Pelican Crossing Replacements in Coleridge and Cherry Hinton

Monday, September 14th, 2009. 3:50am

Work underway on the pelican crossing in High Street, Cherry Hinton.

Work underway on the pelican crossing in High Street, Cherry Hinton.

During the Open Forum section of Cambridge City Council’s East Area Committee on the 3rd of September resident James Woodburn raised the subject of pelican crossing refurbishment in the area. He drew councillors’ attention to the fact that one on Cherry Hinton road had had been altered such that the posts had narrowed the shared use footpath. He asked for the arrangement to be altered in the interests of both pedestrians and cyclists.

County Councillor Kilian Bourke responded and I was shocked by what he said. He asked Mr Woodburn, who had taken the trouble to attend the area committee meeting, submit a question, and make his point in public, to provide him with a “written report”. The resident was as shocked as I was by Cllr Bourke’s attitude of putting the onus back on the person raising the matter and challenged him, asking why what he had said would not suffice. Cllr Bourke responded that a letter from a constituent would ensure he was taken seriously when he raised it with county council officers. I find it astounding and worrying that a county councillor would not be taken seriously without a “written report”.

Cllr Herbert reported that Mr Woodburn had raised the matter with Coleridge councillors before the meeting, and said he shared Mr Woodburn’s view that the control boxes for the crossing ought to be moved. Cllr Herbert expressed surprise that the work was being carried out at all – saying: “we had perfectly adequate crossings before the council started spending this money”, he suggested that now they’ll have to spend even more as they’re going to have to re-do what they didn’t do right in the first place.

Cllr Tariq Sadiq, County Councillor for Coleridge, complained that he didn’t know about the works on the crossings in his ward. I think he was complaining about the County Council Officers rather than his Labour party colleagues.

Cllr Howell reported that he had already asked the County Council what they were up to: “replacing perfectly good working crossings with new working crossings”.

Cllr Burke said that he hadn’t been made aware of the proposed works either. He was due to attend a joint city and county council seminar on highways design issues and would raise the matters discussed there.

I think that councillors ought to have been involved in prioritising how money is to be spent on projects like these in their wards.

A notice on Cherry Hinton High Street states that the works will begin on the 21st of September and run for four weeks. The works were well underway by the time I took the above photograph on the 12th of September. Writing to the council officer named on the notice as the relevant contact results in an “out of office” auto-response.

At least at the East Area Committee county councillors were present to have their say on local issues and face their constituents. At the recent North Area Committee not one of the County Councillors for the area bothered to turn up (all four are Liberal Democrats).

Double Yellow Lines in the Middle of the Road

During the meeting Cllr Burke said he was a Liberal Democrat spokesperson on highways matters. In that light his recent, brief, response on his website to the consultation on improving the safety of Mill Road is surprising as it states:

Removing the lines in the middle of the road is a good idea, but double yellow lines should be placed between lanes on the railway bridge, to prevent overtaking.

Perhaps he has been travelling to the USA too much (or been watching too many American films) and has forgotten what British road markings look like? Perhaps he is proposing bringing completely novel non-standard road markings to Mill Road – something which I can’t believe will promote safety.

10 comments/updates on “Pelican Crossing Replacements in Coleridge and Cherry Hinton

  1. Brian Johnson

    I wonder who approved the original siting of the control boxes and if they were able to justify that siting? Or were the contractors left to choose the position?

  2. Andrew Bower

    Hi Richard,

    I am very unhappy about the new Puffin crossings being installed everywhere. There doesn’t seem to have been any political involvement in the apparent decision to replace all pelican crossings – it must be something else that has come from Whitehall and been implemented by officers in our local branches of Whitehall.

    There seems to be no regard to the cost and no chance to debate whether people actually want the change.

    Note that the Mill Road “Safety Scheme” seems to include these as a feature.


  3. Chris Howell

    We had the following back on the Cowper Road crossing:

    “Thank you for your enquiries regarding the Cowper Road pedestrian crossing. The crossing was recently refurbished as it had passed it’s expected life and maintenance of the equipment was becoming difficult due to the condition and a lack of spare parts. The new crossing was installed as a direct replacement but designed to modern standards, such as the ‘Puffin’ style display units.

    Unfortunately, the type of cabinet previously used is no longer available, so we only had the larger cabinet available. When placed at the front of the footway, where the old cabinet was, this cabinet would block visibility between drivers and pedestrians, particularly for drivers to see small children. This could pose a danger as it is known that poor visibility increases the risk of an accident. The cabinet was expected to be installed closer to the back of the highway boundary, however when on site we found that the amount of services already in the footway prevented this. There are a large number of utility company cables and ducts both at the back and elsewhere throughout the width of the footway. This severely limited the places that were available to install the equipment and we had to reach a compromise over the location in order to get the crossing on and working. Installation of the cabinet on the Boots forecourt was ruled out at an early stage as the cabinet would be on private commercial land, rather than on land owned by the County or City Council.

    Prior to the installation of the crossing, we did submit the designs to the County Council’s Cycling Officer for comment. We normally email all the local Members for the ward before construction starts to inform them of the works although I believe this may have accidentally been missed on this occasion for which I apologise. The scheme has also been safety audited at design stage and since installation, with no comments on the position of the cabinets.

    I accept that the position of the cabinets is far from ideal and is inconvenient as it restricts the space, however the footway is wide at this point and there is normally enough space for people to cycle and walk past. It is regrettable but we were left with very few safe options once we found that we could not install it fully at the back. At busy times when people are waiting at the crossing, cyclists and pedestrians may have to slow down to pass by but this is safer than putting the cabinet at the front of the footway, where children may be put at risk.

