Smarter Cambridge Transport

What to do with buses in Cambridge city centre?

A can which has been kicked down the road many times is the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s (GCP) City Access Strategy. This is primarily about reducing motor traffic in Cambridge to ease congestion, allowing buses to run quickly and reliably through the city. The Joint Assembly has now called for a “substantial” report on this in September.

The thing is, council officers have already produced at least seven such reports setting out the options: in 2016; in 2017, after the mismanaged plan to introduce “peak time control points”; three times in 2018 (in March, July and December) after the “Big Conversation”; in 2019; and again in 2020, after the citizens’ assembly.

The options don’t change. The decision about which to implement is political, not technical. But councillors have been unable to come to an agreement.

The previous mayor offered them a get-out: one day there would be tunnels under Cambridge, allowing driverless buses or pods to avoid congested city roads en route to major employment centres in the city. No longer: the new mayor is cancelling the CAM “metro” project. CAM also included underground stations where people could interchange between routes. That will have to happen above ground. But where?

The twenty-seven bus stops around Drummer St are too widely dispersed to function as a bus station. And bus routes through the city centre, especially Hobson St, Bridge St, Magdalene St and Silver St, are unsuited to large buses.

So, the City Access Strategy must achieve two goals: reduce the number of cars driving into and around the city, and redesign bus routes to accommodate more buses and facilitate interchanging. GCP has yet to come up with a plan for the latter.

Had GCP started with a transport strategy for the city, would it be building new roads for buses to bypass miles of congested traffic on the approach roads to Cambridge? Reducing traffic in the city depends in large part on reducing the amount of traffic entering the city – in other words, having less traffic on approach roads. That is still not a future GCP is planning for – nor endeavouring to create.

Next week I’ll look at the options that councillors must choose from in September.

This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 28 July 2021.

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.