Mill Road For People – and the new Cambridge Living Streets survey results

How do you solve the problems of a street like Mill Road? And what did the survey of over 300 people by the new Cambridge branch of what was originally The Pedestrians’ Association have to say?

Some of you may have seen the proposals from the group. You can also see this account of the group from the Mill Road Bridges blog. I’m familiar with some of the people behind it, which looking at the comments listed include a former Conservative councillor, and activists from both Labour and The Green Party. With that in mind, I concur with Phil Rodgers on the group creating a “Who we are” page.

Above – this is former councillor Chris Howell (Cons – Coleridge – 2008-10), one of only four Conservative candidates to have won council seats inside Cambridge City since the Millennium. (Noting we have annual elections in Cambridge with up to 14 seats up for grabs each year). Mr Howell has been an active volunteer for Cambridge Cycling Campaign – one of the civic campaign groups that has members from across the political matrix. I’ll say it again: for the number of votes they poll at general elections, the Tories have been repeatedly under-performing in Cambridge at local elections, and have a lower campaigning profile given their potential activist base. (And generally I’m a tree-hugging eco-warrior who is for universal basic income and cradle-to-grave free-to-access public services).

For those of you who would like a more pleasant walking / buggy-pushing experience in and around Cambridge, you can sign up to notifications from the new Cambridge Living Streets Group, or if so inclined, join and help with their campaigns.

At various points in the history of the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, there have been conversations about founding such a Cambridge branch, so it’s good to see that this has finally come about.

I made a brief mention of the new branch and its headline survey finding in my previous blogpost. With over 300 responses, it’s worth looking at again.

That’s nearly two thirds of respondents who are not happy with their experiences of walking along the streets of Cambridge.

The first thing that the results indicate is that this issue needs further investigation. It’s unlikely that the findings will come as a surprise to local ward councillors – the state of pavements is something that comes up regularly when they go door-to-door knocking. Not least because when a councillor knocks on your door, most of them ask their constituents what their local issues are – even at election time. They don’t go straight into the hard sell. The ones known to their residents don’t need to – they’ve known them for long enough.

“So how do you go beyond the: “Yeah – pavements need repairing” conversations?”

It reminds me of an anecdote the late Frank Dobson (former Health Secretary & MP for Holborn & St Pancras) said at a conference on how people engaged with politicians. He gave a tale of an inter-war anti-fascist Labour activist – who could easily have been the former Islington MP, Cambridge’s Dame Leah Manning. (She lived here for years and was a local teacher for many years before becoming an MP). Apparently she had got to the top floor of a block of flats and knocked on the door of the resident at the top. A woman opened the door:

Activist: “Hello! I’m here representing The Labour Party and am here seeking your vote. If you vote Labour we will stop the fascists!”

Resident: “That’s great – but we’ve got this problem of drunken men pissin’ in them lifts. What are you going to do about that?”

Activist: “The lifts? Isn’t that an issue for your local council? I don’t think there’s anything we can do about that at the moment.”

Resident: “Well if you can’t stop them men from pissin’ in the lifts, you ain’t gonna be no good at stopping them fascists, is ya?”

And the door slammed.

“So how bad are the pavements according to the survey?”

I remember several years ago when the county council commissioned contractors to work on the pavements at the eastern end of Cherry Hinton Road. All they did was to cover the existing broken pavements with a thin layer of poor quality tar and sand – a layer that started disintegrating in a few weeks, leaving the surface even worse than before.

Fast forward to 2018 and the county council started making plans for improving Cherry Hinton Road.

….which 13 year old me and friends might have found useful in the early 1990s when we had paper-rounds. But work was put on hold because – if I recall correctly, of overspends on other works. So we’re still waiting. But this gives you an idea of the sort of overhaul that our streets are going to need if we are to move into a post-fossil-fuelled transport network.

It’s not just pavements and cyclepaths: the approach has to be comprehensive, holistic, and go beyond the physical improvements and into how we use our streets, and how we live.

“What societal changes have we seen in recent decades that might have led to increasing road damage – or does it just feel like there’s more of it about?”

It comes down to how we collectively use our vehicles. In more recent decades, the concept of catalogue ordering, payment over the phone – and then payment online/internet shopping, has had a huge impact on the courier and delivery market.

Above – from Prof Alan Braithwaite’s 2017 paper for the RAC Foundation titled: The Implications of Internet Shopping Growth on the Van Fleet and Traffic Activity is essential reading for anyone interested in town planning. Interestingly, he concludes that the market for deliveries is saturated – there are too many vans on the road for the deliveries that are out there.

If towns and cities are to move towards a model of ‘last mile deliveries’ by cycle couriers as a means of reducing the number and weight of heavy vehicles using their roads, then just as we have proposals of car-pooling in new residential areas, we may also need equivalent freight forwarding sites on the edge of urban areas. That way when I am ordering a component for a gadget, an item of clothing or an impossible-to-find-locally box of confectionary, it does not require someone driving a large diesel-fuelled van to deliver it. Rather, it could be done more efficiently with less damage to the road and far less air pollution by a cycle courier with or without an electric motor boost.

You then have the local political issue of where to site the freight forwarding depots, and the even more difficult issue of persuading people to give up their cars in favour of pool cars, electric cycles, and scooters. But such is the development of battery and electric motor technology that the latter two are now at a scale where they can power people for many miles without needing a recharge. At the same time, a like-for-like replacement of petrol cars with electric cars won’t solve congestion. Finally, the move to electric-powered vehicles has a hidden environmental cost, where those least able to defend themselves end up paying the heaviest price. So there’s a moral responsibility for Western countries to overhaul their foreign policies and business regulatory systems to ensure people living where the minerals are mined are properly protected. That means having substantial penalties against the executives of firms responsible for environmental and human rights abuses – and enforcement mechanisms that can bring suspects to trial in Western Courts even if the crimes were committed elsewhere.

But first and foremost, an expanded programme of essential repairs has to be a priority over the next few years – starting with areas used most frequently by the elderly and by children.

What do the Mill Road people have to say?

Their aims are as C&P’d below.

This is on the back of what was a very divisive and sometimes bitter election campaign over the closure of Mill Road Bridge to general motor traffic.

There’s a good case for Mill Road to become a local pilot as a transition away from transport powered by the internal combustion engine, and towards one where you things like:

  • Electric-powered freight vehicles doing deliveries
  • Very frequent electric shuttles moving up and down the road – with scope to extend down East Road towards The Grafton, Newmarket Road Tesco at the western end, and towards The Burnside Lakes and The Ice Rink at Newmarket Road at the Eastern end.
  • Wider pavements
  • Segregated cycleways.

From G-Maps above, given the proposed new housing where the trenches on the photo above are for new developments, and given the planning application for the lakes, could a shuttleway or cycleway from the east end of Mill Rd (Where the Mosque is) link up the new housing development, extend towards Teversham and terminate at the Ice Rink on Newmarket Road?

Above – from the Dutch firm Tribus – an electric minibus.

Wide pavements may not be possible down the entire road – the Petersfield end has very narrow pavements and a narrower road versus the Romsey Town end. That said, there is an established cycle route down Gwydir Street towards The Grafton, and a turn off down Tennison Road/Mawson Road towards The Station, Parker’s Piece and Town Centre that could take away much of the cycle traffic off the road, enabling wider pavements, especially on the northern side.

Food for thought?

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

%d bloggers like this: