I happened to be in Cambridge this week and I also happened to see some relatively new streets. You would think that in the UK city with the highest rate of cycling that I'd have seen some world class cycling infrastructure? Sadly not.
OK, what I did see in the Eddington development, in the northwest of the city was far better than literally most of the UK, there were some fundamental flaws with what had been built. I think most of the issues lie with the design rather than a lack of skills from the road workers who built it.
I don't know a lot about the development itself, but from what I have read, it aims to be a highly sustainable development and it certainly looks impressive, but as this is a highways and transport blog, it's the road details which interest me.
The development sits between Madingley Road and Huntingdon Road with a new spine road connecting the two - Eddington Avenue. Towards the centre of the site, Eddington Avenue has a a bus gate which operates between 7am and 7pm. The bus gate is meant to be controlled by rising bollards, but it is currently staffed because of mechanical problems (the street network being currently under private developer control).
The bus gate is bypassed with Turing Way which immediately creates a potential issue of attracting through traffic. This may or may not prove to be an issue in the future as I don't know how attractive the route will be and in principle, a distributor road isn't necessarily an issue. In fact, the road layout largely provides protected and buffered space for walking and cycling.
As can be seen in the photograph above (at the north end of Eddington Avenue) there is a footway, a (one-way) cycle track and a verge buffer on each side of the street. Bus stops are floating and every so often there are communal underground refuse collection areas with laybys for refuse vehicles. Actually, it has a very Dutch feel to it. The cycle tracks are machine laid in red asphalt and the footways are finished in attract concrete block paving.
However, the disappointment for me is three-fold. First the central part of Eddington Avenue loses the cycle tracks and one is expected to mix with general traffic - the designers were trying to create a town square, but in transport terms it doesn't work for me. Despite the bus gate, there is quite a bit of on-street parking near a new primary school and some of the parking is echelon laid out to encourage drivers to reverse out which is a safety risk for cycling.
There are connections through the The Ridge Way cycle route which are not defined through the town square which means people cycling have to pick their way through people walking and street furniture so it's less successful for walking too. I don't know who decided on the town square idea, but for it to have worked well, the connections to The Ridgeway should have been acknowledged, embraced and made legible for people walking and cycling. The area should have been car-free, and if not, the cycle tracks should have been carried through. Despite being an access to the primary school, parents really won't want to mix with traffic and buses.
Second, the provision for walking and cycling at each end of the development where it connects to the existing road network is poor. The signalised junction with Huntingdon Road doesn't even have a pedestrian crossing over Huntingdon Road and people cycling are mixing with traffic within the junction, although the paint gives way to protected cycle tracks along Eddington Avenue. There is a toucan crossing over the entrance to Eddington Avenue, but it is two-stage and staggered, the latter being less helpful to the users of non-standard and adapted cycles;
The photograph above shows how people cycling north towards Huntingdon Road are treated - they are essentially dropped into a central advisory cycle lane which ends at an advanced stop line. Also known as a "murderstrip" by the Belgians. It is not a layout which is safe for all and so people jump onto the footways and in fact, there are blue shared-use signs after one is dumped in the road, expect there's no way onto the footway from the road. At the Madingley Road end, it's a little better with toucans crossings all round, but again, we have two-stage staggered arrangements.
The layout of the two connections will have been heavily influenced by Cambridgeshire County Council which has prioritised motor traffic capacity over active travel. Huntingdon Road and Madingley Road are both A-roads providing connections into Cambridge City Centre. Despite the Madingley Road end of Eddington Avenue serving a large park which should take out traffic going into the city, the decision has been taken to maintain traffic capacity.
I can't lay this totally at the County, they are responding to how the UK transport planning is arranged. If a development creates traffic congestion, then there are grounds to refuse planning consent. Therefore, everyone involved works hard to ensure a scheme is (as far as possible) motor traffic neutral and walking and cycling usually suffers. This can be traced back through planning and transport legislation which makes it hard for a planning authority and its councillors form acting differently.
What we should be doing is setting objectives which prioritise walking, cycling and public transport and giving what's left to the private car. In this location, this would have meant single-stage crossings with walking and cycling have their own separate and protected space.
My third disappointment is the detailing on Eddington Avenue and Turing Way. This is a new build and it should have been world class, but it doesn't even conform to designs which we managed to build several years ago.
