Cycling on Hills Road Bridge During the Roadworks

Saturday, April 4th, 2009. 4:51am

Hills Road - Roadworks

I attended Cambridge City Council’s South Area Committee on the 2nd of April 2009. During the policing agenda item James Woodburn, representing the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, spoke about the situation on Hills Road Bridge. The roadworks on the bridge have resulted in narrow lanes for traffic, it is impossible for cyclists to be overtaken safely by cars while crossing the bridge. Once on the bridge cyclists are “trapped” in the lanes as there are barriers on either side, this makes it very dangerous as there is no “escape route” for cyclists who find themselves being overtaken. Compounding the problem is the fact some streetlights on the bridge have been rendered inoperative by the work.

Sergeant Gordon Morgenthaler reported that there were two cases of overtaking cyclists being considered for prosecution. One of cases involved a PCSO on a bike being overtaken. Mr Woodburn commented that there appeared to be a lack of proportionality as many more cyclists were getting challenged for cycling on the pavement on the bridge than the number of motorists being held to account for dangerously overtaking cyclists. Mr Woodburn said that he had attended a meeting with Cllr Baker and representatives of the police and county council but said nothing had been done following that meeting. He raised a number of points on which he had expected action but had not seen any:

  1. There had been no progress on getting the street lighting fixed, Mr Woodburn said that it was unacceptable to leave the crest of the bridge “half dark”. Given the presence of generators and lighting on the site it would appear straightforward to me to set up some floodlighting.
  2. Mr Woodburn said that there was a Department of Transport provision for 20 mph limits during roadworks such as these, but there had been no progress towards getting one in place on Hills Road Bridge.
  3. CCTV on the bridge had been discussed but not implemented.
  4. Investigating the possibility of the illumination of the no overtaking of cyclists sign had been promised but as the sign had not been lit.

Sgt. Morgenthaler said that the City Council were looking at installing CCTV to coincide with when single lane working, which is anticipated soon, begins. The meeting was told that CCTV images would be-able to support the prosecution of drivers overtaking cyclists. It would not however be possible for the police to prosecute purely on the CCTV footage as there was a need to get a statement from a cyclist to say that they were impeded, or felt endangered by the behavior of the driver.

Pushed on why the statement from the cyclist was required, we were told that the current no-overtaking cyclists signs were not legally enforceable. When the police suggested legal no-overtaking signs as an option, Mr Woodburn explained that even the standard legally enforceable sign had an exception for cyclists and other slow moving traffic. The possibility of a no-overtaking sign with an “including cyclists” plate added underneath it was then discussed. (Such wording sounds ambiguous to me – would cyclists still be able to overtake cars and move to the front of the queues at the traffic lights – which is the safest place for them?). The police expressed an opinion that the legal sign with the additional wording “including cyclists ” would put any action they took against overtaking drivers “on a better footing”.

The police also expressed the view that the legality or not of the sign wasn’t really important as photographs of the current sign could be shown to magistrates who would then be expected to take it into account. The police said that the two prosecutions of drivers currently under consideration were for careless driving. The meeting was told that the police doesn’t prosecute – they produce a report for the CPS to consider, they were suggesting “inconsiderate or careless driving” as the charge on the basis that the police did not think overtaking cyclists on the bridge amounted to the level of “dangerous driving” in legal terms. The police described careless driving as “fairly easy to prove” and said changing lanes without indicating and cutting someone up was another example of something which typically amounted to careless driving.

The advantage of a legally enforceable sign appears to be the expectation that it would enable a prosecution for merely overtaking. The police Sgt. did not appear confident with this claiming there was case law arising from someone who had undertaken on a motorway and got away with it because there was no proof the behavior had had an effect on anyone. (Why isn’t that a defense to a speeding charge then?)

Sgt. Morgenthaler said that as the main difficulty was to get evidence from cyclists he had a practical suggestion: that the cycling campaign could publicise what was needed to their members. He said he had produced an article which he had hoped would make its way into the campaign’s newsletter. He admitted he hadn’t submitted it in a particularly appropriate form, he had hoped someone would make an article out of an eleven page summary of the situation which he had written.

Mr Woodburn said that taking down a car number-plate and finding a witness while cycling wasn’t particularly practical. What he wanted was police, on the bridge waiting to photograph offences and take action against drivers overtaking cyclists. He wanted the police to be doing that as well as dealing with cyclists on the pavement.

The police tried to start talking about the illegal turns out of Brooklands avenue but Mr Woodburn quickly put a stop to that insisting it wasn’t relevant to his line of questioning.

County Councillor Heathcock said he had repeatedly reported the street lights as out, only to be told it was tied into the guided bus works. He suggested to the county council liaison officer who now attends all area committees that a site meeting with Richard Preston, Bob Menzies, the police Sgt would be useful to look at what signs are there, what is enforceable. Cllr Heathcock asked if it was possible to use the police’s mobile CCTV and was told the problem was one of where to park the van. Sgt. Morgenthaler said the potential sites for positioning the City Council CCTV to ensure good quality coverage were being considered, and noted the utility of the footage would depend significantly on where the cameras were placed.

