In 2014 the government awarded Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire a £500m City Deal for transport, housing and skills. A year later, the group now known as Smarter Cambridge Transport came together to advance integrated, innovative and sustainable transport ideas. It was a reaction to the outdated, piecemeal and over-scaled solutions being advanced by the City Deal, now Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP).
We recognised that transport is about people and their behaviour choices. We saw around the world many levers being use to change behaviour, civil engineering being just one of them. We understood that, cumulatively, many small interventions would provide new transport options for many more people than a few bus lanes. We believed that small successes and trialling of interventions would build trust and confidence in making more radical changes.
We built a team, which is still growing. We set up an online discussion forum to allow team members to meet virtually, to share experiences, insights, research and ideas – on all aspects of all modes of transport. We aimed to engage with the most significant transport and planning projects going on in our region.
So, how have we done?
Smarter Cambridge Transport has played a significant role in persuading GCP to recruit an experienced team; reform its governance; improve the quality of its communications; build a stronger evidence base; pursue an expansion of residents parking zones; boost the Smart Cambridge technology programme; expand cycleway schemes into South Cambridgeshire; put the Girton Interchange back on the map; and develop a network of travel hubs.
Rural travel hubs (a term that we coined to emphasize its function, as a point on a journey) are part of a bigger innovation we have been promoting: to create a bus network that runs more like a railway or the Guided Busway, but without the track. This would cater better to commuters and complement traditional bus services that reach deeper into communities.
You may think that, because we’re pro walking, cycling, trains, buses and parking controls, we must therefore be anti car. We’re not. One of our very first campaigns was for a road improvement: an all-ways junction at the Girton Interchange. The junction is being made safer as part of the A14 upgrade but, to save money, Highways England dropped initial plans to add connections – with the acquiescence of Cambridgeshire County Council. The connections are now with the National Infrastructure Commission (as part of the Oxford–Cambridge Expressway) and backed by GCP and local MPs.
We have contributed ideas for addressing problems around Cambridge station; improving plans for a large development north of Cherry Hinton; and redesigning the Grafton area, especially the East Road side, to improve access on foot and cycle and by bus.
We wrote a detailed review of the physical state of the Guided Busway, concluding that it may need considerably more spent on it than the professionally estimated repair bill of £36.5m. Coinciding with publishing our review in July, the County Council announced that they were suing BAM Nuttall, the contractor that built the busway.
This wasn’t the only paper of ours to catch the attention of a national transport trade publication. Our submission to the Parliamentary Transport Committee on solving urban congestion prompted an invitation to speak at a conference in February 2018.
We also submitted a paper to the Wolfson Economics Prize on road pricing. Though we missed out on a prize, our paper had much in common with the winner’s. We plan on submitting it to the National Infrastructure Commission’s ongoing consultation on priorities for national infrastructure.
Want to join in the conversation? Smarter Cambridge Transport is having an informal ‘meet the team’ evening on Monday 8 January 2018 upstairs at the Grain & Hop Store pub in Cambridge. Just turn up – any time between 6pm and 10pm.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 27 December 2017.