Will 2018 be the year when transport in Cambridge turns a corner? Here at the Smarter Cambridge Transport volunteer group, we certainly hope so. There’s a lot on our wishlist for the authorities.
Let’s start by organising trials of some ideas, to see if they can work here. Humans are averse to change, even if there are gains to be had. It’s crucial to public acceptance that there are practical demonstrations of how change can be good.
Successful events like Mill Road Winter Fair and the Cambridge Marathon prove that closing roads and diverting traffic is possible. How about we expand the Big Weekend to more parts of the city with streets closed for street stalls and café tables? People will progressively see the benefits of changing the way traffic dominates the streets.
Trialling a bus gate on Northampton St would show how it could speed buses and cycles through the notoriously slow Castle St junction. We could also run a trial of ‘Inbound Flow Control’ to see how much it can reduce congestion and make bus journeys more reliable. On Milton Rd or Babraham Rd, such a trial would require relatively little engineering work.
Two initiatives which we’ve encouraged and contributed ideas towards should make big strides forward in 2018. Plans will emerge for the ‘Greenways’ network of cycle routes linking villages to each other and to Cambridge. The County Council’s Highways department needs to back this up by allocating a realistic budget for maintenance of cycleways.
Proposals for the first ‘Travel Hubs’ in South Cambridgeshire are eagerly awaited. At the top of our list are a bus station at Cambourne, and greatly improved connections, by foot, cycle and bus, with Whittlesford Parkway station.
Away from the big projects, we’d like more focus on small fixes. Do you know of any traffic lights with inefficient timings, or locations where a designated loading bay would reduce congestion? Where are the streets that need crossings or better pavements to encourage pedestrians? Which junctions need redesigning to make cycling safer? What are the area’s most off-putting bus stops?
Most of us can come up with answers to these questions because we live and work here. We’d like to see these smaller fixes implemented, as a means both of helping motor traffic flow more freely and encouraging people to use alternative means of transport. Let’s lean on the authorities to actually do this.
Something else we’d like to discuss is how we can encourage or enable bus operators to run more express bus services. Quick and reliable journeys are what get people using public transport, as the popularity of trains demonstrates.
The Greater Cambridge Partnership has commissioned a study of Cambridge’s traffic lights. We hope that its conclusion will support our argument (since 2015) that a significant reduction in congestion, especially on key bus routes, can be achieved through a modest investment in upgrading and integrating traffic signals.
Finally, we hope to see a new Local Transport Plan which we can all support. The Combined Authority, chaired by the mayor, is drawing up a new transport plan for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. This needs to be acknowledge the huge technological and social changes that we are experiencing, and which will transform people’s relationship with transport over the next couple of decades.
You’ll notice we haven’t mentioned tunnelling under Cambridge to create an underground light rail, or futuristic, high-speed guided bus networks. These will be expensive, slow to materialise and hugely disruptive. Of course they should be considered seriously, but only as part of a wider plan where they can play a critical part.
Until then, we’d like to see realistic intitiatives, including the quick wins and trials which we could be reporting on in encouraging terms by this time next year. Smarter Cambridge Transport is growing, and we’ll continue to put forward the ideas and ask the questions.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 3 January 2018.