Smarter Cambridge Transport

Nodes before modes

Isn’t it fabulous that the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) is looking at tunnels for Cambridge’s transport needs? Where will the tunnels run? Where will they surface? What will we run through them: trains, trams, guided or ‘bullet’ buses? Will the same vehicles run on busways and how will that affect their design?

Often in this column we’ve warned against “concrete first” thinking, and here we are doing it again. It was boo to a busway; now it’s yay to a tunnel! Sorry to be a party pooper, but there are a whole lot of other conversations we need to have first.

Notice what’s missing in discussion about tunnels? Any mention of people.

Forgive me repeating myself, but transport is about moving people (and goods) not vehicles. It’s unfortunate that transport planning is, for the most part, taught by engineers (who build things) rather than social scientists (who try to understand people).

The first question we should be asking is, what do people need (to get them out of their cars)? Where do they need to get to (e.g. a workplace, school, relative’s home, leisure venue)? What factors make it attractive to make a journey not entirely by car (cheaper, quicker, more reliable, more enjoyable, less stressful)? How do existing non-car options fail to meet those criteria?

Nowhere in that conversation will the words ‘tunnel’ or ‘busway’ crop up.

When you map out everyone’s needs, it looks like a drunk spider’s web. The art of transport planning is to bundle up threads to create arteries of high transport demand, linking highly-connected hubs.

This tells us two things:

  • Where the hubs (essentially bus or rail stations) need to be located.
  • What modes of public transport will best meet demand: the thicker the artery, the bigger the vehicle needed: a minibus, single- or double-decker bus, multi-car tram, or train.

Only when we know that, should we be talking about infrastructure to connect the hubs.

GCP is launching a travel survey this month, which will help build up a picture of people’s travel needs: be sure to take part.

This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 06 August 2017.

Edward Leigh

Edward Leigh is the leader of Smarter Cambridge Transport, chair and independent co-opted member of the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel, chair of the South Petersfield Residents Association, business owner, consultant, and occasional blogger about making the world and Cambridge a better place to live.

1 comment

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  • There needs to be something, urgently, done about the Hills Road/Lensfield Road/Gonville Place Junction.
    I was on a bus which, tonight, took about 20 minutes to clear those lights and that is with having to wait for the bus, in the first place, which must have been exashabated by those lights.
    Granted – there were roadworks on Station Road Corner but, this is a regular occurance.