The Reformist

solving the traffic problems of Cambridge, UK

Many of these ideas are now being developed by the Smarter Cambridge Transport group, led by the author of this post.

options to reject

bus lanes/ways

the Cambridgeshire Local Transport Plan and first phase of the City Deal transport initiatives contain some excellent, eminently worthwhile schemes, but the main solution that councils are proposing for solving Cambridge’s congestion woes is to build bus priority lanes or busways. the hope, based more on intuition than evidence, is that this will persuade more people to leave their cars at home and take the bus, or use park-and-ride. however:

  • the cost is huge (£60m estimated for Madingley and Milton Roads);
  • new bus lanes increase road capacity as far as the city outskirts; since we cannot increase vehicle capacity of central Cambridge streets, the additional traffic (even if only buses) will exacerbate congestion in the centre;
  • in most cases there is only space to provide a single bus lane, so buses only benefit during one (typically morning) peak period; (tidal lane allocation is theoretically possible, but not practical or safe on space-constrained urban roads with junctions, e.g. because bus stops have to be built on both sides of the lane, and the lane has to be physically segregated to prevent other vehicles straying into the path of a bus approaching from an unexpected direction);
  • every arterial (and orbital) road is heavily congested, so increasing capacity on just those that have space for a bus lane will not solve the problem city-wide;
  • much green space would be lost in widening roads;
  • the space required for a single bus lane could provide two, high quality, 2.5m cycle lanes at lower cost, which would benefit more people at all times of day;
  • there would be no improvement to air and noise pollution, even if the buses run on electricity or hydrogen (because there will still be the same volume of cars, vans and lorries on the roads).

congestion charging

congestion charging is attractive to councils because it would create a new source of revenue; and it would work: the charge just needs to be set high enough. but it has two unpalatable side effects:

  • entering the city becomes a rich man/woman’s privilege;
  • businesses that require vans (for deliveries, or providing building, installation, maintenance or repair services) become subject to a significant new tax, inhibiting growth and competition. would a plumber drive into the city to quote for a small job if s/he has to pay a congestion charge?
  • administration and enforcement is costly, requiring a high charge simply to break even.


a logical solution to congestion above ground is to create additional capacity for transport underground. however, tunneling is hugely expensive, at around £30m per kilometre, added to which is the cost and disruption of building underground stations in a city centre. this level of investment can be justified for a large city where daily ridership is in the high tens of thousands (the Tyne and Wear Metro carries around 100,000 people a day); but in a city the size of Cambridge, the investment cost per passenger-journey would be unjustifiably large.

a new vision for Cambridge

we need a shift in mindset about cars entering city centres: that they are for people with impaired mobility and for transporting goods and equipment. except where it is impractical (and not just less convenient), workers, school children, shoppers and visitors should be walking, cycling, or using public transport to access the city centre. and it’s not only because of congestion that we should be reducing the volume of traffic and parking in city streets: it’s to make them enjoyable and safe spaces for residents and visitors.

this can be achieved – and permanently – by implementing the following measures:

  • use ‘gating’ to shift congestion to outside the city: this means buses and other traffic flows freely within the city, and drivers approaching the city can make an informed decision about using park-and-ride rather than ‘chancing it’.
  • build more park-and-ride sites to minimise the distance people must drive to reach one.
  • provide more bus services.
  • reduce car parking provision in the city centre, releasing space for cycle parking, planting and other uses.
  • create convenient, continuous, connected and safe foot- and cyclepaths wherever possible in the city and out to all surrounding villages.
  • use IT to make public transport more user friendly.
  • support the creation of a city wide shopping delivery service.

the proposals here are very much work in progress: all comments and suggestions welcome!

build new city ‘gates’

the first step in curing Cambridge’s congestion problems permanently is to ‘gate’ all of the arterial roads into the city. the technique is a form of integrated traffic management and is used to good effect in Zurich. it is also known as ‘queue relocation’: congestion in the city centre is shifted to out-of-city sites where it is easier to build additional road capacity.