    I have already organised for a white band to be placed around the tops of the controller and feeder pillar to make them easier to see at night and this should be installed in the next few weeks.”

    I’m concluding it is going to be very difficult to persuade them to fix properly the problem they have caused with the control box on the cycleway.

    I’m no engineering expert, but I would have thought a better alternative for the Council taxpayer than pre-emptive replacement of working crossings would be wait until one breaks that you can’t get the parts for, then replace that one with a new crossing and cannibalise the parts to extend the life of other crossings. If I was being cynical I might think an excuse for the replacements better grounded in reality would be putting the desire to improve the Governments Best Value Performance Indicator 165 (percentage pedestrian crossings with facilities for disabled people) above local residents priorities (like a new crossing on Perne Road, or just maintaining the roads better) and wanting to put in as many of the Government’s preferred Puffin crossings as possible despite them being unpopular with quite a lot of people e.g. pedestrians who get half way, see their light go red and panic that they are about to be run over…

  4. Andrew Bower

    I noticed Cllr Bourke’s confusion over the yellow lines but expected his readers would know the difference.

    I think no overtaking on the Mill Road bridge could well be a good approach – certainly more welcome than the cycle-unfriendly traffic calming proposed – but in fact double white lines would not be sufficient because they permit the overtaking of slow-moving vehicles. A complete solution would need to include the ‘no overtaking’ sign.

  5. Martin

    I think the key problem with puffins is the DfT’s stupid idea that you shouldn’t have a light on the other side of the road. The idea of having the light only on your side to the right is that you are then looking towards the traffic automatically.

    The problem is that, in practice, people look in the direction they are going, not to one side. In practice what happens e.g. at the East Road crossing, is that people end up looking up at the main green traffic light and reversing the logic (red for traffic is green for me).

    The equivalent of the puffin idea for a driver would be like saying that you don’t have a traffic light in front of you, but you have to peer round and work out what the traffic light at the sideroad you are going over currently says and reverse the logic.

    No political decision ever seems to have been made to move to Puffins, as far as I’m aware (unless it’s hidden in some network management document), but I suspect the public prefers the old type. Changing the standard type of crossing being used should be a policy matter, decided initially on by Councillors, rather than an operational matter purely dependent on spare parts issues. Perhaps this is fruit for a request (FoI if necessary) to see how this decision is being made?

  6. Chris Howell

    Martin – I chased up this issue when the County was replacing another working crossing on Perne Road last year, and got the following back:

    “The main reason for replacing the crossing is the difficulty in maintaining the old equipment. The old controller has already been replaced as we could no longer get parts for it if it failed. Likewise, if the 20 year old cable fails in the ground, the site would have to be switched off until we could refurbish it anyway. Doing this sort of works as an emergency increases costs even further.

    The life expectancy of a set of traffic lights is 15 years but Cambridgeshire has a large amount of equipment older than this. As more of our equipment becomes obsolete, we could reach the stage where we cannot afford to replace all of the sites as they fail and some would have to be switched off permanently. The only alternative is to plan for the replacements before the sites fail and target the most vulnerable first, which is what we are doing.

    Refurbishing a site gives us a good opportunity to ensure that it is left meeting modern standards for disabled access and safety for little extra cost. The modern standards will also make the crossing easier and cheaper to repair and replace in the future. The strategy is very long term but will avoid a repeat of the problems that we are having now.”

    My communications with the relevant executive councillor at the time didn’t suggest a huge degree of political involvement in deciding this strategy…

  7. Martin

    Thanks Chris, but that wasn’t my point. What I was raising is the way that *Pelican* crossings (which may well be at end-of-life) are being replaced with *Puffin* crossings. These are of a different type – they don’t have a far-side indicator.
    is a good article describing all the differences.

    “Puffin crossings differ from pelican crossings in that the lights controlling the pedestrians are on the near side of the road, rather than on the opposite side.”

    Changing the type of crossing ought to have been decided politically (presumably en-bloc) rather than just an engineer deciding to choose one type.

  8. Chris Howell

    Martin – I understand your point and think we are agreeing here – the transition to puffins seems to have been brought in by officers as a side effect of an engineering argument – but I don’t really buy either excuse, and it is academic which of changing to puffins and making maintenance easier was the main reason and which the supporting reason, this should have been a decision by Councillors.

  9. Richard Article author

    Jason Murfitt, The County Council’s Traffic Signals Technician has replied to my enquiry. He says he wrote to Cllr Burke, Cllr Sadiq and other councillors on the 8th of July regarding the crossing refurbishment on High Street, Cherry Hinton.

    He added:

    As I’m sure you can appreciate we maintain a number of pedestrian crossings throughout Cambridgeshire. A high number of these crossings have now passed the end of their expected life cycle, with a number of theses sites failing. Also, when these sites were originally designed the equipment used was of the latest specification, and as technology advances we are able to bring both the signalling equipment and the
    crossing design up to-date to aid people with disabilities. We have secured funding over the last few years which we have targeted to improve the older sites throughout the county, of which this is one of them.

    He also sent a copy of an email Chris Kennett, Cambridgeshire County Council’s Lead Engineer for Traffic Signals and Systems sent to councillors the day after the East Area Committee meeting. This is the email which Chris Howell has copied in comment no. 3 above.

  10. Richard Article author

    I have received a further message stating:

    We have been allocated a total budget of just over £600,000 this year for the refurbishment schemes. After we take the cost for design out of this, each scheme costs between £35,000 and £45,000. This figure may sound high, but the old sites we are replacing were not designed to enable refurbishment. We will be future proofing each site for a longer period than the existing old sites by providing new ducting and easily replaceable poles. We are now also able to remotely monitor each site, reducing on-going maintenance costs.

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