Thursday, 26 May 2011

The safest way to Cambridge


I think by necessity I have turned myself into a head down, headphones on commuter. If I go fast, I spend less time in unpleasant traffic. But, since injuring my knee I have been taking it easy while it recovers and I am back at square one, noticing the unpleasantness of the gotta-get-to-work traffic. I have also been cycling around the village with my children, 5 and 8 quite a lot so I have been thinking about safe and traffic free cycling routes. This was a great opportunity to try and solve the puzzle that is:

What is the safest way to cycle from Cottenham to Cambridge ?

The route also passes through Rampton, Histon and Orchard Park.



Map: You can see the route on BikeRouteToaster. You'll want to switch to the Street or Cycle view.

Length: The route is just over 15km (10 miles) long to Jesus Green. If you went direct on the road it is under 10km (6 miles). Parts of the Cottenham to Histon cycleway are being built already so that will cut out a significant part of the distance once widened.

Is it busy ? It can be. There are two schools on the route once into Cambridge and like any road with a school they turn into chaos at 9am and 3pm. Avoid at these times.

Suitability: It is a mix of roads, shared use cycle paths, and guided bus track. The most difficult part is a shortish gravel section near Rampton. You could walk this part in under 5 minutes. My guess is that it is generally suitable for secondary school children and up but you'll know if you have an adventurous youngster.



Start by leaving Cottenham on the Rampton Road.


There is a wide shared use path between the villages. If I am cycling with my youngsters I like to cycle between them and the on-road traffic.

If you head direct to Histon you should be cycling on the road until the edge of the village although many do cycle on the path. You can see what I think of the un-upgraded path in a previous blog post

Rampton Road is fast and not that pleasant in places. I am told that occasionally a cars will leave the road near the corners. This is the worst part of the route mainly because you are cycling next to 60mph traffic.

Hang in there, once in Rampton, you leave the traffic behind for some time.


In Rampton, turn left at the Green and follow the tarmac until it ends. You will find yourself outside Rampton Breakers. Take the right along this gravel track.


If they top this gravel up it can be quite deep and tricky to ride on. The Guided Busway is less than a 5 minute walk away. If you are brave, it is actually easier to cycle on gravel (in a straight line) if you go faster.


This is the junction with the Guided Bus track. Turn left onto it.


For just a short amount of time you have the option of riding on the busway tracks or track alongside. Riding on the guides is fast, but means you can't take in the view as you concentrate on your line. Thankfully, this section's track will tarmac'd.

[edit: Buses now run on the guide rails, do not cycle on them, use the smooth tarmac alongside].



The track crosses, Oakington Road (Westwick) and Park Lane (nr Histon) before you arrive in Histon at the old err and new Station.


Continue straight on and under the A14.


At the first sign of houses - Orchard Park - take the first right alongside the Guided Bus spur.


and just after the station platform, take this route left over the Busway, then King Hedges Road.


Once, over Kings Hedges Road, follow the obvious route to Northfield Avenue.



Now, pay attention, it gets complicated here. Safe cycle routes are always complicated with many twists and turns, and even when signed they are easy to miss. If I was in a strange city, I would rely on my GPS to guide me over a pre-planned route. Alternatively, arm yourself with a paper version on the Cambridge Cycle Map

Take the right and immediate left into Roxburgh Road:




Next up is a T-junction at Arbury Road. Turn right here (take care in the fast traffic) ...


... then next left into Mere Way.


When you see this sign, follow straight on to 'West Cambridge'. This is also the way to the City Centre but you wouldn't know it.


This takes you past Arbury School.


When I came past here near 9am, it felt more dangerous than Histon Road. I think it was the number of parked cars and overtaking of parked cars and merging with traffic trying to rush past me that made it tricky. At this time, Histon Road seems safer in comparison.


Cross Gilbert Road (from Carlton Way, into Stretten Avenue)


Pay respect to this battle zone. Over ten years were spent by campaigners trying to get cycle lanes free of parked cars, and wow it is so much safer now.


The roads get quieter here. There are a few turns but they are easy to navigate.

My favourite part is when you get to Alexandra Gardens. The air is full of bird song, which I never notice on a normal commute.



The final road crossing to the bridge at Jesus Lock to get to Jesus Green.





Now, ice cream or a Fitzbillies Chelsea Bun ?

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