at each gate, the road is widened to create holding lanes for traffic wanting to enter the city; traffic lights, connected to queue detectors in the road ahead, release vehicles only as fast as they can move along the road ahead. a bypass lane permits certain classes of vehicles, such as emergency services and buses, to jump the queue. other classes of vehicle might also be permitted to use it, such as taxis, delivery vehicles, tradesmen, and multi-occupancy vehicles (to incentivise ride sharing).

building a park-and-ride site close to a gate means drivers can make an informed decision about whether to proceed into the city or use park-and-ride. road-side notices can inform drivers of expected queuing times and give directions to the nearest park-and-ride site.

this is a list of all the gates that would need to be built, starting from the south and working clockwise around the city:

Girton park and ride site
new park-and-ride site at Girton
  • A1309 (Hauxton Rd): the gate would be on the city side of the main exit from the existing park-and-ride site. Vehicles would not be permitted to enter the city from the park-and-ride site so as to prevent people driving through the site to skip the queue. The bypass lane would also serve to access Addenbrooke’s Rd.
  • A603 (Barton Rd): the gate would be about 500m beyond the roundabout and there is space to build a park-and-ride site either side of the road.
  • A1303 (Madingley Rd): this requires two gates, one about 500m beyond the A428 roundabout, with a park-and-ride site being built near the roundabout; the second gate would be just beyond the entrance to the existing park-and-ride site (which would be restricted to park-and-cycle/walk – see below).
  • A1307 (Huntingdon Rd): the gate would be where the existing dual carriageway ends and a park-and-ride site can be built in the triangle of land within the M11-A428-A14 interchange. the northbound carriageways would become a two-way road as far as the park-and-ride entrance.
  • Oakington Rd: the gate would be south of the junction with New Rd, which would provide access to a new park-and-ride site on the Guided Busway on the north-west edge of Histon.
  • B1049 (Histon Rd): the gate would be just north of the junction with Kings Hedges Rd, with the possibility of a small park-and-ride site to the west.
  • A1309 (Milton Rd): the gate would be north side of the Cowley Rd junction. there is already a park-and-ride site north of the A14, so signs on the roundabout would need to inform drivers of the expected queuing time at the gate.
  • B1047 (Horningsea Rd): the gate would be south of the A14, and there is space for a new park-and-ride site either side of the road.
  • A1303 (Newmarket Rd): the gate would be south-west of the A14 junction, and there is space for a new park-and-ride site either side of the road. there might be a need for a second gate near the entrance to the existing park-and-ride site (which would be restricted to park-and-cycle/walk – see below).
  • Balsham Rd: the gate would be at the edge of Fulbourn with a park-and-ride site nearby.
  • Station Rd (Fulbourn): the gate would be south of the railway. there will be the option to park-and-train from here when the planned new Fulbourn station opens (date to be determined).
  • Babraham Rd: the gate would be at the junction with Haverhill Rd, with a new park-and-ride site to the north (which would also serve Wandlebury Country Park and Magog Wood). the existing park-and ride site would serve only people wanting to park-and-cycle/walk – see below.
  • A1301 (Cambridge Rd): the gate would be between Stapleford and the old Cambridge Rd through Sawston. there is space for a new park-and-ride site either side of the road.


a generous budget for doing this would be:

  • £65m for road widening at the gates (13 @ £5m average)
  • £150m for new park-and-ride sites (10 @ £15m average)
  • £10m for installing queue detectors around the city
  • £5m for the control systems

total: £230m. this is less than a third of the £853m currently allocated from the City Deal funding for transport.

reduce city car parking

multi-storey car parks

Total: 3,040 parking spaces

*excluding motorcycle bays

park-and-ride sites

  • Babraham Rd: 1,458
  • Madingley Rd: 930
  • Milton: 792
  • Newmarket Rd: 873
  • Trumpington: 1,340

Total: 5,393 parking spaces

the elephants in the room when discussing congestion are the huge city centre car parks, which together have a capacity of over 3,000 spaces: they are magnets for traffic that competes with buses. reducing parking capacity, at council car parks, on street, and on business premises has to be the next step in eliminating congestion and making roads safer and more pleasant for pedestrians and cyclists.

reducing parking capacity in the city centre entails the City Council forfeiting income (the five multi-storey car parks alone yield an income of almost £9m for the council, covering 8% of annual expenditure), so that money will have to be found in other ways.

