Councillor Lewis Herbert, Chair - Greater Cambridge City Deal
“Cambridge peak-time congestion is so bad it needs sorting out now” said the Cambridge News headlines. That was in 1970, and it’s been repeated many times since.
The daily rush hour queues are now even longer and our communities cannot afford them to grow any more. That is why the City Deal will propose a ‘Peak-Time Congestion Plan’ in a week’s time to cut that gridlock, and why we want to hear the views of residents, local workers and employers before making final decisions.
On too many early evenings we see buses and cars gridlocked by ring road junctions, with a dozen buses regularly blocked between the city and the station, making over 60% of bus passengers seriously late, or deciding not to use buses currently at all.
We need to have peak-time traffic through the year like it is in holiday periods. So we need a plan to reduce peak-time vehicles by the same 15% in central Cambridge as occurs in school holidays, giving people confidence every weekday in bus reliability, and creating more space for cyclists and pedestrians too.
Local residents and travellers, children and older people also deserve an end to sometimes toxic levels of air pollution when traffic is gridlocked on the radial roads and at overloaded junctions.
Next week, the City Deal is launching a summer consultation on its ‘Peak-Time Congestion Plan’, following a call for evidence early 2016. Many alternatives have been considered. Now, we want your views on the proposed plan so that, with improvements, we can start tackling congestion late 2017. This trial is a far better alternative to a prolonged debate on options that could delay tackling congestion for three years or more.
We will listen to residents, employees and businesses so we can get the trial right. We will give bus operators the certainty to invest in more bus services and more frequent services, and consider City Deal upfront investment to ensure improvements are in place before the trial, including at Park and Rides.
We are proposing six new ‘Peaktime Congestion Control Points’ to restrict cars where they block peak-time buses and prevent reliability, and will put in place far better bus services before the go-live date, and mitigation measures to prevent nearby rat-running.
Many details are being consulted on before we make decisions, including the hours of the planned, clearly signed ‘virtual barriers’ to cars, their precise location and whether the barriers are one or both ways. We will also take the impact of the reduced vehicles into account in final decisions on plans being consulted on for several of the city’s radial roads.
The Control Points effectively extend the city centre ‘core scheme’ which has worked so well, while retaining the freedom of travellers to choose how to travel in and out of the centre, and leaving cars free to move around off-peak, along with better bus services then too.
This plan is deliverable within a reasonable time. It is practical, accepting that it will affect some travellers significantly, particularly in the first few weeks, and it achieves a fair balance between the impacts on city residents and people travelling in.
The City Deal investigated a peak-time congestion charge but concluded it was too invasive, too penal on residents and commuting workers on low incomes, and would take years to implement. Given that many people have had to move out of Cambridge for affordable housing, it would also be wrong for them to be doubly penalised by congestion charges of £30/week, and in London it's now £57.50/week.
At the heart of tackling congestion is unlocking bus reliability and service quality and frequency so far more people use them and we are determined. The proposed Workplace Parking Levy will, if agreed, also help and be invested in better public transport. Raised from businesses and employers, it will be reinvested carefully to benefit everyone including local employees.
The consultation on the ‘Peak-Time Congestion Plan' starts on Monday 11 July. Visit www.citydeal.gov.uk next week for more details. The consultation continues to September and there will be exhibitions and meetings to share the detail, and address questions and issues you want to raise.