Why the Cherry Hinton Road design process is rubbish

On Wednesday evening (5 June 2019) I attended two events which, taken together, demonstrate why I am constantly arguing for Joined Up Thinking across the organisations involved in our local government.

First I was at Rock Road Library for the exhibition put on by the County Council cycling team about their plans to alter cycling and walking infrastructure on Cherry Hinton Road. This is another big infrastructure project, with estimated costs around £1m, and a construction phase of 9 months. The current consultation will be the last opportunity for local residents and users of that route to influence the outcomes; after it closes on 18th June all subsequent decisions will be solely the responsibility of councillors and council officers – and as we have seen with the Fendon Road Roundabout saga, that doesn’t necessarily lead to good design.

Obviously the intention behind all these projects is to provide a better balance between the interests of people using sustainable transport (pedestrians, cyclists, bus passengers) and vehicle drivers. But having had first-hand experience of the creation of the Hills Road cycleways (2015-17) I also know how profoundly unsettling these large scale re-engineering projects right outside your front door are, and how many questions they raise about how it will work and what the practical implications will be – particularly for those who use the frontage of their houses for car parking. And that’s before you get to the impact of the noise and disruption of the construction phase.

So you might think that the cycling team would by now have defined a process for designing and delivering such schemes that acknowledges and indeed harnesses the sense of investment that people have in their neighbourhood. But there were residents at the exhibition last night who will be directly affected by the scheme, who had:

  • First found out about what was planned by receiving a bland leaflet through their letterbox which is ‘illustrative’ to be point of being misleading;
  • Needed to leave work early or make childcare arrangements on a busy week night to come to the event where they then had to queue to speak to officers who in several cases did not have the information to answer their questions;
  • Had to try to decipher large-scale technical engineering drawings reproduced at A3 scale to understand the exact changes to layout outside their properties.

This process is, by any standards, rubbish.

Rubbish for concerned residents trying to get answers; rubbish for the officers who are left exposed to people’s exasperation; and rubbish for the design of the final scheme which could and should benefit from local people’s knowledge of how things actually work in the area.

My frustration was then reinforced by attending my second event of the night, a presentation on the ‘Future of the High Street’ put on by Cambridge Network (a business lobby group) and Cambridge BID (an organisation responsible for the city centre). This provided a showcase for some of the ground-breaking work being done right here in Cambridge on ‘smart cities’ – collecting data from a huge range of sources to create a ‘digital twin’ of an area, which you can then use to model changes to show how things would work.

One of these organisations, Smart Cambridge, is funded by the Greater Cambridge Partnership and the County Council. Think how much easier it would be to understand what’s being proposed for our neighbourhood if those bodies showed any willingness to use this innovative work to communicate the impacts of their own transport schemes to us!

The complacency and lack of imagination that supports their current ‘business as usual’ thinking needs challenging – hard.

If you live on Cherry Hinton Road; walk or cycle down it; catch buses there; drive a car; visit the local businesses; or would like to see improvements to the public realm, take a good look at the plans for Cherry Hinton Road and respond to the consultation before it closes on 18th June, as this will be your only opportunity to get your voice heard.

You can see the generalised proposals online here but the detailed drawings are not there. If you are interested in the detail, email transport.delivery@cambridgeshire.gov.uk to ask for the engineering drawings (and buy yourself a magnifying glass).

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