On the subject of street lighting Mr Woodburn asked if the police would be prepared to complain to the county council suggesting that the police saying the situation was dangerous might have more weight. The police were sceptical of the idea that they might have any more influence with the county council’s street light team than any member of the public. I found this an astonishing opinion, something which if true shows up a serious failure in collaboration between the police and county council. I think the county council’s street light team ought be responsive to police comments, both with respect to road safety as well as crime and fear of crime.

Cllr Baker spoke saying that he wanted to take Mr Woodburn “to task” with respect to his claim nothing had happened since the meeting. Cllr Baker said that his idea – to put the pictures of cycles into the middle of the lanes – had been acted upon. He suggested that if Mr Woodburn cycled in the middle of the lanes he would not be overtaken.

Cllr Taylor declared an interest as a member of the cycling campaign and a regular user of the bridge, she said she was often overtaken and beeped while cycling over the bridge so understood the frustrations expressed.

Despite the discussion no councillor proposed adding dealing with the problem of drivers dangerously overtaking cyclists on the bridge, or of the apparently unfair treatment of cyclists verses car drivers, to the local policing priorities for the next period of time. Our local Liberal Democrats appear to me to be very reluctant to exercise the opportunity they have to influence the police. Cllr Ward spoke at the last North Area committee to say he was unwilling to go against the professional opinion of the police, and County Cllr Huppert explaining his unwillingness to pass on residents’ concerns relating to policing expressed a belief that: ““We have no democratic control over the police in the UK” – he appears to think this is an acceptable state of affairs. The last West Central area committee didn’t even formally consider the proposed police priorities put to them, officers covered for them by writing in the minutes that they were agreed “through further discussion”.

I think the area committee system which enables local democratic influence over the police is a brilliant opportunity, and we ought both publicise it and elect councillors who are prepared to use it.

A vision for the future of Hills Road Bridge is described in the Cycling Campaign’s current newsletter.

10 comments/updates on “Cycling on Hills Road Bridge During the Roadworks

  1. Brian Johnson

    Why not paint a cycle lane down the *centre* of the lanes? Hazard hatching down the edges of the road might reinforce the msg to motorists that the cyclists *will* be in the middle of the road — no options.

  2. Richard Article author

    Brian, surely that is effectively what has been done by painting the cycle symbols in the middle of the lanes?

  3. Richard Article author

    I have been sent a copy of Sgt. Morgenthaler’s summary of the situation. I have made it available via this link.

    It includes a section on evidence requirements saying:
    “A witness statement or video evidence of the offence is fundamental. The registration mark and description of the offending vehicle would be required to ensure that the driver could be traced. An NIP would be required within 14 days in most situations. One witness alone may not be sufficient for the CPS to consider a court case as it would be based on ‘one word against another’ and therefore be difficult to prove ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’.”

    As well as requiring two witnesses the report advises reporting offences via the non-emergency number (rather than writing to the Chief Constable, or using the web contact forms) to ensure they are able to deal with offenders within the timescales set out in law.

    The message from the police to cyclists who are unhappy with cycling over the bridge is:

    Those that are not confident to cycle over the bridge should walk and not inconvenience pedestrians

  4. Brian Johnson

    Richard, No I don’t think it’s emphatic enough. I went over it today and it needs to be made clear that it’s a cycle lane that cars are allowed to travel along. (And bear in mind that I’m not even a cyclist!)

    Of course, the real problem is that we’re still having to squeeze everybody over the bridge even now. I think the contractors should pay everyone who has to cross that bridge £1 for every journey.

  5. Wookey

    Why on earth should contractors have to pay people? They are doing a job on our behalf (and it is made much harder and slower by keeping the bridge open). The result will be a very useful cycle and bus route into the station. There is some inconvenience for the duration of the works, but it has helped reduce traffic levels in the vicinity (brooklands avenue is hugely imporved, for example).

    I do agree that the police are being somewhere between useless and biased.

  6. Brian Johnson

    The contractors are behind schedule. Penalty payments are not unheard of with contractual delays such as this. The people directly affected by this delay are the people to whom the penalty should be paid. To save disbursement costs — and to make the penalty more ‘visible’ — it would be appropriate if the people crossing the bridge got their ‘share’ of the penalty charge directly — in the hands.

    If you don’t think that’s fair, consider if the contractors were to say that they were sorry, but it was going to take an extra 3 years to finish the bridge. Would you accept that without demur? How about 2 years? Or just the one year? At what point would you judge the delay has become unacceptable?

    The point is that this delayed opening is costing the public large amounts of both stress and money. Backlogs of traffic are burning extra fuel while they wait extra minutes in queues leading up to the bridge and then grind across in bottom gear, cyclists are being harassed as they approach the bridge and then again as they cross with a vehicle close on their tail, pedestrians are suffering barked shins and dirtied trousers as they have to share an already crowded pavement with cyclists who prefer the safer option of wheeling their bikes across.

