Anatomy of a futile traffic jam

Every morning thousands of commuter’s lives are made miserable as the traffic clogs up on Madingley Road, the A1303 coming down to Junction 13 over the M11 into Cambridge. Most mornings it backs up to beyond Madingley Mulch and the A428 junction. Since the extra junction for Eddington opened, the queue now backs out onto the A428, tailing westwards. But the question must be: Why? Other roads have similar traffic flows and multiple junctions, but don’t have the same problems.

people fume in their cars

As people fume in their cars, do they think this was caused when Junction 14 of the M11 and the A428/A14 at Girton was designed? Someone had decided a connection for traffic on the A428 to turn south onto the M11, or traffic from the M11 to turn west onto the A428 was not needed. Surveys suggest between 20% and 30+% of traffic on Madingley Road is making those missing Girton connections to the M11 at Junction 13 instead.  That’s around 1 in 4.

The County Council knew the problems this caused from the beginning, years ago. Yet when the upgrade to Junction 14 was proposed by Highways England (now under construction), adding the missing connections was turned down on cost grounds. Only now, years too late, are our local MPs and the Greater Cambridge Partnership lobbying Highways England for a fix.

Or do the commuters fume and think the delay is now caused by the traffic lights on the Junction 13 bridge over the M11? They’d also be right: County Council traffic monitors confirm this (CCTV, counters and drones, apparently). But this could have also been fixed years ago. The bridge as originally configured had two wide lanes, with a central right-turn lane to the M11 at the east end. The County saw the delays to in-bound buses and added a short stretch of bus lane onto the west end of the bridge.

What they didn’t do, which bridge engineers confirmed they could always have done, inexpensively, was widen the bridge lanes on the existing bridge to either provide three lanes across or the four which would really solve the problem.  It was also proposed they provide an inexpensive new cycle and pedestrian Bridge to maximise the carriageway widths.  No one knows why they didn’t fix it when they had all the information and knew they could. They even misled the local Coton Parish Council that they couldn’t. Instead the County transport officers proposed a £207 million concrete guided busway through the Green Belt, which of course would only help the bus passengers.

Now of course the commuters fume more because the extra junction for Eddington on Madingley Road quickly backs up to interfere with Junction 13, slowing the already delayed flow across the bridge, including dangerously increasing the tailback onto the M11. The new Eddington traffic lights are not co-ordinated/linked to the Park + Ride traffic lights to add to the misery.  And again the County Council traffic monitors confirm this.

The real surprise is that the extra traffic lights for Eddington are controlled by the University (Yes, really), the developer of the Eddington (North West Cambridge) and West Cambridge sites. The planners should have required an underpass to link these two huge development sites, but instead agreed traffic lights, with four protected right turns, building in delays regardless of traffic flows (or traffic actually turning right), compounding the Madingley Road problems. Richard Ling, the County Signals & Systems Manager notes the lights are “not yet running in the most efficient manner … and further work is planned in the coming weeks” by the developer. However this is not expected to remove the extra delays inevitable from the phasing of the lights.

So what’s the result of this autopsy? At every stage the potential for delay was designed in. Even when it should have been avoided, it wasn’t. Indeed, the plans made it worse. Think of those commuters, lost minutes every day, adding up to lost hours out of their lives, with much added stress.  The disruption to their journeys is supposed to lead people to make a “modal shift” from car to bus, but because of their actual destination, most people can’t. And even the Greater Cambridge Partnership, proposing the concrete guided busway, expects very few to do so. The commuter’s misery is planned to continue.

Roger Tomlinson

Coton Busway Action Group and Coton Parish Council

The above opinion is entirely my own

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