How Can We Make the Guided Busway Safer?

The tragic death of Steve Moir as he cycled from Cambridge Assessment’s office along the guided busway on the narrow section between the station and Long Road has saddened all of us, and my thoughts and sympathy are with his family, friends and colleagues. It is the first time such an accident has happened, and it has shown clearly what many people have been saying for years: that stretch of the busway is a massive public safety risk, and it cannot be allowed to run as it does now.

Unless we act now others will die or be injured, like the unfortunate tourist who was unaware that buses ran along what he thought was a water channel and was clipped by a bus, or the passengers hurt when buses have derailed.

My view is that the single thing that would make a real difference would be to reduce the speed of the buses to 20mph in that area, at least until robust safety measures can be put in place.  The slight increase in journey times and need to rethink the timetable is surely worth it if it reduces the chance of a pedestrian or cyclist being injured or killed? If properly enforced it will also reduce the risk to passengers.

One reason for this is the sheer danger of being hit by a bus driving at speed. A bus weighs ten tonnes and can run at a maximum speed of 53mph on the straight, guided section which covers most of the Trumpington line.  At 50mph the buses have the same kinetic energy as a 1.5 tonne car travelling at 130mph – and six times the amount of energy of the same bus travelling at 20mph.

The bus’s stopping distance at 25mph (or c40kph) is 20 metres.  Travelling at 50mph the distance increases three times to 60 metres – in the wet these stopping distances go up by 50-100% and in all instances they are c.10m more than in a car, in part because bus tyres are made of a harder compound and wear longer but grip less well.

This is hugely compounded by a guided bus being the only land transport apart from a train that cannot steer or swerve to avoid something or someone – if a fallen cyclist is on a road 20 metres ahead it is very easy to steer around them but impossible to stop.  Apart from a short 100 m section of the route in Histon, the guided busway in Cambridgeshire has no barriers between the track and the path, which is a huge issue in comparison with a train track.

Kerb-guided track and adjacent multi-user path along a disused rail line, on the Leigh-Salford-Manchester Bus Rapid Transit, photo from wikicommons
Kerb-guided track and adjacent multi-user path along a disused rail line, on the Leigh-Salford-Manchester Bus Rapid Transit, photo from wikicommons

A similar busway in Manchester has a green verge and a simple fence.  Would this type of fence provide adequate protection on the Trumpington section?  Could something similar be installed?  What other improvements could be made?

I have already written about the lack of an accountable safety body [update October 1: I have been informed that the County Council do treat the busway as a road, but there is still no specific guided busway safety  body] and I will continue to ask questions about this.  I am also concerned about access for emergency vehicles to gain access to the busway.  Last week a fire engine and police car did gain access, but it seems that the ambulances did not.  Is this of concern to the emergency services and can it be improved?

How Safe is the Busway Compared to a Road?

There is another question, around how safe the busway is compared to other road transport. I’ve looked at the data around this, and according to my research it is significantly more dangerous than a road like the A14.

If we look at the last four years, I can find records of one death – that of Steve Moir just last week – and six injuries on the busway – including three derailments which have resulted in 5 injuries.

Looking at the current timetable, there are currently 390 vehicles/day, so over the last four years there have been around 1.1m vehicle movements. This equates to 1 death for 1.1m vehicle movements.  Over a similar four year period on the most dangerous road in Cambridgeshire, the A14, there were 14 deaths and 545 injuries, and  124 million vehicle movements This equates to 1 death for 8.8m vehicle movements.

Is this section of bus way eight times more dangerous than the A14? I sincerely hope not, but at the moment we have a situation in which pedestrians and cyclists feel exposed, and one tragic accident has already happened. We must do all we can to reduce the chance of another – and reducing the speed limit seems to me the best, simplest way to do that until other measures can be put in place.

Safety on the guided busway

Yesterday we heard about the tragic death of a cyclist on the guided busway after a collision with a bus. This is under investigation now, and we must not draw conclusions about the circumstances of the incident, but my thoughts are with their family and friends.

It was less than three months ago that I was walking down the Trumpington section of the guided busway with four members of the highways safety and cycling team to discuss options for improving the safety of this route for pedestrians and cyclists.  I had also met with one of the bus operators the previous day.

My main request was to have the speed on the buses reduced on the section from Clay Farm to where it joined the road near the station, from 53mph to 20 or 30 mph.  I had calculated that this would only increase the journey time for this section by about 3 minutes.  It was agreed that some visibility issues could be improved, along with highlighting the raised kerb of the track and the provision of warning signs, but the option for reducing the speed of the vehicles was not within their powers.

