We urgently need a vision for Cambridge city centre. The city’s planning department agrees and has commissioned BDP, a multidisciplinary urban planning and design firm, to help develop one. They have gathered input from consultations and workshops, which they are now analysing and developing into proposals to put forward for consultation in early 2019.
In anticipation of that, I urge you to start thinking and discussing with friends and colleagues what kind of city centre you want for Cambridge.
To change nothing is not an option. Population and employment growth is inevitable, continuing a bimillennial trend. Uncertainties of Brexit aside, the current accelerated pace of growth will endure for the next decade or more. That means more people living in the city, and more travelling in to work, study, meet, shop, attend to their health, and sightsee.
Tunnelling may be part of the solution, but it will take decades to replace more than a few bus routes. In the meantime, we have to reorganise access arrangements in the city centre.
Thanks to the city’s medieval footprint, we have a relatively small amount of ‘highway’ (roads plus pavements) to work with. There isn’t room for more single-occupancy cars. That means all future growth has to be taken up by space-efficient vehicles and walking. But we cannot shoe-horn extra buses, shared taxis, cycles, and pedestrians into the city centre without some current road users surrendering space.
Substituting buses for single-occupancy cars is not enough; we also need to make more space for walking and cycling – especially on streets like Magdalene St, Bridge St, Silver St and Hobson St. What if we removed all motor vehicles from those streets (except for access and deliveries)? Would wider pavements, cycle lanes, a greater sense of safety, and reduced toxic air pollutants offset the slightly reduced convenience for people catching the bus to and from the city centre? Could we also re-route buses to better serve employment, retail and leisure sites not just in the city centre?
I think so, but is that what you want for the city? If not, what is your vision?
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 24 October 2018.