  • charge tiered prices for multiple resident parking permits, starting at, say, £70 / £120 / £200 / £300. give a year’s notice, during which time necessary exceptions can be identified. increase the differentials by £10 each year. notify ZipCar and competitors of the intention, so that they can prepare to cater for the upturn in demand.
  • expand the residents’ parking scheme to the whole of the city (inside the A1134 plus a few areas). this will yield additional income, some of which must go to the City Council to replace income lost from reducing public car parking provision. the principal aim of the expansion would be to stop commuter parking, so the hours of restricted parking can be short (e.g. just one or two hours in a day), reducing the number of wardens needed to patrol the streets.
  • gradually reduce the parking capacity at all central Cambridge car parks.
  • convert part of the ground level (‘-1’) deck of the Grand Arcade car park into additional cycle parking (see below); convert the roof deck to a landscaped roof garden with a concession for a cafe/bar.
  • build a new eastern entrance to the main rail station from Clifton Road. link this with a footpath alongside the railway sidings to the Cambridge Leisure site and multi-storey car park (which is nearly empty during the day). have the rail franchisee (currently Abellio) negotiate with Cambridge Leisure to provide the same parking rates for rail travellers as at the NCP station car park. these measures together would relieve congestion on Hills and Station Roads.
  • gradually remove pay-and-display bays on city roads to create space for cycle parking, loading bays, and (in time) household refuse collection points.
  • double-yellow Regent Terrace and relocate residents’ parking to the southern end, keeping this busy thoroughfare clear and safe for cyclists and pedestrians at all times of day.
  • double-yellow the whole of Station Road (removing all pay-and-display bays). this will make room for high quality cycle lanes in both directions (see above).


  • encourage retailers of bulky goods to club together to run a delivery service to all park-and-ride sites (following the example of John Lewis in delivering to Trumpington park-and-ride).
  • provide covered cycle parking at all park-and-ride sites, maintaining at least 10% more capacity than demand.
  • as new park-and-ride sites are built further out from the city centre, designate inner sites for bus-and-cycle, with covered, secure cycle parking for people arriving by bus (both regular and park-and-ride services).

parking reservation system

  • fund/sponsor/license a computerised parking reservation system for all city centre car parks. gradually increase the reserved allocation at each car park over time.
  • involve retailers in the scheme so that their customers can reserve and pay for a space, then receive a rebate on presentation of their ticket (or QR code) in the shop.

cycle parking

  • new Grand Arcade cycle park
    this section of level -1 of the Grand Arcade car park could be separated off for cycle parking.

    convert an area of the southern end of the ground level (‘-1’) deck of the Grand Arcade car park (beneath the City Hotel) into a 600+ space cycle park. this would be separate from the existing cycle park. the area involved is easily isolated from the flow of vehicle traffic. the only structural work required would be to widen and ramp the existing pedestrian entrances, from the City Hotel car park access lane (Tibbs Row) and from the elevated walkway alongside Corn Exchange St.

  • reassign part of each of the other multi-storey car parks to cycle parking and a cycle hire shop.
  • encourage bike hire companies to set up at park-and-ride and bus-and-cycle (see above) sites. ideally it should be possible to rent a bike one-way between any of the following: park-and-ride sites, train stations, and city centre sites (e.g. each of the multi-storey car parks).
  • aim to provide sufficient secure cycle parking within 20m of every pub and shop.
  • incentivise universities and businesses to replace all ‘wheel bender’ cycle stands with upright frames (Sheffield/Frankton/A-frame/etc.), installed at the correct height and separation (see Cambridge Cycling Campaign guide).

reduce traffic to schools

  • have the County Council employ a City Schools Transport Co-ordinator to work with all schools (state funded and private) on:
    • designating suitable car drop-off/collection points, away from congestion hotspots, in and around the city, such as park-and-ride sites, rail stations and bus stops;
    • timetabling shuttle buses between schools and designated drop-off/collection points;
    • organising adult supervision of groups of primary school children cycling or walking between school and designated  drop-off/collection points.
  • aim to introduce a ban on private vehicle drop-offs and collections in the vicinity of all schools, with exceptions being granted only by the head teacher at his/her discretion.
  • require sixth form colleges in the city to bring in a ban (with appropriate exceptions) on their students using a motor vehicle in Cambridge (extending the ban that already applies to university students – see the University of Cambridge’s Proctorial Notice on Motor Vehicles). designate a County Council officer as the contact point for the public to report vehicles that may be in breach of a student ban. the officer would pass such reports to the relevant university or school to investigate and, where appropriate, take disciplinary action.