Fence lowered to improve visibility
Fence lowered to improve visibility

Some of the issues were explained to me.  The guided bus tracks were on private land, speed limits could not be enforced and, most crucially, it was not a road so the police had no jurisdiction, but it was not a railway either, so the Health and Safety Executive had no jurisdiction either – there seems to be no single body accountable for safety on the busway.

After yesterday’s awful accident I think we find a way to make progress here, before something else happens. It has highlighted again how vulnerable pedestrians and cyclists can be to large vehicles that travel at speed close to the pathway.  I use this route often and sometimes get frightened by the fast, heavy vehicles.

As well as safety measures like road markings, surely is it time for an accountable safety body  to be put in place.  What other vehicle transport system does not have this?

Why I support a People’s Vote on the Final Brexit Deal

As a Labour campaigner and now councillor, I’ve always been clear that I support the EU and voted to remain in the 2016 referendum. I have said many time that I would work hard to minimise the negative impact of Brexit on Trumpington and the whole of Cambridge. While leaving the EU now seems inevitable,  there are many issues to consider.

First, it seems to me that there’s a strong case to investigate the 2016 referendum, and that the Electoral Commission is not equipped to do this.  In August over 50 MPs and peers wrote to the Metropolitan Police and the National Crime Agency asking them to investigate the Vote Leave and Leave.EU campaigns, and I support this too.  If an investigation discovers that the referendum was compromised then we have to ask whether we want to rerun it under more careful supervision, or not.

It would be simplest if the Article 50 process could be paused until these investigations were complete, but the political reality is that this is very unlikely to happen – neither the British government nor the EU27 seem to see it as a possibility.

Since it seems unlikely that there will be an investigation, we should ask what else can be done.

The 2016 referendum was, of course, the *second* EU referendum, after the one that took place in 1975, so those who claim we could not have a ‘second’ referendum because ‘the people have spoken’ are wrong as a matter of historical fact. However I do not think that a rerun of the same question would be useful or would begin to resolve any of the divisions that we see in the country today.

However giving people a chance to express their view on the final deal that emerges from the current Brexit process is a very different thing: nobody who voted in the 2016 referendum had any idea which of the many possible ways of leaving the EU would in fact come to pass – and it looks as if the one that has emerged is among the most disruptive and damaging

Like many people I think that a plan that undermines the Good Friday agreement is completely unacceptable. I also want to see my children enjoy opportunities throughout Europe, and want to welcome fellow Europeans to come to or remain in this country.

So I support the campaign for a People’s Vote, as the only way to resolve the current situation. It’s not ideal, but as the government has failed to deliver on any of the Brexit promises it made to those who voted to leave, while completely disregarding the views of those of us who voted to remain and always wanted to maintain a close relationship with the EU after departure, I think we need to be able to express our view before we take an irrevocable step.

It’s not surprising that after decades of hearing only negative things about the EU from much of the media and having politicians blame the EU for their own policy failures, there was an enormous negative sentiment towards the EU in this country. The attempts by David Cameron to reframe our relationship with the EU were never going to succeed because the divisions in his own party constantly undermined them.  I would like to see Britain as a force for reform inside the EU, not a third country with no voice.

Lastly, it’s worth reflecting that all of the time and energy we’re spending thinking of how to disentangle the UK from the EU is time we’re not spending dealing with real issues in our society. One of the most pressing, and one I consider a lot, is how to minimise climate change and how we cope as well as possible with its effects. Of course, even here we’re far more likely to be able to take effective action as part of the wider EU than as a country going it alone.  We’re also much more likely to be able to guarantee food security as part of a larger trading bloc. And of course, the EU has done an enormous amount to secure peaceful relations between the member states – something we should never forget

So I support a People’s Vote – and I will be campaigning to remain inside the EU if at all possible. If not, I’ll work to make the best of whatever other outcome is chosen.

My new role as Executive Councillor

There have been changes to the executive of the City Council and on August 15 I became Executive Councillor for Streets and Open Spaces1. As a result I’ve stepped down from the the Planning and Transport Scrutiny Committee and the Housing Scrutiny Committee.

This is an enormous privilege. I look forward to ensuring that all allotments are in full use and the streets and toilets are clean – as well as delivering Labour’s vision for Cambridge, tackling climate change and making the city cleaner and greener.

Making the Guided Busway Safer

Last week I spoke out at the South Area Committee, the group which brings together councillors from the south of the city, about the need to make the guided busway safer.  It’s an issue that was often raised by local residents and something I feel strongly about as a cyclist whose family use the path regularly.

Calling for safety features on the Busway
Calling for safety features on the Busway

The issue was highlighted by Josh Thomas in his report for the Cambridge Independent, published yesterday – and then this morning we heard the dreadful news that a pedestrian had been hit by the wing mirror of a passing bus. Fortunately it seems that the person involved was not seriously hurt, but it highlights the dangers of having fast-moving buses in close proximity to pedestrians and cyclists.

