Coronavirus: Cycle lanes on Peterborough’s dual carriageways and Town Bridge being considered

Work is underway to cost and assess the viability of a long list of possible “radical” upgrades to Peterborough and Cambridgeshire’s cycle infrastructure in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

A draft strategy document, not yet made public but obtained by the Local Democracy Reporting Service and drawn up by Cambridgeshire County Council and Peterborough City Council, includes a range of possible changes from the short to long term to encourage more cycling.

The document shows the councils are prepared to consider dramatic steps to shift the priority away from cars towards cyclists and pedestrians, with ideas on the table including reducing lanes on Peterborough’s dual carriageways, and widespread restrictions on through routes available to cars in Cambridge city centre.

None of the plans have yet been put forward as policy proposals by either council.

Cycling lanes in parts of Bourges Boulevard are being considered

The list of possible strategies shows the councils are considering reducing the road space available to cars by closing or partially closing some streets to make room for cyclists and pedestrians.

In the long term, council officers are looking at much larger interventions, including the potential to roll out more cycleways, expand on existing routes and convert roundabouts and junctions to give greater priority to cyclists and pedestrians.

A loan scheme for electric bikes, a cycle repair voucher scheme, widening cycle bridges over the River Cam, park and cycle schemes, and other ideas are also included on the list of those being costed and assessed for viability.

The plans include ideas for temporary and trial measures for closing roads to through traffic in Cambridge, including in Grange Road, Luard Road, Carlyle Road, Maids Causeway, Victoria Avenue and more, as well as expanding times and reducing further vehicular access on existing pedestrian zones.

The outgoing chairman of Cambridgeshire County Council’s highways and infrastructure committee, Cllr Mathew Shuter, confirmed the council is working on the list of “ambitious plans”, but he said they are in the “infant stage” and yet to be finalised and may change prior to publication for public scrutiny.

Although he said the list of draft proposals are a “starter for 10,” he said. “it shows our ambition, and it shows we really want to take this opportunity. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to push for some of these really radical ideas.”

The cabinet member for strategic planning and commercial strategy and investments at Peterborough City Council, Cllr Peter Hiller said: “This paper is the very early stages where we are just seeing what could be feasible. It’s the very early stages of something that we have got to do fairly quickly, but obviously very sensibly, and we put everything on the table – out of the box thinking – what’s feasible, what’s not feasible, if it’s feasible how much will it cost?”

And he stressed: “We would be very careful that any scheme that is suggested and seriously considered won’t be to the detriment of the connectivity of our city, from a commuting point of view, from a visitor’s point of view, or from an economic point of view.”

Both said the final proposals to emerge from the work may look very different to the current list of options being drawn up.

The document makes no mention of when or if any of the measures could be implemented, but many schemes have a “very short” delivery timescale.

Cllr Shuter said the first phase is looking at “something we can do really quickly, to respond to the crisis and to respond to social distancing. We are looking at pinch points, areas where people are queuing on the pavement, areas where it might be possible to have, as the mayor has referred to them, pop-up cycleways.

“But we are doing a complete review of everything really, and the three stage outline is how deliverable each stage is and the sort of costings that might be involved. Some things can be done relatively cheaply and quickly. Some things are quite extensive, and some things overlap with some of the plans we already have for cycleways coming in and out of Cambridge.”

The current list of temporary measures would cost a few hundred thousand pounds, but the full list soon runs into millions for permanent cycle schemes, and tens of millions for the grandest long-term possibilities.

Cllr Shuter said there are two key considerations for what schemes will progress and when: the reality of how behaviour changes throughout the rest of and after the crisis, and how much money the Government provides.

He said the work is taking its steer from government announcements encouraging similar measures, but said the county will be looking to the leader of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, Mayor James Palmer, to lobby the Government for funds.

Cllr Hiller played down some of the ideas listed for the city, such as reducing lanes on areas of dual carriageways such as Town Bridge, parts of Bourges Boulevard and others.

He said officers are currently looking at all options, which will then be “filtered down” before decisions are made.

Talking about reducing a lane to give more space for cycling on Town Bridge he said: “Personally I think it’s unlikely, I think it will make more traffic issues than it would solve. We can look at what to do on the bridge in a number of different ways, there’s all sorts of things we are looking at.

“It’s all very well banging the tambourine and saying we have got to do this because it’s friendly for cycling.

“I’m more interested in public safety, I’m more interested in the fluidity and connectivity of our city, that’s very, very relevant.”

But he also said that some measures are “imminent”, although he did not specify what those will be.

Cllr Shuter, also, despite speaking in support of many of the plans, said it is too early to say what will go before councillors to vote on.

He said: “It’s a document, I would say, with no political bias whatsoever. It’s entirely looking at the practicalities, and that’s what we have asked our officers to do, to look, in an ideal world, what we can do, and to try and be adaptable to the changing world we are going to have.

“We will obviously have to take the political readings on these things once they come out. Particularly in Cambridge, where as you know it’s a Conservative-free zone. We will need to consult with the Liberal Democrats and Labour to try and get some consensus on some of those things.

“Some of them could be quite controversial, and could cause other problems. So really officers have just gone away and said these are the things that possibly could be done. But I think some of them will come off, and there will be people who raise strong objections, but when they are looked at in detail hopefully people will come to a sensible conclusion.”

Asked about one suggestion on the list, a mass expansion of Dutch-style roundabouts, he said: “My personal view is we should probably see how the one that we’ve got works first. But they are a possibility, or maybe we would have some other design for them. But obviously the emphasis is to give a really big boost to walking and cycling, and to green technology wherever we can.”

The ideas being costed and assessed are not limited to the cities. A number of possible cycle routes between towns in the county are listed, including schemes to improve access to town centres. Alconbury, Huntingdon, Ely, Soham, St Neots and other areas are on a list of where new cycleways could be introduced, with the full list likely estimated to cost millions were it to ever be implemented.

Despite the uncertainty, Cllr Shuter said what is clear is that continuing with transport strategies designed before the crisis may no longer be possible. “Spending lots of money on old assumptions would probably not be wise,” he said, referring to the possibility of more home working in future and the possible knock-on effects on transport. “So we’re really trying to, as rapidly as possible, review everything that we have got there and look for new ideas and take into account all the suggestions coming forward.”

Ben Hatton, Local Democracy Reporting Service