create a Cambridgeshire transport planner

  • fund/sponsor and coordinate the development of a comprehensive Cambridgeshire transport planner for route planning and real-time travel information across Cambridgeshire, accessed via the web and mobile apps:
    • bus and train routes, timetables and real-time wait times. (consulting timetables, especially where changes of service are required en route, is complicated, tedious and outdated).
    • CycleStreets for cycle routing options.
    • carpooling organiser to enable people to request and offer rides. (this would cater to commuters and shoppers in Cambridgeshire, unlike established carpooling services (e.g. and Bla Bla Car), which focus on inter-city journeys.)
    • community transport services (e.g. Dial-a-Ride).
    • taxis (which would pay to be included).

improve city roads

  • set all bus companies operating services with intermediate stops in Cambridge a deadline of, say, 2018 by when contactless payment will be the only form of payment accepted (as it is now on London buses). this minimises stop times for buses, allowing quicker bus journey times and reduced congestion.
  • create segregated cycle lanes on all main roads with sufficient width to accommodate.
  • include a cycle-first traffic light phase at all large road junctions. the chief benefit is in allowing cyclists to turn right without crossing the path of moving vehicles. when approaching an advanced cycle box at a junction, there is often not enough time to get into the right-hand lane before the lights change and traffic starts moving.
  • paint split cycle lanes at the approach to multi-lane junctions (e.g. on A1134 approaching junction with Mill Road from the north). this gives cyclists confidence to change lane for a right-turn, and car drivers clear warning of where cyclists may pull across in front of them.
  • use sinusoidal ramps on raised tables to improve comfort and safety for cyclists.
  • pedestrian crossing
    pedestrian crossing with in-road flashing lights (instead of a Belisha beacon) © Intelligent Traffic Equipment Marketing Ltd

    install zebra crossings on all key pedestrian routes and in the vicinity of shops. a change in the highway law would enable the use of in-road flashing amber lights, which are more visible in the day than Belisha beacons and do not create an annoying distraction at night for nearby residents.

specific projects

  • remodel Station Rd–Hills Rd junction with cycle lanes on all routes.
  • remove pay-and-display bays on Station Road, enabling the addition of cycle lanes in both directions.
  • remodel junction between Downing and Corn Exchange Streets to enable cyclists to turn right safely.
  • remodel the Devonshire Rd–Carter Bridge junction to improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians.
  • Long-Road-station
    looking north: stepped access (in white) from Long Road to Guided Busway and site of new bus stop (in red)

    build a stepped link between the Guided Busway path and the south side of Long Road.

  • build a Guided Bus stop to the south of Long Road bridge. this would serve the sixth form college, Clay Farm development, Sedley Taylor Rd, Rutherford Rd, and the northern fringe of the Addenbrooke’s site.
  • build a bridge connecting Cowley Road and Fen Road; sever Fen Road at the railway; create a pedestrian and cycle underpass beneath the existing level crossing. this removes a dangerous level crossing and opens up the Fen Rd area (over 50 hectares) for future (sensitive) development.
  • create a light-controlled cycle crossing of the A1134 ring road at Natal Road to improve the link with Brookfields and the (unnamed) road that leads to Budleigh Close. this is a missing link in the east-west cycle corridor from central Cambridge to Cherry Hinton.
  • create a pedestrian crossing on Cherry Hinton Road between Rustat Road and Rock Road.
  • Brookside bridge
    new bridge and cycle path (in red) between Trumpington Road and Brookside at Fen Causeway roundabout

    build a cycle-pedestrian bridge over Hobson’s Conduit between the Trumpington Road-Fen Causeway roundabout and Brookside. This would allow cyclists to avoid the Trumpington Road-Lensfield Road roundabout, and the awkward turn and narrow bridge level with Pemberton Terrace.

