The Cambridgeshire Transport Commission has been set up by the County Council to look at ways of tackling the transport problems the region experiences now and is expect to face in the future.
The commission ran a survey on their website in Spring 2009. My response is reproduced below. There will be further opportunities for public involvement at public “evidence gathering” sessions to be held by the commission before they report in the summer.
Question 1. With the congestion in and around Cambridge and plans to build a large number of new homes in Cambridgeshire, do you think transport improvements are needed?
Improvements to the Cambridge area transport infrastructure need to accompany the development of new homes in and around the city. The most extreme plans for development suggest the population of the Cambridge area could grow to four times its current level, such a change will require a substantial development of all forms of transport infrastructure including roads, railways and cycleways alongside the development of homes.
The requirement for transport improvements could be reduced by ensuring development takes place in a manner which reduces the number of trips people have to make. For example whereas current plans are to build tall blocks of flats on the outskirts of Cambridge, we should be placing high density housing in the City Centre. New housing needs to be attractive, we need to appreciate that existing Victorian and Georgian city centre homes are very popular. This homes were built at a higher density than those currently being put up in the City. We need to build homes that people both want to live in and, by virtue of their location, make a contribution to solving the city’s transport challenges. It is also important that new development takes place in areas which are, or will be, well served by public transport.
Throughout most of the city, at most times of the day Cambridge does not have a congestion problem at the moment. At the peak hours of the morning, and on certain roads (Newmarket Road, Trumpington Road) at other times there are problems; there is a need to deal with a large number of localised issues. The Cambridge area, and the East of England more generally has not seen public spending on transport infrastructure commensurate with the amount of money generated by the region.
Question 2. What do you think should be done to improve public transport, walking and cycling facilities, and the road network, to cope with congestion in and around Cambridge now and in the future?
Minimising congestion in an expanded future Cambridge while ensuring the city remains successful will require the implementation of substantive, bold, transport schemes.
Cambridge is a city of cyclists, this is despite the generally very poor facilities for cyclists when compared to the standards of the Netherlands for example. We need to make cycling safer and more pleasant and making it an attractive choice for more people and more journeys. The proposals for the new Addenbrookes link road which include 1.5 metre wide ‘on-road’ cycleways on each side of the road (with cyclists having priority over any side-roads), as well as a segregated cycle and footpath is an example of what we ought be doing.
Cambridge needs to be prepared to lead the country in new innovations for cycling, for example allowing cyclists to turn right across pedestrian crossings when approaching from perpendicular paths, investigating allowing cyclists to turn left on red traffic lights, and allowing two way cycling on one way roads.
Many road layouts ought be changed to prioritise cyclists. At junctions where most traffic is made up of cyclists the popular route for cyclists ought be the one with the priority. The presence of, and need of car, van, lorry and bus drivers to be considerate to cyclists could be highlighted at the roads into the city, on the “Welcome to Cambridge” signs.
Great caution needs to be taken to ensure that improvements in other areas don’t adversely impact cyclists. For example more busses on the roads may make cycling more dangerous and unpleasant, if segregated busways and cycleways are not present. The design of guided bus stops, which protrude into the road are one of the changes in transport infrastructure which may make cycling in the city more dangerous.
Cambridge has a major problem with bikes getting stolen, this deters people from using their bikes for many trips. In order to promote cycling we need policing which takes this local problem seriously, and improved cycle parking at destinations.
The Road Network
Opening up the restricted junctions on the A14 and M11 will reduce the number of journeys through the city centre. The Fen Ditton Link road proposed in the TIF bid, and the proposed road west of the NAIB site between Huntingdon and Histon roads are examples of how this could be achieved.
The A14 work including widening and junction improvements needs to go ahead. I am astounded at the Liberal Democrat City Council’s recent opposition to this program which is essential for the city. The A14 kills and injures far too many people, and is often blocked resulting in unpredictable journey times and lots of lost time. Improvements here are decades overdue. Stretches of this work ought be completed before Northstowe is built. (This work is outside of the TIF)
Bus lanes need to be enforced, extended and perhaps segregated where possible.
With the guided bus, and other traffic from development sites converging on the Milton and Histon Roads in North Cambridge a potential problem is being created which needs to be pre-emptively tackled with bold solutions.