I will be exploring the best way to ensure that we’re all safe on the busway, whether through a fence or other measures.

A Message from Katie

I am very honoured to have been elected to represent Trumpington on the City Council – thank you to everyone who voted for me in what was a nail-biting election. I’d also like to thank my mum, who showed me what a strong woman can do from an early age.

Katie's Tweet
Katie’s Tweet

Sometimes local councillors get elected and then disappear for four years, expecting to be re-elected because they wear a certain colour rosette. Sometimes they move to Scotland! I promise that I will not be that kind of councillor. I’ve been talking to thousands of you in the past 18 months, and I know your priorities: tackling congestion and traffic, improving public transport, fixing broken pavements, making sure that new communities have the facilities they need.

Some councillors promise the world and say that they will sort out every problem and issue. I will be honest with you from the start: I may not be able to fix everything. But I will take every single person’s problems seriously and do everything I can. If I can’t get something done, I will continue to campaign for change, and I will always get back to you and explain the situation.

Some of the issues we face in Newtown – such as congestion, pavements and social care – are County Council matters, and your existing Labour county councillor Linda Jones has been working hard over the last year to make improvements. Others are city issues, such as safety, refuse collection and planning. Now Linda and I can work together as a team on city and county issues to identify and deliver on your priorities.

Thank you!

I am very honoured to have been elected to represent Trumpington on the City Council – thank you to everyone who voted for me in what was a nail-biting election.

I look forward to working with every other councillor to do the best for everyone in Trumpington going forward, and will start working to make a difference on the issues I campaigned on.

Here are the full results, via the Cambridge News, and here is the report in the Cambridge Independent.

Election Day

Today is polling day for the local elections and I’m spending the day reminding supporters to get out and vote – if you’re in Trumpington today then you may see more or another Labour supporter with a clipboard, a pile of reminder leaflets, and a determined expression!

Thank you to everyone for your support – it’s been wonderful to meet so many people during this campaign, and I look forward to the count tonight.

Katie on the campaign trail
Katie on the campaign trail

Remembering Millicent Fawcett

I was out canvassing today on the final weekend of the local election campaign, and took the opportunity to visit the blue plaque put up recently in honour of one well-known former resident of Trumpington – Dame Millicent Fawcett.

The plaque on Brookside acknowledges this incredible woman and her fight for votes for women, on the centenary of some women getting the vote – but I never forget that not everyone gets to vote, even today.

I grew up in a place and at a time when none of the adult members of my family had a vote – Hong Kong when it was a colony – and even now their votes count for little now that it is a special administrative region of China.  Perhaps that’s one reason why I value my own vote and have impressed on my daughters and all the young people I know how important it is to use their vote.

Plaque to Millicent Fawcett
Plaque to Millicent Fawcett

It’s not just about voting, it’s also about who you can vote for. In democracies it is important that we have a diverse group of elected representatives – not just women but people from different class, ethnic backgrounds and social groups, of different sexual orientation, with varying pasts and aspirations and ideals and interest, so that the discussions at councils and in parliaments and assemblies can reflect the glorious variety of the world and not just the views of a bunch of like-minded lucky people.

We need diversity so that people can bring a different perspective, one that is grounded in their life experience and valuable wherever it is heard.  That’s why I’m standing, along with the other women candidates: we want to bring that perspective to Cambridge City Council.

And I hope that all women will consider standing for other things, because nobody is going to ask us to take over from the men – we have to stand up and fight for it just as we women candidates are doing this time around.

Katie next to plaque to Millicent Fawcett
Katie next to plaque to Millicent Fawcett

Cycling in Trumpington

Every year the fine people at the Cambridge Cycling Campaign send out a survey to all of the candidates for local elections asking for our views on a range of cycling-related issues.  This year’s survey will be published on April 24 but I thought I’d share my thoughts – and some photographs I took recently while cycling around the southern part of Trumpington.

As a candidate for local government, I have spent a lot of time considering ways to make Trumpington better. As an architect, I think about the built environment, and the way that physical changes can make people’s lives better; as a regular and frequent cyclist, I have noticed a number of things around the ward that I think need to be reconsidered. As I engaged with the Cambridge Cycle Campaign about transit choice in Trumpington, I realised I had a lot of strong opinions about the state of infrastructure across our community that I wanted to explore in greater detail. This blog post is an outgrowth of that process.

I have lived in Cambridgeshire for over thirty years and have always cycled – when I’ve lived in the City it’s been my main way of getting around. All of my family members cycle regularly and our garage is filled with bikes. I’m obviously concerned about road safety for my children, and myself as I grow older.

