business miles and it did colour my attitudes to other drivers and the frustrations of traffic jams – on balance I believe that far from making me a better driver it actually made me a less good driver. Nowadays I do a lot fewer miles and think I have become more considerate (again).

So perhaps just as we focus on testing high mileage vehicles we should also focus on high mileage drivers. Perhaps not testing them but certainly increasing their duty of care to other road users. I feel that companies also should have a higher duty of care when employing professional drivers – be they lorry drivers, business people or sales people. Perhaps all such vehicles should employ tachographs, or maybe the GPS equivalent.

With great mass or great mileage comes great responsibility!

As it happens there were only four or five cars on this bit of road as I cycled through and one of them was a taxi driver and so a legitimate user of the road.

(If you use BRT then a slight oddity is that the road does not route automatically over this Oakington Airfield Road even with the Cycle routing selected – you have to switch to manual route to get over it.)

As I mentioned I went up over Windmill Bridge hoping to see some buses on the CGB. I didn’t, I did see pedestrians on the track though. this is the view looking towards Swavesey/ The fencing on the left is where the Over bridleway meets the CGB.  (It is a crap route for cyclists with a very unpleasant surface to cycle on, dangerous even).

And here is another chap on the concrete tracks. I think that part of the issue is that there is no break in the tracks, so rightly or wrongly people walking get over the first kerb and then just carry on down rather than cross the next three kerbs.  The trouble is if you are listening to music on headphones that you might not hear a bus coming. 

Further along the route, just after Swavesey there was an oilseed rape field just in flower, this is a late planting helping to stagger the harvests I guess. The building to the left is Swavesey Village College where my wife and I attended antenatal classes many moons ago.

The NCN51 route (as is) passes by Fen Drayton Lakes, you can go through if you want. I also realised that each of the lakes alongside the CGB is named on the OSM map, at the appropriate zoom level.

They seem to grow an interesting crop in the fields alongside. It only seems likes a few weeks ago that it had been harvested and baled (actually March 2011).

I can’t say I know what it is, but it looks like Miscanthus, which is used as a biofuel?

I found my way into St Ives, and then headed back towards the entrance to the CGB, I seemed to wait for ages at the traffic lights, so long that I thought they might have not been working in fact.

Then I started rolling down towards Cambridge. The first bit of the track has chunks where is has been damaged by being flooded and then had cycle-unfriendly gravel added to stop the motor vehicles getting bogged down.

By Swavesey you reach the black tarmac and you can go pick up the pace a bit. Although I find that as i keep stopping to take pictures my pace never picks up that much. Here is a more conventional recently cut field.

The new surface does seem to have widened the appeal of the cycle route. There a seem to be more Lycra-clad cyclists out in training mode nowadays, mind you the fine weather also helps. I think this chap went up to the end of the black stuff and then turned around as he passed me a little further down the track.

This is Windmill Bridge (as it was in the last picture) you can see the heat haze causing the surface of the tarmac to look wet or mirror like.

Another Lycra-clad cyclist who passed me as I was taking the last picture and for a bit of sport I caught up with to show myself I could still cycle reasonable quickly when pushed.

One of the things that regular CGB bus users will benefit from is seeing the countryside change through the seasons. At the moment there is a lot of combining going on.

In total on my trip down the cycle path from St Ives I counted 2 cyclists and 5 walkers using the concrete tracks and 48 cyclists and 8 walkers using the tarmac. The two cyclists were on the bit where the cycle path is loose gravel.

After the CGB I headed up through Milton and onto the tow path alongside the River Cam and then along the bridleway past Quy Fen. this is the view somewhere along the first bridleway – the farmers are going to be busy for the next few weeks.

That blob was a strange shaped cloud – although looking at the picture it does look a bit like a bit of dirt on the lens, it isn’t though.

On the final bridleway to Station Road Quy I passed this crop boundary.

On the way past the Quy Mill Hotel was this plant – it is striking but looks like it has escaped from a garden as opposed to being wild (or a weed). However my wife identified it as a wild sweet pea or on of the Lathyrus family.

There are quite a few members of the Lathyrus family – but this could be latifolius. My Collins book of Wildflowers suggest that it is Narrow-leaved Everlasting Pea – Lathyrus sylvestris.

As I took the pictures I noticed this apple tree – now I have cycled along this track many, many times and never realised that there was an apple tree here at all.

I did almost suffer at the hands of a fellow cyclist when cycling under the railway bridge alongside the Cam between Ditton Meadows and Stourbridge Common.  To get under the bridge a wooden bridge has been build and I tinged my bell as I went onto the bridge –the cyclist coming the other way can’t have been paying any attention as there seemed to be mild panic as he used his foot brake. In order not to crash into me he had to put his feet down as well as use his bike brakes.

It was still a lovely afternoon for cycling though.


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