Silver Street and Regent Street Closure

Cambridge 2000 memos

May 2002

The Cambridgeshire County Council wants to remove car traffic from the "core" area of Cambridge (to be specific, the area on the interior of Chesterton Lane, Chesterton Road, Victoria Avenue, Newmarket Road, East Road, Gonville Place, Lensfield Road, Fen Causeway, Queens Road and Northampton Street).

They have already closed off Bridge Street and Emmanuel Road to all cars (except for access, and taxis). (Both are successful schemes according to the council.) They now want to close Silver Street, but probably only during the day (their suggestion being 9.30 to 4.00) and possibly tidal for the other hours, and also to close Regent Street heading into town, and Downing Street at its east end. They really want to close Silver Street completely, and that will no doubt happen in time.

The council gives the following main reasons for closing these streets:

As it happens the first two reasons are unlikely to be achieved and the most important factor is the last one. One of the main reasons there is so much traffic in the core area is that this is where most of the shopping is located. The council refuses to allow any edge of town (non-food) shopping centres (Arbury near the A14 and Trumpington near the M11 would be two obvious locations for development), so they are partly responsible for the situation. Lion Yard Car Park is the main source of traffic problems in much of the core area, but they refuse to close it down. According to the council, other car uses in the core area are "inessential" but parking in Lion Yard is "essential". An interesting view.

The council has provided estimates of the changes in traffic on most of the affected roads. These imply between a 20% and 25% reduction in total traffic (i.e. total kms, not total vehicles) for the affected roads in the core area, and a reduction of between 15% and 20% over all the affected roads. This second reduction is hard to believe. People who currently drive up Queens Road and Silver Street to get to the Lion Yard Car Park are in future going to have to drive an extra 1.5 km during the day. The implied reduction must be because the council expects many more people will park in west Cambridge (e.g. at the Park and Ride on Madingley Road or off Grange Road), or perhaps the council expects people to just give up on Cambridge and go elsewhere for their shopping (e.g. Peterborough or the Greater London area, a great victory for Cambridge and for the environment).

In spite of the supposed reduction in total traffic, the safety situation could actually get worse, in particular there are likely to be many cyclist and pedestrian collisions on Silver Street. The only thing that keeps pedestrians off the street currently is the fear of getting hit by a car or lorry. When that noise has been removed (assuming taxis and buses are not allowed on the road during the day) many pedestrians, in particular tourists, are likely to blithely wander onto the street right in front of cyclists. The council may well have to ban cyclists from Silver Street during the day (as already happens in the town centre, for exactly this reason).

If the council was really serious about safety (instead of just being interested in safety when it happens to be anti-car) then it would insist that Hobson's Conduit be covered up on Trumpington Street. This will become an even bigger source of danger if Silver Street is closed and Tennis Court Road made one way south (instead of north as at present) because then the only access route to the Lion Yard Car Park during the day (which is when most people use it) will be via Trumpington Street. It does not take a genius to see what happens when three access routes get reduced to one. Expect monumental traffic jams, which will spill out onto the ring road, with dire consequences all the way from Hills Road to Madingley Road, and beyond. The council's own traffic model illustrates this perfectly well. Needless to say when this happens the council will blame the motorists. Instead there should be a sign saying "this traffic jam sponsored by Cambridgeshire County Council".

The council is also proposing that Fitzwilliam Street be reversed and that a short (middle) stretch of Tennis Court Road actually be made two way, in order to appease part of the university (those people who park on the Downing Site). Thus Tennis Court Road will be one way for 100 m, then two way for 150 m, then one way again. Stop laughing. There will similarly be a short two-way stretch of Downing Street. This will make the Cambridge road system look like it was designed by a complete idiot. Undoubtedly visitors will be completely confused, which is bound to create accidents, especially between cars and cyclists. This is all happening because of the incompatible goals of reducing traffic in the core area but keeping Lion Yard Car Park open.

There is unbelievably some question as to whether taxis and buses should be able to continue to use Silver Street during the day. Taxis are transport for the rich (e.g. tourists and business people), so should be allowed nowhere other cars are not allowed (why should these people get precedence over the ordinary people of Cambridgeshire). And if they were allowed on Silver Street when other cars are banned they would speed more than is possible now, so are more likely to hit pedestrians and (especially) cyclists. (Large) buses (and lorries) should not be allowed on Silver Street at all, no matter the time of day, they are much too big for that narrow road. It is ridiculous that this, the most inappropriate vehicular use of that road, may be the only one allowed during the day.

Elsewhere in Cambridge (e.g. at the Science Park) government has encouraged non-standard working hours (so-called flexi-time) in order to relieve congestion. Needless to say this practise smoothes out demand. The proposed closure of Silver Street will have the opposite effect. People will try to get through before the gates close at 9.30. The morning rush hour will become more peaked. Some people would argue this is a good thing.

All other things being equal, pedestrian usage of Silver Street could actually slightly decrease under the proposals. Over the last few years the council has (stupidly) removed more and more parking from west Cambridge (and elsewhere). The current proposal could see a further reduction of parking on Queens Road. Less car parking in west Cambridge means less pedestrians on Silver Street.

The environment in Silver Street will almost certainly benefit, at least during the day. Elsewhere the environment will not do so well, for example, according to the council's own estimates, the air quality will either get no better or slightly worse on most of the affected roads.

Another side effect of closure is that the house price differential between the city and the villages will widen ever further. The entire closure plan could be viewed as a battle between the rich burghers of Cambridge (in particular those who live near the city centre) and the not-so-rich burghers of the villages near Cambridge.

A cost-benefit analysis should be done before the closure is allowed. This is one thing the council is unlikely to do, since they have no idea how to evaluate either the costs or the benefits, they just know the closure is a "good" thing. Closing roads is easy because it does not cost the council much to do (the cost falls almost entirely directly on the private citizen).

Assuming the closure does go ahead, the council needs to set out clear measurement guidelines (and not just "feel good" surveys) to see whether anything has been accomplished. What is the change of traffic (in the core area and elsewhere)? If there is a decrease where have those people gone? What is the change in the safety record? (Unfortunately many accidents are not recorded so this will be difficult to measure but it is up to the council to try.)

Note: The county council documents relating to the proposed road closures are (at the time of the writing of this memo) available on the council website:

Cambridge 2000 memos