  • create segregated cycle lanes along Fen Causeway, with proper junctions with cycle paths on Coe Fen, Sheep’s Green and Lammas Land.
  • cantilever a cycle path over the edge of the Mill Pond to enable cyclists to make more use of the cycle/footway to Fen Causeway on Coe Fen, and avoid the Newnham Road-Fen Causeway roundabout.

improve village transport links

putting neighbouring communities, local schools, shops and other amenities within safe walking or cycling distance reduces car use for short journeys, and has valuable social and health benefits. it also provides a free and healthy option for villagers to commute into the city, and for city dwellers to get out to the countryside and patronise village pubs, cafés and shops.

  • provide more bus services, connecting with (or serving as) park-and-ride buses for greater flexibility and speed.
  • build continuous, dedicated cycle and footpaths to connect the city with all surrounding villages (to at least the standard of the link to Great Shelford).
  • connect up village schools, shops and other amenities with safe cycle ways and all-weather footpaths.

further reading


Edward Leigh, Jim Chisholm






13 responses to “solving the traffic problems of Cambridge, UK”

  1. Sam avatar

    given the questions about capacity, has the council (or others) done any modelling on what would happen if some of the major cambridge junctions were closed for a couple of days due to a problem (e.g. the tivoli burning down shut down mitcham’s corner).

    The roundabout at the bottom of Madingley Road being closed might cause a bit of a mess. Similarly the Elizabeth Rd bridge, and the roundabout at the end of fen causeway…

    In the Tivoli case, the lack of planning meant that public transport was such a mess, people in cars couldn’t have been diverted to it.

  2. Jim avatar

    A thing I would quite like to do is stop issuing residents’ parking permits to all *new* residents within, say, a mile of the centre and/or the railway station. (With sensible exemptions for the disabled etc.) This would minimise inconvenience to present residents and free up an awful lot of space on the roads and pavements for pedestrians, cyclists and even drivers. I don’t really understand why the typical resident of Romsey, say, needs a car at all – there’s very easy access to the shops and to the railway – and yet currently the streets are clogged with parked vehicles. (Itself suggestive that they aren’t actually being used much: there isn’t much space even in the daytime.) If people really need cars for whatever reason, why can’t they save themselves a bit of money and live further out, and free up the houses nearer the middle for people who don’t drive?

  3. Hester avatar

    “set all bus companies operating services with intermediate stops in Cambridge a deadline of 2018 by when contactless payment will be the only form of payment accepted (as it is now on London buses). this minimises stop times for buses, allowing quicker bus journey times and reduced congestion.”

    I find it amazing the amount the public are having to spend on bus priority via the City Deal while this issue is outstanding by Stagecoach. It would instantly reduce all bus journey times, in and out of rush hour, and make the dwell time at buses shorter where they block the road. Their opposition to 20mph on the basis of delay is completely unreasonable and hypocritical (also wrong, but ignoring that) while this is entirely in their power.

  4. Wookey avatar

    That’s an impressive list, with some excellent ideas in it.

    The parking reduction qualifies itself with “reduce the impact on retailers”, which is implicity accepting a known falsehood – that customers coming by car dominate numbers+spend, and that reducing parking adversely affects retailer revenue. 10 studies in different countries and places all show that enabling other modes by reducing parking at worst does no real harm, and in most cases significantly improved retailer footfall and revenue. I can’t find the list of 10 studies right now, but here’s on:

    1. edward avatar

      Qualification removed – but retailers will still need reassurance that reducing access by car will not impact sales, especially of heavy/bulky goods. This ties in with having a fast and reliable delivery service to park-and-ride sites or other convenient collection centres.

  5. Tim Steele avatar

    I think a great deal of work has gone into your report and I agree with almost all of it.

    I would suggest you might wish to amplify the arguments against congestion charging. As experience in London has shown, it’s hugely expensive to implement and run, with the income from charges mostly going to pay for running the scheme instead of being available for investment. There are also civil liberties issues with tracking journeys.

    Addenbrooke’s used to run a bus so that staff could get from Fulbourn Tesco to the hospital. This was axed a few years ago to save money, coincidentally at about the same time they opened up a car park for staff which they have to pay to use.

