Good infrastructure connects, poor infrastructure divides. In the grand scheme of things the state of our cycle infrastructure is probably not the most important thing in our lives. I was surprised when a pair of ‘road men’ were not interested in the issue, as far as they were concerned, it doesn’t bother them if a non motorised user (NMU) route is good or bad, they are only interested in their own stats and couldn’t give a toss about anyone else. Disappointing but not surprising: road club cyclists tend to see themselves as athletes first and cyclists second.
When one considers the need to shift toward active transport modes I think the details count. A big investment in motorised infrastructure is a commitment to a ‘no change’ position in a very big way, the £1.5bn for the A14 improvement scheme included provision for other modes but did it really make an effort at modal shift?
The national cycling and walking strategy announced in April 2017 made a clear call for a shift:
For too long, some have seen cycling as a niche activity, rather than a normal activity for all. If we can increase levels of walking and cycling, the benefits are substantial. For people, it means cheaper travel and better health. For businesses, it means increased productivity and increased footfall in shops. And for society as a whole it means lower congestion, better air quality, and vibrant, attractive places and communities.Dept for Transport Cycling & Walking Investment Strategy 2017
The commitment is clear, the means to achieve this was placed in the hands of Highways England with direction to make infrastructure safe for cycling and to enable access for ‘ a variety of users’..
The Department will continue to work closely with Highways England to maximise the impact of their Cycling Strategy, which was published in 2016. This will enable cycle-proofing of the strategic road network and reduce any severance from new road schemes by enhancing access for a variety of users, including pedestrians, horse riders, and people with disabilities or health conditions. Highways England is also committed to upgrading and increasing the number of safe crossings on the network in the interests of the safety and convenience of more vulnerable road users, as well as ensuring they integrate with other networks, including local roads, and existing and emerging rail links.DfT Cycling & Walking Investment Strategy Section 3.24
A bold ambition, but how did they do? I may be mistaken for taking the A14 scheme as a benchmark for Highways England’s achievement in upholding the strategy announced in 2017 as designs were probably already underway but what appears to have happened is that the ‘shared use’ foot-way specification from 2008 seems to have been the template. The LTN 2/08 model ‘shared use’ foot-way need not have have priority, protection or even warning signs at junctions as it is deemed to be a footpath that happens to carry cycles and horses which have to stop look and listen before crossing any junction. So, in 2020, when the scheme opened the then current guidance on provision could be ignored and the safety issues have slowly become apparent since then.
Retro fitting safety. The first issue was raised by Bar Hill residents who were alarmed at the prospect of cyclists hurtling out of control onto the roadway at the foot of the South ramp of the new bridge. 6 months after opening, following a safety audit by Mott Macdonald both the gleaming new bridges were barriered and nothing done to improve the safety of the crossings anywhere on the route. The barriers on the bridges are a message: Highways England and Cambridgeshire County Council ignore the strategy, the guidance and even the law if they see fit. They do not support active travel, they see it as secondary to motor traffic.
A tale of two design standards? The degree of planning that has gone into the transition curves for both the A14 NMU bridges is impressive, at Bar Hill (above) on a free run the down ramp is graded to scrub off speed to a nominal 10 mph by use of the double bend hairpin path. There are those who will push on the descent (why not if nothing’s in the way?) but the continous curves put the rider on the alert as sight-lines are limited (particularly once the tree screens have grown up) for almost the entire transition. It is almost as if the bridge and its access ramps were designed by a cyclist.
Things change where the ramp meets a design process that follows a different template, it is almost as if the bridges belong on a different planet. Over a short distance one is transported over the monster A14 on a 2020 standard and one can imagine riding a bike is a privilege with its own secure, direct and useful links to the wide wide world and then, at each end to be faced with outdated and dangerous provision feels like a backward step into an age where cycling remains a niche activity to be fenced off from the all important motor.
A campaign to remove a safety barrier is counter-intuitive, but necessary. Most of us are in favour of greater safety. Highways England and Cambridgeshire County Council, without consultation with stakeholders (against the direction of the National Strategy) reacted to a single perceived danger and applied the same measure at 4 sites. This, sadly, is far short of the action needed to make the route safe from the risk of cyclists coming into contact with ‘live’ traffic.
Despite years of guidance to the contrary, containment of the weakest element in the system was considered best: a ‘block cyclists and the road will be safe’ approach. The more complex issues involved in reducing exposure to risk by control of motor traffic were not an option once the target group (cyclists) had been identified as the risk factor to be controlled.
Sadly almost the entire NMU from Girton to Swavesey (we are yet to see how the next section to Fenstanton turns out- work is underway now) is stuck in the past, a past where coherent, direct, safe, comfortable and attractive provision is yet to arrive. Yes there are sections of segregated trackway but these are interrupted by side roads, multi-step Toucan crossings and un-signed and un- guarded intersections with motor traffic.
A campaign for Highways England to deliver on the promisies made in the National Strategy begins with the travesty of the safety case made for barriers and ends, not simply by removing them but by implementing the DfT guidance in LTN1/20. Most issues can be resolved but this would require significant action by Highways England and the County, action they are reluctant to take as all they see fit to apply is obstruction to the route at its most iconic points.
At the Swavesey-Boxworth crossing the abrupt change in design intent is most noticable on the North side.
For reasons best known to Highways England the cycle track is cut at right angles by the A1307 toward Swavesey, the resulting junction is a very sharp turn for riders leaving or entering the bridge here. The drainage constricts things but a far better junction that is closer to the LTN1/20 principles is possible, if a barrier is needed anywhere it should form a railing along the edge of the roadway:
There is room for improvement at the North end of Swavesey Boxworth NMU bridge.
The post hoc addition of barriers has exacerbated risk by pushing riders wide and close to the edge of the roadway to negotiate the obstruction. The new tree planting has suggested a good line for a better transition which only needs the horse dismount block to be moved should a more enlightened design ever happen.
Direct & coherent? The lack of coherence in connecting the route with any other useful destination at, for example Bar Hill, is staggering: the NMU, after being cut by 2 roundabout access roads, terminates in a fence across the track at which the rider is expected to join or cross a 40mph roadway without warning to either motor traffic or cyclist:
Cycle-proofing of the strategic road network by Highways Engalnd has a long way to go. It strikes me as a curious phrase, did they mean proof against cycling I wonder?
Great Britain has made massive contributions to the world of cycling, just look at the world class brands, not to mention the sporting successes but when it comes to making safe cycling routes we cannot claim to lead the world. The failure of the grand ambition of the National Strategy on the A14 scheme is not something to be proud of.
Do sign the petition to get safer cycle routes along the A14 corridor: http://bit.do/SignA14Petition