Central bus lanes in Cambridge – radical steps for a city that works

In an historic but expanding city there isn’t enough road space for everybody to travel by car.

central_bus_lane09:23 Wednesday 20th January 2016
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

PAUL STAINTON: Council chiefs in Cambridge believe putting lanes down the middle of some of the city’s major roads could be incredibly successful. The project is called the Streetcar We Desire project. You see what they’ve done there? It’s the brainchild of two councillors from Coton and it will enable buses to travel in both directions on centre lane expressways. Now these could be installed along Cambridge’s major routes like Histon Road, Madingley Road and Milton Road. Many of the details on the front page of the Cambridge Evening News this morning. So do bus lanes give you the ‘wow’ factor or the ‘ow’ factor? Lewis Herbert is the Leader of Cambridge City Council. He’s Chair of the Cambridge City Deal. £500 million in your pocket Lewis. Are you going to spend some of that cash on this?

LEWIS HERBERT: Well good morning Paul. Well the truth is we’ve got £100 million, and the way Government controls it is if they don’t like the way we spend that, then we won ‘t get the rest of that £500 million you talked about.
PAUL STAINTON: So only £100 million burning a hole in your pocket at the moment.
LEWIS HERBERT: Yes. It’s a significant sum. So we’ve got to sort out the way people get in and out of Cambridge from home to work, which means looking at the routes. But also we have to come up, and we plan to by this summer, come up with proposals to, over the city, address issues like the number of cars that are coming in. So bus lanes a part of that. They already help a lot. They’re not perfect. You can’t have them for miles and miles, because you end up taking over the whole road. But bus lanes do make a difference Paul.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. A lot of people say this morning though, looking at some of these plans, and John the Hippy has seen some detailed plans, and he seems to think that the buses are going to rule our lives in Cambridge, if this plan gets the go-ahead.
LEWIS HERBERT: Well it’s a balance. I think what you and what your listeners know is that at peak times we have got a problem that has to be dealt with. I come out to work in Chelmsford. They do have a central bus lane on one of the roads there, and just driving out this morning to go to work, there’s five miles of queues of cars.
PAUL STAINTON: Every morning. Yes.
LEWIS HERBERT: We have got a big pollution problem from that, so yes. There’s a queue all the way from, and you know Addenbrookes Hospital, all the way out to Fourwentways junction. Yesterday and today, there’s a queue all the way. There isn’t enough road space for everybody to travel by car. It’s a peak-time issue. When it’s not the peak-times we shouldn ‘t be changing the way people travel. But at the peak-times, to have a city that works, we have to enable buses to be better, and to have more express buses linking in like the X13 that comes in from Haverhill.
PAUL STAINTON: You mentioned the roads are not up to par for  cars. Are they wide enough to put bus lanes in the middle?
LEWIS HERBERT: Well that is a difficult balance, because ..
PAUL STAINTON: Are people’s gardens going to go, or are we going to lose pavements? What are you going to do? How are you going to do it?
LEWIS HERBERT: There’s no decision from the City Deal to support a central bus lane which might be tidal along long stretches of the road, because if you take Madingley Road, Milton Road, Histon Road, you’ve got to strike a balance. And there are people living on those streets, and they are not wide enough for some of the kinds of ideas that are being suggested.
PAUL STAINTON: It won’t happen on those streets. Is that what you’re saying?
LEWIS HERBERT: Well we’re consulting, and we’ll be listening to people. But we have to come up with a balance which both makes it more reliable, more comfortable for bus users, enables people to come in from the villages without being stuck in a bus which makes them think about driving because that’s less painful. So we are consulting. There are various options, either big changes or small changes. We need to look at each junction. There’s a lot of detail. And then we’ll come up with some proposals in the summer. So the first scheme that we’ll come back with after listening to the public and other comments will be in the summer, and that will reflect how we strike a balance.
PAUL STAINTON: But this scheme that’s been suggested has been given the thumbs up han’t it from Tanya Sheridan, the City Deal Director? She’s all in favour of it.
LEWIS HERBERT: Well I think what she’s saying is it’s on the table. That’s all she’s saying.
PAUL STAINTON: So we’re going to have to chop down trees potentially if we put this scheme through.  We’re going to lose .. we’re going to have to do something like that aren’t we to be able to facilitate a central lane.
LEWIS HERBERT: There is no thumbs up for a single answer bus lane like this. One of the good things is that it enables the faster buses that we will need from Cambourne, from Waterbeach, from Linton and from existing places to get through. But there is no thumbs up for this as a single solution. We’re out to consultation.
PAUL STAINTON: Yes. But it seems like people, quite a few people, are in favour of it. And are you confident .. let’s talk theoretically .. if this went ahead, would it work? Would it alleviate the problems in Cambridge? Do bus lanes always work? Because in Peterborough they’ve been shown not to.
LEWIS HERBERT: Well we’ve got evidence that they do. They don’t work in quite as dramatic a way as say the Busway out to St Ives. But they do speed up and give greater reliability. And if we don’t get more reliable buses then people will still use their cars. So these bus lanes and better park and rides will enable people to make a choice.
PAUL STAINTON: So would it just be buses in that central lane? Would taxis be able to use it, or .. ?
LEWIS HERBERT: Well I think we’re talking about express busways here. So some of these lanes would be for buses. But the fact that we’ve got taxis also just reduces the number of cars that have to come into the city. We need the taxis to get priority, particularly in the central lanes, because they help cut the number of cars in the city.
PAUL STAINTON: Has it got the ‘wow’ factor for you, this idea?
LEWIS HERBERT: I like this as an idea in terms of the fact that we’ve got to get bus journeys at decent speed. But the buses then need to stop. So coming in from the west we’ve got a big amount of employment in West Cambridge. We’ve then got people locally who will want to get on the bus to get into the city. Buses need to have passengers in every seat to make them work. I think we will see, in five or ten years time, more people happier using buses. But they have to be more comfortable, and they have to be reliable. At the moment you might see queues of buses between the centre of the city and the station in the evening, people missing their trains. We’ve got to ensure that buses can get through.
PAUL STAINTON: And we need a big idea.
LEWIS HERBERT: Well we need a few good ideas. And what has been prompted, these are local residents and parish councillors. It is really valuable that the discussion about what’s best for West Cambridge has prompted them to come up with what is a really interesting idea that we need to have a hard look at.
PAUL STAINTON: And you mentioned consultations. Everybody can get involved at this stage, can’t they, and have their two pen’orth?
LEWIS HERBERT: Well there’s a consultation for the next month over Milton and Histon Road. So that’s the current consultation. And we are going to come forward having listened to people. We’re going to have a look at whether we should expand the Core Scheme. we’re going to look at whether we need to, how we need to improve park and ride. We’ve got other ideas about addressing these issues city-wide as well.
PAUL STAINTON: Lewis, thank you for that this morning. Lewis Herbert Leader of Cambridge City Council thinks this could be a great idea. Bus lanes in the middle of some roads in Cambridge could alleviate some of the congestion, getting more of us on to buses, get people in to town and out of their cars.