It’s now three weeks since Fendon Road roundabout was closed. I am continuing to ask questions about the details of the construction phase – and the answers demonstrate yet again the lack of any #JoinedUpThinking when it comes to the implementation of traffic schemes in our neighbourhood.
The first line of questioning has been about what additional traffic and air quality monitoring equipment is being deployed for the duration of the works. Encouraged by Romsey and Petersfield councillors, the City Council undertook a comprehensive study of the impact of the Mill Road bridge closure for two months over the summer, with monitoring equipment deployed before the works started and kept in position even after the road reopened in order to maximise the opportunities for learning about traffic re-routing, air quality improvements in the area and whether it prompted modal shift away from cars altogether.
Given this precedent, I naturally assumed that all parties would be interested in understanding the impact of an eight-month closure of one of the most critical points of the road network in the south of the city. Unfortunately, as is often the case, Queen Edith’s does not seem to hold the attention of City Council officers in quite the same way as some other wards and so – three weeks after the Fendon roadworks started – there are still no cameras in place to monitor traffic displacement, though I am told that some will be installed once permission has been secured from Balfour Beatty to fix them to the lamposts! However, there is no baseline of ‘before’ data and so the opportunities for learning are diminished.
Even more surprising to me was my discovery that no additional air quality monitoring will be carried out by the City Council as none was requested by the County Council team commissioning the roadworks. The City Council’s own data tells us that the growth of the Biomedical Campus has led to deteriorating air quality in the vicinity, surely someone would want to take advantage of this chance to understand in real time the impact of a major change to traffic flow and congestion levels on the Campus’s doorstep? Again, this seems to me like a missed opportunity.
Making bus travel harder
The second item on my list has been the impact of the decision to stop the Citi2 bus short of Addenbrooke’s for the duration of the works. This is making bus travel harder for both QE residents and residents elsewhere in the city who now have to swap buses if they want to get to the hospital, and was a consequence of Stagecoach being presented with a fait accompli about the road closure only two months before it happened and with insufficient time to explore alternative solutions, such as the shuttle buses they used during the Mill Road closure.
Cambridge Area Bus Users Group have taken the lead on pursuing this with the County Council, promoting a proposal developed by local resident Prof John Carroll which would allow the Citi2 to access Addenbrooke’s. In response, the officer writes that the Council is not willing to countenance changes to arrangements now in place because of “the impact on local traffic and the Babraham Road park and ride bus service”. It would be helpful to know what factors led to the conclusion that the risk of delay to the Park & Ride service passengers was more important than the absolute severing of a cross-city bus route used by many vulnerable users.
Foreseeable misbehaviour by drivers
The third relates to the flouting of traffic regulations by drivers frustrated by the increased congestion – which was entirely foreseeable because it’s exactly what happened when the Hills Road cycleways went in. One priority ought to be the junction of Hills Road/Nightingale Avenue/Red Cross Lane – if officers are serious about avoiding delays to inbound traffic on Babraham Road they would do well to enforce the ‘No Right Turn’ ban into Nightingale Avenue, as vehicles waiting for a gap in the oncoming traffic hold up the vehicles behind them. Even more worryingly, I am also observing inbound drivers making the illegal right turn from Hills Road into the closed top section of Queen Edith’s Way, taking their chance to cut through the oncoming outbound Hills Road traffic. I fear this pattern is being encouraged by the fact that officers have temporarily lifted the ban on left hand turns out of Queen Edith’s Way into Hills Road.
Now, this might seem like a common-sense way of reducing the inconvenience of the works for the residents of Queen Edith’s Way, but it is only safe because the phasing of the traffic signals has also been temporarily changed; and officers have told me when the works are completed, the previous phasing will be restored and at that point any vehicle turning left out of Queen Edith’s Way on the green phase will plough straight into pedestrians crossing Hills Road on their green phase.
With my theme of #JoinedUpThinking in mind, it seems ill-advised to license such temporary changes to the network because we know, again from the Hills Road cycleways installation, that once drivers or cyclists get used to ignoring traffic regulations they will continue to do so, even when the conditions which originally caused them to do so no longer apply. Anyone who regularly walks on Hills Road will be aware that cyclists started using the pavement on the east side during the cycleway construction because the officially-sanctioned route through the works either put them in danger or inconvenienced them. However, two years after the cycleways were completed and the hazards removed, cyclists are still treating that pavement as a shared use path and the more of them who do it, and the longer it goes on, the more it encourages others to emulate them.
What can we salvage from all this?
My final point relates to the apparent lack of forward thinking about positives which could come out of this closure. I have two suggestions for now:
- Given that residents have the opportunity to experience Nightingale Avenue with the on-street parking temporarily removed, are the County Council going to explore their appetite for making this a permanent ban? And is there any enthusiasm for using the road space thus gained to create segregated cycle lanes instead?
- Traffic levels on QEW are currently much reduced – so wouldn’t this be the logical time to repair the worst of the potholes on the road and the pavements?
The absence of #JoinedUpThinking strikes again.