We need to deter people from making unnecessary journeys into the City Centre. Changing the physical nature and appearance of many roads could assist with that. Road colourings and materials could be used to indicate that certain roads are not major through routes yet preserve access for those who need it. The idea of “shared space” using minimal road markings might also assist deter drivers from using certain central roads, this ought also slow speeds, and increase the caution taken by drivers resulting in a safer environment for cyclists.
The Park and Ride sites ought serve additional destinations;
Imaginative and bold suggestions ought be investigated. For example I would support the investigation of a scheme along the lines of the “ULTra” driver-less pod system to be used at Heathrow. It would be desirable for some of any money spent on transport infrastructure in Cambridge to be an investment in demonstrating new, innovative technology which can offer a return on that investment as it is sold elsewhere in the world.
It needs to be easier to get from outlying towns and villages into all parts of the City of Cambridge, not just the city centre.
I support the Chesterton Station scheme (This is now apparently funded outside of the TIF)
Tunnelling, be it on a small scale to enable buses to pass under junctions, or on the scale proposed by Prof. Robert Mair, ought be properly investigated.
Question 3. Cambridgeshire County Council has bid for £500 million from Government under the Transport Innovation Fund scheme. What are your views on the proposals? Do you think it will help solve congestion in and around Cambridge?
I am shocked by the lack of detail in the proposals, especially given the amount of public money spent developing them. I oppose the blackmail based nature of the TIF scheme which links funding for improved transport infrastructure to the introduction of a congestion charge. The the funding for transport improvements should be linked to the building of new homes, not to a congestion charge. I strongly oppose the principle of a congestion charge, on the grounds of privacy, removing freedom to travel and access to property, and because of the potential risk to the economy and vitality of the city. The congestion charge is a tax which will hit the poor hardest. Drivers are already a very heavily taxed group, and most of the money they contribute to the exchequer is not spent on improving the roads or offering rational alternatives to car use. The congestion charge is a tax which will remove money from the local economy, it will make a wide range of services from deliveries to plumbing more expensive as well as perhaps raising the prices of goods in the city’s shops.
Cambridge residents calling the government’s bluff on this is already succeeding, funding of Chesterton Station, which was to be funded out of the TIF has already been funded from other sources. The experience of Manchester has shown that if the congestion charge, and therefore the TIF, is rejected other funding will be forthcoming. Sources of such funding include charges intended to release the gain in value of development land when it receives planning permission (an approach I strongly support as it directly links the source of funding to development), private investment, and general taxation. On the subject of raising money for infrastructure from developments themselves I note that the current mechanisms for doing this (s106) are not providing the funding to mitigate the effects of new development on the city.
Cambridge is not in the position that Central London was in before a congestion charge was introduced there. We do not have an established and well used public transport network offering a real alternative to personal car use. The TIF proposals are an experiment, the first “whole city” congestion charge. I do not think Cambridge residents ought be blackmailed into allowing the government to experiment on the city. Cambridge residents should not have something they do not want forced on them.
It is not clear if money raised by a congestion charge in Cambridge would be spent in the city; I suspect, given the fact the city has limited representation on the County Council we would see funds raised in the city spent elsewhere in the county. This is symptomatic of a vacuum in local democracy affecting a broad range of aspects of Cambridge City which are run by the County Council.
I do not believe that the congestion charge, if introduced, will remain only between 0730 and 0930, it will inevitably be extended. Visitors to Cambridge will be deterred by the mere presence of a charge; it will be hard to get the message out to potential tourists that it only operates for a particular period of time. I think there is a real risk that shoppers will be driven to other centers if a congestion charge is introduced.
Cambridge’s trees, green spaces and historic core must be preserved, transport improvements must not damage or detract from these elements which are so critical to the city.
Cambridge residents have been consulted many times about the congestion charge. I hope that this current “Transport Commission” process will take into account the views expressed during previous consultations, and will give due weight to the city’s elected representatives. I note there was no effective consultation before the TIF bid was prepared, only afterwards. Previous consultations have lacked clarity on what exactly was being asked. Information has also been hard to obtain. Ironically an £11 charge on the door was made for the only presentation held in the Cambridge at which senior councillors and officers from the City and County councils presented the TIF proposals (this was the 17th of September 2007 event in the University Arms Hotel hosted by the Federation of Small Business and the Chamber of Commerce).
