Azara Blog: Gilbert Road will have cycle lanes but no speed bumps

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Date published: 2010/06/15

The Cambridgeshire County Council Cabinet had a meeting today to discuss, amongst other things, the proposal to ban parking in the cycle lanes on Gilbert Road, and also to put speed bumps (or, as the bureaucrats would have it, "traffic calming") all the way up the road. As with the meeting on 23 February, the room was packed out with interested parties.

The media (including the Cambridge News and the BBC) had portrayed this as a battle between the residents of Gilbert Road, who obviously did not want to lose their parking, and cyclists, by which they really meant the Cambridge Cycling Campaign (CCC) (who represent some, but not most, cyclists in Cambridge).

Needless to say, this ignored everyone else who is a stakeholder in Gilbert Road. So not only were drivers ignored (but Cambridge always ignores drivers since allegedly they do not count) but also all the residents of north Cambridge who happen to live near but not on Gilbert Road. In particular, it was obvious to one and all (except the bureaucrats and the CCC) that the speed bumps would likely encourage rat running of motorists away from Gilbert Road, a relatively main road, to side streets.

Mike Todd-Jones (acting in a personal capacity rather than as a member of the Labour Party) organised a petition a week or two beforehand requesting that the rat running situation be analysed before the speed bumps were installed. This meant that he was given three minutes to put his case at the start of the meeting. And he made the argument in good order. In particular, there is an obvious rat running route from Histon Road down Roseford Road, Perse Way, Carlton Way, Metcalfe Road and Courtney Way, which avoids all current and planned speed bumps.

As an exercise in "fairness", the Cabinet also allowed the CCC spokesperson, James Woodburn, to speak for three minutes, although this seems to have been against the rules, since the CCC had no new petition, and petitions are not allowed to be repeated. He argued that the speed bumps would not encourage rat running (but why the CCC pretends to know anything about how drivers view speed bumps is a mystery). And he argued that a postponement of the decision would affect future funding (emotional blackmail). And he bizarrely claimed that the Todd-Jones petition was "too late", because the public survey carried out before the February meeting had allegedly settled it once and for all that the "public" allegedly supported the proposal. What he failed to mention is that the CCC had emailed all its members in February to ask that they fill in the survey en masse so as to bias it towards the result they wanted. And so the survey was completely bogus. (But pretty much all public surveys like this are bogus, exactly because special interest groups like the CCC can hijack the proceedings.)

Roy Pegram, the Cabinet person responsible for pushing for the Gilbert Road proposal, then spoke. He said that the correspondence he had received had been split 50/50 for and against the proposal. Again, this is meaningless. Anyway, it was pretty obvious that he had thrown in the towel over the speed bumps proposal because he was fairly lukewarm in his presentation.

One of the other Cabinet people (Mac McGuire?) pointed out that there were two parts to the proposal, so the parking ban (so that the current cycle lanes became real cycle lanes) and the speed bumps. Somehow this had not been mentioned by anyone in the Cabinet before, but it was the relevant point. One could have one without the other.

Kevin Wilkins, a Lib Dem county councillor for West Chesterton (but not in the Cabinet), then spoke. He said he himself was not a cyclist but was very keen on both aspects of the proposal, so both the cycle lanes and the speed bumps. Bizarrely he called this view a "compromise". Only in Lib Dem fantasy land. Mac McGuire pointed out that Wilkins had not even attended the two PDG (Policy Development Group) meetings since February to discuss Gilbert Road. Oops.

A few people from the Cabinet then spoke, including Fred Yeulett, Tony Orgee, Martin Curtis and David Harty. It was Martin Curtis who stuck the fatal blow against the speed bumps. He had apparently run as an MP in Nottingham in the recent election (not successfully, it seems) and said that in Nottingham they even had a dual carriageway where there were cycle lanes, so it was not obvious why Gilbert Road needed speed bumps. Nobody official pointed out that Histon Road, which is much more dangerous than Gilbert Road, has cycle lanes and no speed bumps, although there were murmurings from the audience about this.

Harty explicitly supported Curtis and then Pegram officially threw in the towel on the speed bumps and all the cabinet agreed that there should be dedicated cycle lanes, so no parking, and also no speed bumps. And after the cycle lanes are in, they will come back to look at the question of whether speed bumps are needed. Well, there probably won't be any money available at that point, so the speed bumps are unlikely to appear in the near future.

The cycle lanes will be "advisory" rather than "mandatory". This is because apparently the police have to enforce "mandatory" cycle lanes whereas the local authority can enforce "advisory" ones. And none of the politicians trusted the police to do their job (indeed, several were amazingly rude about the police), so "advisory" it is.

It seems that 300k of the 400k pounds that was unbelievably going to be spent on this scheme can probably be diverted elsewhere in the county, and no doubt that meant the politicians were happy that they were not throwing away "free" money.

Needless to say, the main losers are the residents of Gilbert Road, who will no longer be able to park on the road. This will have some impact on side streets as well, with parking spilling over.

The Lib Dems also came out pretty badly, although no doubt they will trumpet their masterful determination to get the cycle lanes. So the local Lib Dem representatives pretty much all put the interests of the CCC ruling elite above the interests of their constituents. (Tim Ward, a Lib Dem city councillor for Arbury, indicated privately that he opposed the proposal as it stood.)

It is unfortunate that no real compromise had been considered since the February meeting. So it seems that the bureaucrats had literally done nothing since then. Their main argument for the proposal (including the speed bumps) boiled down to two bits of emotional blackmail: the possible loss of future funding if the county didn't do as told, and the alleged safety of children (although the rat running could in theory make that worse). Because of the funding issue, they were evidently satisfied just to "run out the clock" rather than doing anything constructive like talk to the residents of north Cambridge, in the intervening four months.

There was a possible compromise. So it's quite feasible that there could be two dedicated cycle lanes, and also one side of parking at least in stretches along the road, if only the bureaucrats could have been bothered to try. The photo

shows the situation as it often occurs these days along the southern end of Gilbert Road. So cars can (currently) park in the cycle lane if they wanted, but they are nice enough not to (although who knows if what they are doing is technically illegal). And there is still space for pedestrians, as well. Anyway, parking is obviously not going to be considered as an option for Gilbert Road.

There is one occasion per year when the whole southern section of Gilbert Road is currently used for parking, and that is for Guy Fawkes night. It will be interesting to see how that pans out in future, e.g. whether the authorities will turn a blind eye to people parking in the cycle lanes that night.

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