The photograph above captures the issues. The footway and cycle track are at the same level and so the practice has been to provide tactile paving and a raised demarcation kerb between the two. On the walking side, the tactile paving has ridges running across the line of travel (known as ladder paving) and on the cycle side, the tactile paving has ridges running along the line of travel (tram paving). This arrangement is to help visually impaired people find the right side to walk.
The paving is present, but it is inconsistently applied and the central demarcation block is missing - a basic edging kerb has been used. The lack of raised demarcation makes it harder for visually impaired people to know where the edge of the footway is. Had it been provided, it would have looked like this;
Had the cycle tracks been stepped (i.e. at a lower level than the footway) then we could have dispensed with pretty much all of the tram and ladder paving and given better information to visually impaired people such as this example which shows a higher kerb where people might walk towards the cycle track perpendicularly and a lower (and forgiving kerb) along the line of travel. Given the scale of the site, the developer could have had 30° splay kerbs developed!
The other problem comes at junctions and accesses. The modern principle is to make footways and cycle tracks continuous over low traffic junctions and accesses to prioritise walking and cycling. The photograph below is a service access to the primary school which I am assuming is very seldom used.
We have tram and ladder paving to ensure visually impaired people are on the correct side and the footway ends with blister paving to show a crossing point. Kerbs from the edge of the carriageway continue into the access along with double yellow lines - cues to the driver that they have priority. The immediate junction with the main road also looks like, well a junction. People walking and cycling see "their" paving carried through the access which gives an impression that they might have priority. The problem here is, that in the event that everyone thinks they have priority, then it's those walking and cycling who come off worse.
At a seldom used access, this is probably not a significant safety risk, but at the junction of Eddington Avenue and Turing Way is most definitely is;
The paving colour is taken through the junction again, although now we have blister paving on the footway and cycle track. For cycling, the movement is one-way into the distance and so there is a risk of being hit from a driver turning left. The cycle track is not set very far into the side road (Eddington Avenue) and so someone cycling would have to check over their right shoulder that it's safe to cross. The dropped kerbs are not flush either (although that is a construction issue).
There are a number of crossing points over the spine road (which is a good thing). The photograph above is typical with a tactile deluge. The correct detail here would be to keep the cycle track and the footway running through with a localised crossing of the cycle track to the "floating" waiting area to cross the main road.
The other frustration is for people wanting to cross the road by cycle. The photograph above has a side road coming from the right. If one was cycling and wanted to turn right, one would expect access to the cycle track on the left hand side of the photograph. But one cannot because there is no gap in the verge. Conversely one cannot turn right from the cycle track into the side street opposite.
There are some great details. The verges are actually part of the surface water management system, give space for trees and create a safety buffer. There are on-street parking bays which have a buffer from the cycle track to stop dooring incidents. Where space is a little more constrained, the cycle tracks are next to the carriageway, but a wide kerb has been used to help provide a buffer and a visual break. The town square looks rather Scandinavian (if you ignore the parking and lack of clear cycling space).
It's now probably too late to go back and retrofit the site to my exacting idea of utopia. Demarcation blocks are 200mm wide and the work to remove the edging kerbs and their foundations to put in demarcation blocks would be substantial. Reworking the quiet junctions and access should be easier (but still costly), but now we have entrance kerbs in the UK, we could do something like this;
Where the side streets meet the main road, we could add cycling access to the cycle track opposite and tidy up the pedestrian crossing points like this;
The greatest challenge will be to sort out the junction of Eddington Avenue and Turing Way (remembering there are two junctions). I would like to see the crossing points set back into Eddington Avenue at least 5 or 6 metres and a design taken on priority. Because buses are turning into the side street, the entrance kerb treatment would work because bus traffic will damage the kerbs and paving.
I would like to set the crossings point back into the side street about 5 or 6 metres. Then a decision is needed in terms of priority. The layout should either make it clear that traffic has priority like this;
Or we can continue the walking and cycling priority with a parallel zebra crossing like this;
If the crossing point cannot be set back, it is harder to decide, but given it's Cambridge where cycling is being gradually improved I would look at the parallel crossing option and seeing if the junction could be made any tighter for turning traffic. Luckily, it's not my decision and I'm not advising!
So there we have it, a good try to be sure. But, the scheme is let down by the lack of attention to detail which is a shame because as is often the case, doing things correctly doesn't cost any more than doing them badly.