City Centre Access – two months for Greater Cambridge Partnership to come up with something new

Following the decision to proceed with the busways, the Greater Cambridge Partnership now needs to come up with something substantial to deal with the ‘last mile’ problem – something that they should have solved first.

Ben Hatton has written up the Cambridge News account of last week’s Board Meeting. The problem that the GCP now has to deal with is one that has been on the back burner over the past year: Cambridge City Centre Access. We know this because there have been no updates on the project page in terms of new documents since before the 2019 General Election in December 2019.

There have been a few minor pilots and things, but nothing substantial that will significantly reduce the number of motor cars coming into the city. What has been introduced is as follows: (Scroll down for the link).

  • Experimental road closure schemes (as a CV19 response)
  • Expanding the electric bus pilot
  • Consolidation Delivery Pilot to limit the number of delivery vehicles entering the city centre
  • Using traffic signals to help buses and cycles move faster and more easily
  • Increasing availability of cycle parking
  • Developing an integrated parking strategy to manage car parking across Greater Cambridge and support uptake of sustainable transport
  • Support of E-Cargo Bike Scheme to provide bikes for businesses and residents to try out

I tabled a public question to the GCP Board Meeting last week:

“Please can the Greater Cambridge Partnership set out what detailed discussions they have had with Stagecoach regarding the Cambridge Access element of the busways programme – in particular with regards to:

  1. What happens to busway buses from Cambourne that reach Grange Road
  2. What happens to CSET buses when they reach Addenbrooke’s.”
  3. How you are managing the risk of building stranded pieces of transport infrastructure that previous generations of transport engineers left Cambridge with during the 1960s/1970s incl Elizabeth Way Bridge, & Barnwell Road dual carriageways”.

The GCP Transport Director refrained from answering the questions so I’ve followed it up with a Freedom of Information request which you can read here.

Basically I want to know whether they have spoken to the bus companies regarding this challenge – because the problem is now theirs (bus companies) until Mayor Dr Nik Johnson’s team come up with a bus franchising system that incorporates any busway buses.

What does the Local Transport Plan say?

You have read the Local Transport Plan, haven’t you?

If not, see here, scroll down, click on the bottom of the three links.

Above – it looks like this but has the previous Mayor’s name on it. So it needs a refresh if only for that.

“The spatial context for the strategy is provided by the Strategic Spatial Framework (non-statutory) and current Local Plans. Phase 1 of the Strategic Spatial Framework sets out how the Combined Authority will support the implementation of development strategies in Local Plans to 2036, so that jobs and homes ambitions are met.”

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Local Transport Plan updated 03 Feb 2021

That’s 15 years they’ve got to come up with, build, and complete something substantial to deal with Cambridge’s traffic problems. That time can fly *very quickly* – as the GCP are finding themselves now that they are six years into their 15 year time frame.

“So, what are the substantive options available for last-mile access?”

I don’t know.

“Don’t know?”

And worse – I don’t think they do either – all of the attempts to prise out substantive answers have failed. At the moment, the GCP officials are working on the assumption that the existing bus network will absorb the buses into their existing network.

“Which we know is a ***very big assumption*** – even their independent auditors told us that.

So one of the first things they need to do now is to commission the independent modelling of the soft measures to see what impact they will have (i.e. the bullet points earlier above) – and analyse whether this will be enough to persuade motoring commuters from out of town to make that modal shift.

“Spoiler: They won’t”

I think the saying goes: “Rich people don’t like buses”

But actually I prefer the one that says a great city is one where the rich people use public transport rather than one where everyone (rich and poor) drives an environmentally unfriendly gas-guzzler. Or words to that effect.

For now, the politicians have chosen to run with the busways. Therefore they need to make a judgement call on what happens to the passengers when they get to Grange Road and Addenbrooke’s Hospital respectively.

“Why have they decided to have the busway buses heading towards Eglantyne Jebb’s house in Cambridge?”

Number 7 Adams Road is where she lived for over a decade.

It’s not the ghost of Eglantyne who they have to worry about – it’s the ghost of Dr Alice Roughton who lived next door at Number 9, who made a local name for herself as a formidable civic society campaigner – and Gordon Logie’s nemesis. But before that, she spent much of her time rescuing people from fascists and nazis.

Above – Amanda Hopkinson’s recollections of Dr Alice Roughton.

Substantially expanding the soft measures

Unless something involving tunnels is going to come and save the GCP, they need to put serious resources into some of their soft measures – ones that may need changes to the law to implement. These include the e-cargo bike schemes and the Consolidation Delivery Pilot to reduce the number of delivery vans driving into town.

Just don’t build the freight exchange depot on Coldham’s Lane.

The plans were announced last month. And people are already protesting against them.

and over 300 comments have been made, nearly all of which object to the proposals for large warehouses on part of the site.

Above – an already congested road with the site south of the British Red Cross Training Centre, if the GCP are considering a freight exchange, they may want to put in an objection to this planning application. (21/02326/FUL at

An ebike and escooter exchange?

It might work for Addenbrookes, but I still can’t see it working for the West-of-Cambridge busway. At least Addenbrooke’s is a major employment site where a busway in principle can take off some of the road traffic. But it may require some changes to the existing e-scooter pilot to enable further education students under 18 to use the scooters to get to college from where the buses get off. It also raises the question of whether students eligible for school meals should be eligible for discounts using the scooters. Either way, for me both need to be for docked-only scooters and bikes.

It still does not real with where commuters from the western villages need to get to for work.

This should be shaped by data and detailed transport surveys – something that should have been done at the very start to put some numbers on how many people need to get to where.

Conceptually, this is where the Cambridge Ahead Transport Group – working with the GCP produced their AVRT Concept here. What this report acknowledges is the need for passengers to be able to access employment sites as well as the city centre.

One of the early challenges the GCP had in the mid-2010s was the West-Cambridge-to-Addenbrooke’s link at the time Papworth Hospital’s plans to move to Cambridge were being made. The public transport arrangements really should have been in place by the time Papworth opened. They were not.

The very big challenge for the West Cambridge-Addenbrooke’s link (which involved all kinds of experimenting with bus lanes along the M11) is avoiding Grantchester Meadows. There’s a reason why the M11 is as far away as it is – and even then it’s too close with the traffic noise spoiling everything.

The only overland option I can see available to the West-of-Cambridge Guided Busway project is an off-road route that turns east to south just after Hardwick at Long Road, heads towards Comberton (ideally stopping at the Village College), and continuing down to the disused Oxford-Cambridge rail line which

Note the ‘hump’ is to avoid the radio telescopes that were built. on the old railway line. It has the extra bonus of a stop at Barton, and making use of the old M11 bridge. This is something the Rail Future Group noticed when modelling for the East West Rail link to Cambridge.

Above – East West Rail Cambridge options by Rail Future.

To conclude, the GCP has said it will come up with proposals for the City Access portion of their project at the next round of meetings in September/October. It’ll be interesting to see what they come up with, because the sheet at the moment is looking pretty blank.

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