    I would like to see some recompense.

  7. Brian Johnson

    Fresh plans for cyclists on Hills Road bridge – once the work is complete:$FILE/0904-6a.doc

    or, shorter, (Note: this is a Word document.)

    Basically, they’re proposing 3 lanes for cars and using the middle one in ‘tidal’ mode. Outside that, a 2mtr wide cycle lane at each side and then standard pavement at eachside outside that.

    An outbreak of common sense?

  8. Martin

    No, it’s not a tidal scheme. The CEN article is a bit confused.

    For each direction, they propose one lane going uphill, and two coming down.

    Very good idea in my opinion.

  9. Brian Johnson

    Ah yes, I see now from the map in the PDF that there’s a cross-over. Yes, probably the best way given that there’re junctions at either end of the bridge.

    Well spotted. :)

  10. Richard Article author

    This morning BBC Radio Cambridgeshire was discussing the newly announced cycle lanes proposed for Hills Road bridge.

    Introducing an interview conducted on the bridge itself with County Council officer Mike Davis listeners were told that with 4,000 cyclists per day the bridge is the busiest cycle route in the country. Mr Davis said that it was anomalous that there were no cycle facilities on the bridge saying most other roads in the city have some cycling facilities of some form. He said that the solutions the council had previously been looking at were very expensive and would have taken a long time to build and he didn’t think Cambridge wanted further major roadworks at the site. He noted that listeners had been calling in concerned that car drivers were going to be losing out to cyclists, he assured them that they would not. He said that the new proposals would get cyclists out of the way of drivers into their own lane.

    He described the council’s plans as being for one lane of traffic up the slope of the bridge and two on the way down where traffic is queuing for the traffic lights. He said that the council was currently doing further modeling as they want a robust case to put to public consultation during the summer.

    Listener’s contributions:

    • Asking : “Has anyone been prosecuted for cycling on the pavement?”
    • Complaints about cyclists not using cycleways
    • Saying: “if cyclists want lanes it is time they paid a “licence fee” and “those who cycle get away with far too much. If cyclists want lanes they must pay.”
    • Joking a bit I presume one correspondent asked: “why can’t four thousand cyclists be ignored – thousands of people’s views were ignored on the guided bus”
    • What’s the budget for maintaining cycle facilities once they are built? One listener said he’d asked the council and had been told there was no such budget
    • The Milton Road cycle bridge is ignored by many as its badly designed
    • What about cycling facilities out in the villages – one listener said he took his family by car to Grafham Water or Thetford Forrest to cycle in safety
    • A Somersham resident said he’d like to be able to cycle to the guided bus and wanted foot/cyclepaths installed on road verges.
    • Listeners asked how much money was spend in Cambridgeshire on cycle-ways compare to elsewhere in the country where there appeared to be more facilities. How many miles of cycleways are there in Cambridgeshire was a question asked.
    • A contributor said that most cyclists in Cambridge were reckless, and riding without lights was common place [it is]. He said it was wrong to lay the blame soley at the door of foreign students. He suggested colleges should run cycling proficiency courses and suggested the police could deal with the other offenders – which prompted the retort “pigs might fly”.
    • It was suggested a problem was cycleways are designed by civil engineers with degrees and common people don’t understand them.
    • “If cyclists want lanes they should pay, and ought require a license” said an emailer.
    • Why can’t motorbikes use the cycle lanes was asked.
    • It was suggested drivers not cyclists are the problem
    • Lots of laughter accompanied the suggestion that cyclists ought be subject to a congestion charge on Hills Road bridge. If they think it will work for cars – why not cyclists?

    I made the following contribution:

    Andy – are the listener responses on Hills Road Bridge you’re reading out a balanced reflection of the views you’re receiving? I’m shocked at the anti-cyclist venom.

    I was assured that there was no censorship – and told there had been a few people putting the case for cyclists in the early parts of the show. My contribution continued:

    The vast majority of Cambridge residents who cycle also use cars and pay a road fund license. Cyclists in Cambridge are normal people with jobs who pay tax and contribute to society. They’re not freeloaders. Facilities for cyclists benefit car drivers and everyone else as the more people who travel by bike the less traffic there will be on the roads.

    For Cambridge to be a successful city the roads have to work for everyone, buses, taxis, cyclists, private cars, delivery vehicles and even pedestrians. Why is the debate so polarised? Surely it’s not about drivers verses cycles, it’s about what’s best for the city and how to keep the city viable? I don’t share the unrealistic idealistic vision some hold where everyone shops and commutes by bike, but I do think we need much better facilities for cyclists. Compared to what some European cities have our provision is awful. I’m all in favour of Cambridge leading the UK with novel cycling schemes, and am looking forward to finding out what the County Council actually mean by a hybrid cycle lane.

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