Some people, including the mayor, are frustrated when they hear Smarter Cambridge Transport calling for more time to be spent developing a coherent transport strategy and evaluating options. Understandably they’re impatient to see congestion-busting “spades in the ground” sooner rather than later.
We’re impatient to see action too. But right now we think that should be on interventions that can be delivered relatively quickly and cheaply – and yield significant benefits: smart traffic signalling, rural travel hubs, more express bus services, early and late extensions to P&R and other bus services, more protected cycle routes, reliable journey planning information, etc. We also want to see trials of more controversial interventions, such as road access restrictions and Inbound Flow Control.
When it comes to expensive, large-scale schemes, it’s important we and others keep asking questions. It’s taken the Greater Cambridge Partnership three years to recruit expertise and build an evidence base to begin to answer them. The Combined Authority has hit the ground running, but it too must build a team with the expertise to develop and deliver an integrated, multi-modal transport strategy for the wider region.
Take the ‘metro’ idea: it’s essentially an expensive replacement for a regular bus service, justified by being able to carry more people per hour more reliably. So far we’ve identified just one route (Trumpington P&R–Biomedical Campus–Cambridge station–city centre) where the volume of passengers is likely to warrant the cost of a tunnel and mass transit vehicles.
Building a metro isn’t quick either. Copenhagen has a metro. Planning for it started in 1992. The first line was opened ten years later; the fourth will open another seventeen years later. Overly hasty planning almost always leads to expensive mistakes and delays later on.
Big road schemes – like dualling an A road or building a new busway – cost hundreds of millions of pounds. It’s reasonable to ask if greater benefit can be derived from spreading that money more widely across the county.
Let’s see action on interventions that can make a difference now, while the Combined Authority gets the longer term strategy right.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 7 March 2018.