    Perhaps more employers could be persuaded to offer such transport?

  6. T. Elliott avatar
    T. Elliott

    I agree with Tim Steele. I also agree that there should be better public transport with villages. But I would suggest something altogether more radical. Trying to cut corners will not work in the long run. Thus I would propose that we should:
    1) Ban all traffic in the centre of Cambridge except wheel chair user-related, taxis, emergency services, as many Italian cities do. They have large parking lots on the periphery. What we cannot do, sadly, with Cambridge is hide them because we are not on a steep and wooden hillside!
    2) Electrify all public transport and make buses small and frequent (hop-on-hop-off). The frequency would have to be such as to be even attractive to the mobile business community. They need to be “sexy” providing mobile phone sockets, water and coffee dispensers etc etc.
    3) Consider a light railway all round Cambridge
    The Government needs to consider financing all of this if it wants Cambridge to remain an attractive place. With a bit of help from the City, which is full of Cambridge alumni, it could make a major investment, far more than the City Deal.

  7. Neil avatar

    This is an exciting vision. I was a supporter of congestion charging because, for all its drawbacks, it seemed the only way to stop cars coming into the city and allow buses to move more freely. Gating could be a much better answer. I assume residents would just join the queue to get in, along with everyone else, as they do now.

    What I really like about this proposal is that it recognises the interconnections between things like availability of parking and congestion. It is also bold enough to make people change their habits.

    I am glad you are also addressing the problem of congestion caused by parents chauffeuring their children to school. Perhaps parents need to be educated about the developmental advantages of giving their children the independence to go at least part of the way to school on their own. Perhaps too they need to have a more realistic understanding of how few children are harmed making their way to school on their own.

    What can we do to help support this vision?

  8. Richard Taylor avatar

    I strongly oppose councils having any role in enforcing university rules, on cars and parking, or on anything else, and have written about this at:

    I do not think someone’s right to use the roads should be restricted, by councils, as a result of them being a student. Many students have good reasons to have cars, just as other residents do, for example those training to be teachers or doctors have placements over a very wide area, others will regularly travel outside of the city in relation to their work.

    Charging a county council officer to report students to their universities for breaches of their rules would be a totally inappropriate use of the council’s resources.

    1. edward avatar

      I have clarified the wording of my suggestion on this, which is that sixth form students should not be allowed to have cars in Cambridge, just as university students are not. this is a default position and exceptions may be granted on a case by case basis for special or exceptional needs. the reason for having council involvement is that it provides a single point of contact for the public to report infractions. also a council officer, unlike school admin staff, could access the DVLA database to obtain car ownership details. the council would not be involved in enforcement: that would be down to the university/school staff to investigate, and to take disciplinary access where a breach of their rules has occurred.

  9. Hester avatar

    “I am glad you are also addressing the problem of congestion caused by parents chauffeuring their children to school. Perhaps parents need to be educated about the developmental advantages of giving their children the independence to go at least part of the way to school on their own.”

    I dislike the idea of picking on parents on the school run, as if they are the problem, rather than only one group of people using cars when other options are possible. The school holidays make the difference in traffic flow obvious, but you could take a 10% group of users from other demographics for the same result, it just doesn’t occur naturally. School holidays also don’t isolate the effects of the school run itself v parents on holiday who aren’t doing their usual commute.

    I also have physically able colleagues who drive 2 miles across Cambridge to work, but nobody ever says that they are the problem. Blaming parents seems like an easy way to say: “my reasons for driving are better than yours, you shouldn’t drive so that I can”.

    Not that there aren’t things which might reduce the impact of the school run, but it’s only one part of the wider issue.

  10. George avatar

    Did you consider recommending a Vélib or Boris Bike hire system for Cambridge? Admittedly the resident population Cambridge doesn’t seem to justify it, but with the massive incoming daytime population and the likely concentration of potential users at Park and Ride sites it may be viable.

    1. edward avatar

      Yes there is a place for short-hire of bikes between a limited number of transport, residential and business hubs. Bike & Go is available at a number of train stations, and rolling that out to P&R sites would make sense, certainly as a first step towards having collection/drop-off points around the city.

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