Smarter Cambridge Transport

Will closing Mill Road create mayhem or show us the future of low-car living?

Mill Road in Cambridge will be closed from 1st July to 25th August 2019 to allow Network Rail to rebuild the bridge over the railway.

Effective lobbying by local councillors and residents has ensured there will be a temporary pedestrian bridge open during most of the works. There will also be shuttle buses running from either side of the bridge, on the west to Drummer St, on the east to Sainsbury’s at Coldham’s Lane. (I argue these should in fact run further, on the west side to Cambridge station via Tenison Road, and on the east to Addenbrooke’s.)

Notably, there have been no street protests or threats of judicial review over how socially unjust the closure is, or how it will damage local businesses. That’s because it’s temporary, seemingly inevitable, and (whisper it) quite popular.

As a society we accept that ‘rat running’ is bad and removing through traffic from residential areas is good. But we take the opposite view when the road in question has shops or is an ‘arterial’ route.

Plenty of research studies have shown that people who walk or cycle to a street spend more than those who drive there. And Mill Road isn’t really an arterial route: it only runs out as far as the outer ‘ring’ road. Would the impact of its closure be acceptable long-term? Let’s see: unlike mathematical models, real-life experiments give you real answers. Cameras have been set up to monitor changes in vehicle, cycle and pedestrian traffic on Mill Road and diversionary routes.

We know we must make radical changes to the way we travel around. We’re naturally resistant to change that might cause us inconvenience or disadvantage relative to now or, perhaps more affectingly, relative to other people. It’s difficult to imagine, yet alone predict reliably, how other people will change their behaviour, and how that in turn will affect us.

So, let’s learn from Mill Road closure, and use it as a template for running experimental closures elsewhere in the city. In the words of the King, “A little less conversation, a little more action please.”

This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 15 May 2019.

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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  • The difficulty experienced by Petersfield through the installation of a gas main and the fire, are making the closure more problematic than it would otherwise have been.

    As a consequence this is not a real example of what would happen if the bridge were closed to all motorised vehicles, except buses and taxis (with some other exceptions).

    Also unreal is the daily drudge for cyclists and pedestrians who cross the bridge in less than comfortable circumstances. It would not be like this if the bridge were open with restricted traffic. The same can be said for bus users. All these groups of travelers, would, if there were restricted vehicle use, sail in and out of town in a few minutes and in relative safety.

    To those from Romsey, who would normally take a car into town; if you are able bodied, then maybe the closure will cause you to rethink in the future.

    For the shopkeepers it seems there is a mixed message. Some shops on the Romsey side are trading better, others are arguing that takings are down. For Petersfield, the plague of the gas works has clearly resulted in glum faces. Their current experience is not a realistic view of what a closure would be like.

    If you take the virtual pedestrianisation in Romsey as an experience, the relative calm in the pollution free environment is transformational. People can sit, talk, walk m, dwell and cycle in a village type atmosphere. In our town in the city, surely no one misses the noise, smell and danger of the traffic.

    There is of course the displaced traffic to take account of. But Mill Rd is narrow, with pavements that are often too small and the houses too close to the pollution.

    As a consequence, maybe Mill Rd could be the catalyst to show how all residents on routes into the city could benefit if an engineered and radical solution were to traffic be found.

    Do we need to have a serious debate about the future for our children, grandchildren and ourselves of a congested pollution ridden Mill Rd?