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Do more for cycling, Gilligan tells Cambridge, Oxford & MK

Andrew Forster
06 July 2018
Gilligan: sceptical of Cambridge’s transport plans
Gilligan: sceptical of Cambridge’s transport plans


Former London cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan has recommended a huge investment in cycling facilities in Oxford, Cambridge and Milton Keynes in a report for the Government’s National Infrastructure Commission. 

Gilligan was commissioned to write a report on cycling provision in the three cities as part of the NIC’s wider work on the growth prospects and infrastructure needs of the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge arc.

His report is highly critical of  provision for cycling in all three cities but his fiercest criticisms are directed at Oxford, where he says the road network is still designed almost entirely around the needs of motorised vehicles (see below). 

Gilligan also wades into the wider transport policy debate in Cambridge, criticising the idea of an underground public transport system as “colossally expensive, disruptive and destructive”, and saying the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s (GCP) £500m city deal transport plan is too heavily focused on buses, when cycling can deliver more benefits. He also highlights the confusion about who is in charge of transport policy-making in Cambridgeshire, with the GCP, and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough combined authority led by mayor James Palmer both having an interest. 

Gilligan recommends a £200m investment in better cycling facilities across the three cities, and says £150m of this should be targeted at Oxford, with £25m for Cambridge and £25m for Milton Keynes. Five high-quality new routes are recommended for Oxford and three in Cambridge.

Cycle spending in Cambridge should also be increased by switching some of the £500m city deal funding from bus to cycling schemes. “Too much of this is currently allocated to schemes designed mainly for buses, which are less important than cycling in Greater Cambridge’s transport mix,” says Gilligan.

Lewis Herbert, leader of Cambridge City Council and interim chair of the GCP, said: “While Andrew Gilligan is a champion for cycling worthy of respect, it is a major omission of his analysis to exclude other forms of transport from serious analysis, including the role of planned new public transport, the potential of CAM Metro and of investment already underway in cycling/walking routes.”

The GCP said Gilligan had also not given enough recognition to the “already high levels of cycling and cycling investment investment in the city, which has led to Cambridge’s enviable status as the UK’s cycling capital”. 

Combined authority mayor James Palmer told local media: “I don’t know Mr Gilligan. I would hope that he might take some time to understand the complexity of the whole area before making glib comments. Cycling is an important part of Cambridge transport but can only ever be part of the solution.”

Susan Halliwell, Oxfordshire County Council’s director for planning and place, said: “We welcome this NIC report, which challenges us all to think about ways to improve the experience and safety for cyclists in Oxford. As the report shows, there needs to be significant investment in cycling provision for Oxford, although the measures do not have funding at the moment.”

Oxford: car remains king

“Oxford’s main roads and junctions are still laid out almost  entirely for the benefit of the motor vehicle,” says Gilligan. “They look little or no different from the roads of a typical British city where almost nobody cycles. The county council, the highway authority, has dedicated staff for roads, parking and public transport, but none for cycling, despite its importance as a mode in Oxford. Officials state that cycling interests are integrated into the roads teams.  

“Conflicts abound. Few, if any, junctions feel safe and comfortable to cross on a bike. At The Plain roundabout, at the eastern end of Magdalen Bridge, one of the city’s busiest cycling junctions, more than £1m was spent on a supposedly cycle-friendly remodelling. It falls so far short of adequacy that large yellow signs have had to be placed there warning motorists to ‘think bike’. 

“There is more provision on stretches of road between junctions but this typically involves either lanes painted on pavements, creating conflict with pedestrians and requiring cyclists to give way at each side road; or painted advisory lanes on the road, often (quite legally) parked over; or stretches of shared bus lane; or all three in quick succession. There are no true segregated lanes on any arterial road. 

“Frideswide Square, through which nearly all cycle journeys from the station to the centre must pass, looks pretty but is a missed opportunity for the roughly 20 per cent of its traffic which is bicycles. Shared space schemes such as this seldom work and the county council’s latest draft pedestrian design guidance is rightly cautious about them. In this particular shared space, there is less conflict than otherwise because the cycling facilities are too poor to be of much use. From observations, the majority of cyclists continue to use the road. Although speeds may be lower than before, the road is much narrower and the layout includes three new roundabouts, which are intimidating for cyclists. Further west, both of the two main routes use busy, intimidating and  unprotected roads.”

Cambridge: should do better

“Cambridge has done far better than Oxford on cycling, delivering significant improvements in the city, but wider traffic reduction efforts are in danger of stalling,” says Gilligan. 

“Bicycles form between a third and half of vehicles on several of Cambridge’s main roads. Yet nearly all are designed largely for those in cars. There are few or no true segregated routes on any main road, apart from a stretch of Hills Road. There are no best-practice protected main road junctions, though below-best-practice schemes have been done at a few junctions.  

“The city is surrounded by orbital road junctions, which are often hostile even to experienced riders. Routes from the ‘necklace’ may well require sharing busy, narrow A and B roads, unprotected, with fast-moving traffic. Some A roads have intermittent paths beside them, but they lack proper crossings at side roads and are often too narrow for two cyclists to pass.

“The entire new town of Cambourne, the ‘capital’ of South Cambridgeshire, which will rise to 10,000 people, claims to be  cycle-friendly. It is not. Many of the ‘cycle routes’ shown by the  developers on their plans are known to the rest of us as ‘pavements.’” 

Milton Keynes: rusty redways

“The roads for cycles – the redways – feel in places as if they have not  been touched since they were built. Surfaces are often rough; vegetation grows across sightlines; lighting is often poor; many signposts are faded and illegible; the network has an air of isolation and neglect. 

“Perhaps their key shortcoming is that, apart from one north-south route parallel to Saxon Gate, the redways give up at the edges of Central Milton Keynes. Anyone wishing to cycle to the centre has to share often busy underpasses with pedestrians, then cycle through the car parks that line the buildings’  frontages, frequently conflicting at busy times with cars pulling into or out of the parking spaces, or with pedestrians. It does not feel like you are supposed to be there.”

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