Question 4. Is Cambridgeshire County Council planning to spend the £500million for transport improvements in the right way? What changes would be better, or more acceptable, for local people and businesses?
The plans have not been developed in enough detail to comment effectively on them. For example the question of how will the “Milton Road bus priority” actually be achieved given the restricted width of the roads is not answered. Other areas needing work have been identified, such as the Newmarket Road, Elizabeth Way junction, but the proposals are not available for in sufficient detail to assess them. I could make this point about every proposed element of the TIF bid, it is vague.
Some of the principles such as providing continuous, segregated busways from the park and ride sites to the city centre are positive. Ideas such as one way car access on Huntingdon road are as bold as I think changes need to be, but in this case misplaced as we need to make it easier for those leaving the city, either westerly along Huntingdon Road or via other routes such as south down Trumpington Road.
Question 5. To obtain the £500 million of Government money to improve public transport, walking and cycling facilities, and the road network in and around Cambridge, a form of demand management, such as congestion charging, is needed. This is part of Cambridgeshire County Council’s proposals. Does the need to tackle congestion justify a charge for most vehicles coming into Cambridge in the morning peak (7.30am until 9.30am)? Are there alternative ways of reducing congestion and greenhouse gases?
I’ll repeat again that I oppose the principle of a congestion charge. One aspect which I do not think is given enough consideration is privacy. The charge will result in all movements in and out of, as well as within, the city being monitored by the state. I am very uncomfortable with this. My location is private and personal information. In London shortly after the congestion charge was introduced we saw all records handed over to the police and security services to be data-mined. I believe that such information should only be available to the police after they have gone through a process akin to obtaining a search warrant. I have asked questions such as how long does will information be kept about things like where my car was on a particular night, who I drove down the road behind but not had any assurances.
A congestion charge threatens the economic viability of the area. It might make companies decide to locate elsewhere. Cambridge businesses are of enormous importance to the UK. We need to ensure the city remains viable for as broad a range of people, businesses and activities as possible. I would not like to see Cambridge become a university theme park, the City has a broader role than that.
One of the primary ways Cambridge can contribute to reducing the amount of energy used, reducing energy costs and pollution and improving energy security is through the academic research which goes on in the Universities and the technologies developed by high tech businesses in the area. We need to keep the city attractive to academics and businesses and maintain the cluster we have here. If we reduce emissions from the city’s transport infrastructure, but negatively impact research into areas such as photovoltaics, battery technology, renewable energy, nuclear physics and many other areas where Cambridge’s innovations have the potential to change the world we will not be having a beneficial effect overall. We need to keep the national, and global picture in mind.
I think the terms of the TIF funding have been badly devised. Improved public transport infrastructure itself is in my view “demand management” as it has the potential to reduce the number of private cars on the roads. While I believe funds ought to follow the development of new homes, some incentive to encourage innovative schemes which might result in technologies being developed which could be used elsewhere and sold abroad. Transport projects ought always be looked at as true investments rather than spending, national spending decisions ought look at the expected return on investment through improved productivity in the region. If a good enough case can be made that there is a true investment opportunity then it ought be possible to attract private finance too.
Alternatives to congestion charge for reducing the number of people entering the city by car in the morning peak include:
- Encouraging varied start times in the educational sector.
- Improving public transport and cycling options so they are attractive alternatives.
- Building desirable homes closer to where people work.
- Ensuring areas where people live are well served by public transport.
- Improving the city’s road network is an alternative to reducing the number of vehicles on the road as a means of reducing congestion.
- We could be doing a lot more in Cambridge, and in the UK to improve electronic communications, which would, among other benefits, reduce the amount of travel required. I would like to see a true broadband Britain, with fibre optic to the home cabling installed to every home. I think this is essential for the future economy of the country as a leader in the knowledge economy.
- Better information on congestion problems would also I believe be useful; I suspect many of those who find themselves joining of traffic might have avoided them if they were aware of them in advance. Again I think Cambridge, and the UK ought to be technological leaders.