Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Better City Deal could fix congestion in Cambridge

Cambridge has a big problem with traffic congestion - so bad that businesses based in the city are struggling to grow. Prices for new homes in the city are stratospheric but living outside and commuting in is also a nightmare because of the volume of traffic on the roads. Plus, with housing development on the outskirts bringing even more commuters to the city it is going to get even worse unless something is done. The question is what. Will a conventional, incremental approach, as offered by the Greater Cambridge City Deal suffice? Or do we need something much more radical like the cheekily named Better City Deal?

Cambridge City, South Cambridgeshire District Council and Cambridgeshire County Council have put their heads together to come up with a strategic plan - the Greater Cambridge City Deal (CD) and persuaded central government to fund it to the tune of £500 million. Adding in more cash mainly from housing developers they now have more than £1 billion to spend and the first project in the plan is up for consultation. It is a perfectly rational, reasonable, if conventional plan - but the Better City Deal (BetterCD), claims to be cheaper as well as a better, longer term solution. It's also a bit radical, maybe even a bit experimental. If we want this scheme, and I think it has a lot going for it, then we will have to give it some strong support. If we think Cambridge should be a leading city for sustainable technology, then it should be a leading city for sustainable traffic management too and that means being open to innovation.

I heard about both schemes at a talk organised by Cambridge Cycling Campaign (CCC) yesterday evening. Thanks to CCC for organising this! Tim Bick, chair of the CD Assembly and Mike Davies from Cambs. County Council explained the background and the CD, while Edward Leigh, the 'inventor' of the BetterCD explained his alternative approach. Both plans have the same broad aims:

  • to reduce congestion getting into and through the city, thus releasing the stranglehold on economic growth
  • mainly by encouraging people to switch to use public transport, walking and cycling.

Where they differ is how they expect to achieve this. In fact both plans are quite complex and there is a lot of overlap between them but the areas where they differ most radically are that:

  • The CD aims to speed up buses by giving them priority lanes so they can bypass congested traffic on the way in and out of the city. The hope is that using the bus we will be so obviously faster than using the car that a reasonable number of motorists will switch over. The main problem with the bus lanes approach is that it takes more space, putting buses in competition with cyclists. In many places cyclists will have to share space with buses because it is too difficult and expensive to widen the road enough for both extra bus lanes and cycle lanes too. But many people would prefer to cycle rather than take the bus as long as they feel safe.
  • The BetterCD moves congestion out of the city by preventing too many cars coming in. If the town is too congested, traffic will have to wait, or park at a Park and Ride and come in by bus instead. This plan means more Park and Ride sites - in fact both schemes do but the BetterCD is more comprehensive - and smart control measures to manage the traffic on every arterial route. Building new Park and Ride sites is inexpensive compared to widening roads, and doesn't disrupt the traffic nearly as much while it is going on. It also means that cyclists can continue to use the existing cycle lanes on all routes.

Obviously there is more to the plan than that, and some of the BetterCD measures would be a good idea anyway - like more integrated ticketing schemes so you can have one ticket for parking and buses, better transport information, express buses on arterial routes and so on. There is more information on the BCD website here and a good explanation of the smart traffic management here.

There are other parts to the CD that aren't to do with bus lanes, such as the new cycle path through the city called the Chisholm Trail. This would fit equally well with either plan. Also there are suggestions such as charging for workplace parking and other parking controls.

My main concern with the BetterCD plan is that, as Leigh pointed out, it needs to be fully implemented before it can work properly. If you put traffic management on a few routes first, then commuters will initially try shifting to other roads, rather than bowing to the inevitable and taking the bus or cycling. However, the controls can be turned up and down dynamically, so this shifting could be managed too. In fact that is one of the biggest advantages of the smart management approach, that it can respond flexibly to changes in demand from day to day and hour to hour. In any case the CD will cause a lot of disruption in the early stages too because of road works.

There may or may not be a crunch point coming soon. The first project on the CD list, the A428 to M11 segregated bus route/A428 corridor Park & Ride, is in consultation now. Here is the CCC view on it. It would be a shame to spend lots of money building new bus lanes that turn out to be unnecessary. If you think you could help Leigh develop his scheme, then he would love to hear from you. His website does not do his plans justice - his presentation was much more informative - but you can at least find him there.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Nicola for the balanced and thoughtful review of the City Deal and Better City Deal proposals.

    The Better City Deal team is growing slowly, and we will be producing a lot more detail on our plans over the coming months. We have just published more about Smart Traffic Management: what it is, how it will benefit you, and how it works.

    We will shortly be publishing our proposal for remodelling the Girton Interchange as an all-ways junction, allowing connections in every direction between the M11, A14, A428, Huntingdon Road, and a new park-and-ride site. This is the kind of heavy engineering project that we believe City Deal money should be spent on, rather than digging up city roads to add bus lanes.

    Edward Leigh @BetterCityDeal


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