When I consider transit provision, my priority is to protect the most vulnerable road users, and improve their experience first – this includes pedestrians, but also the elderly, people with limited mobility, and anyone else who struggles to get around. The ward has seen major transit improvements in the last few years with the introduction of the guided Busway and new, wide pavements and cycle lanes along Addenbrookes Road, and in the award-winning design of some of the new housing estates. There is also good cycling provision from Bateman Street south to Alpha Terrace, and wide pavements along the High St.

That said, there is a dramatic drop-off in quality from Alpha Terrace to the M11 junction. There are two areas about which I feel particularly strong: first, the junction that governs access to Waitrose, particularly the right-turn lane facing south; and second, Hobson Avenue junction across the guided Busway. The right-hand turn lane into Waitrose is only long enough for about six cars to queue, creating backups that stretch north – sometimes literally for miles.

Map showing issues
Map showing issues

The result is a dangerous junction for cars and especially for cyclists (there is no pedestrian crossing, which is a separate issue), as well as traffic congestion along the length of Trumpington Road. Hobson Avenue, where a road crosses the guided Busway, is a dangerous intersection that requires a two-pronged approach: it needs changes to the signalisation and road users need to be educated about the dangers inherent in the junction. I would seek to restore priority to the Busway users. At present, not only is there a long wait for the signal to change, it is too short for anyone but an able-bodied adult to cross in time, which is also something that could be improved.

There are also many areas of Trumpington that need to be re-considered. The new junction of Addenbrookes Road and Shelford Road is disappointing because only three of the four roads are signalized – so pedestrians need to cross three roads to get across the street. There are other small changes – such as paving unpaved cycle tracks around the ward, and creating safe routes to primary schools – that could have a major impact on providing transport choice.

The crossing at Hobson's Ave should prioritise Busway users.
The crossing at Hobson’s Ave should prioritise Busway users.

As a resident of the Novo estate pointed out, many of the roads in new estates in Trumpington have not been adopted, and as a result see high traffic speeds and are becoming rat runs. There are also pedestrian/cycle tracks that, though heavily used, have fallen into disrepair, with inadequate drainage making them impassible after rain. Improving them – preferably without closing them, as that entails substantial disruption to regular users – would make a big difference to people who are car-free or experience limited mobility.

Pedestrian and cycle tracks become unusable in wet weather
Pedestrian and cycle tracks become unusable in wet weather

Ideally, the whole of Trumpington should be assessed for vulnerability, so that we can build resilience into the design of the city. The examples above are things that residents have brought to my attention or that I have noticed in my travels around the ward.

In addition to physical improvements, there are a few things I would like to see that would support better transit opportunities for all Trumpington residents. I would love to see bike racks added to Busway vehicles, preferably of the sort shown below (from Stuttgart, 2013. The more common fold-down racks only fit two cycles at a time). Adding an additional bus stop north of the turn-off to Addenbrookes would mean many more buses serving the Trumpington community. Making vulnerable road users a consideration in travel management plans (included in planning applications) would force developers and contractors to account for the impact of construction on pedestrians and cyclists, and mitigate situations where, for example, cycle lanes are obstructed by construction vehicles.

Stuttgart bus with bike rack
Stuttgart bus with bike rack

Trumpington has six state schools and seven private schools, and so cycling to and from school is a real prospective growth area in Trumpington. My first priority is the stretch of road south of Alpha Terrace, for families with children at Trumpington Meadows Primary School. Many of the children who attend the school need to cross Hauxton Road and they deserve a safe and pleasant route to school. Traffic in the Newtown area, where there are five schools, is particularly bad during school term time at rush hour. At other times of day and year, it is a relatively pleasant cycling environment.

If elected, I would seek to work with private schools to make school drop-off a safer and more seamless experience for everyone. We should work with the schools to create a better system – one that provides a more seamless experience for pupils and parents, and also helps to minimise traffic congestion for residents. In Trumpington we have both an opportunity and an obligation to address school traffic, which has an impact on everyone’s quality of life.

Adding a bus stop north of the Addenbrookes turn-off would make the buses more useful for Trumpington residents.
Adding a bus stop north of the Addenbrookes turn-off would make the buses more useful for Trumpington residents.

As a regular and frequent cyclist, I know of many places in Trumpington that could be improved for standard and non-standard cyclists alike. Each deserves individual consideration, but I would love for the ward to receive a comprehensive assessment of cycling strengths and weaknesses. In the meantime, I have learned so much from residents of Trumpington as I have been campaigning, and I have enjoyed getting a more in-depth and granular understanding of the issues that affect residents every day.