Should traffic in Cambridge be subject to a congestion charge?
That’s a question being considered by residents, in a consultation from the Greater Cambridge Partnership (GCP) — a body comprising three local authorities and the University of Cambridge. The consultation is actually about futures for Cambridge traffic as a whole, but the congestion charge is the point that has snagged.
More than one online petition against it is now live. On Sunday 27 November a march and rally of around 800 people came together on the central green space of Parker’s Piece. Speakers included Anthony Browne, the Conservative MP for south Cambridgeshire.
Cars and cycling
“By car. I work for one of the colleges. If I went by car, it would take me about 23 minutes. If I was to go by buses, and I’ve been needing to make a change, it’ll be one hour 20 something minutes. So, it’s a no-brainer for me to choose car over the bus. And I can’t honestly see any drastic improvements to what the GCP can offer. They can’t make the service we’ve got any better. If they were to stick more and more buses on, wouldn’t they actually be causing more congestion?
“Cycling has a place. I am a parish councillor for my village, and I can see there needs to be provision for cycling, I get that, and I support it. But what’s been done on East Road is legal vandalism and turning drivers unfairly against cyclists.” (The East Road story has developed somewhat since the interview.)
No real congestion, but could be better
A key organiser of the 27 November rally was Neil McArthur.
“I’m very fortunate — I live in the city centre, and I can walk everywhere. However, I have friends, family, and relatives in Huntington, in Harlow, and in High Wycombe. Don’t think the buses go that far? I need my car. As a simple person I would like to see the roads widened, the roads reopened, the traffic lights rephased, the bus stops’ lay bys reintroduced to ease congestion. Cambridge is a tiny city. It’s three miles in diameter. We don’t suffer from the gridlocked congestion that the GCP imagine. There’s not a problem, but we could do things to make it better.
“It’s not for me as a resident to suggest to the experts what their plan B should be. Lots of the residents have got great ideas for a plan B. But at the moment, we want to see what happens to plan A and kill that first.”
Villages and emissions
The 27 November rally attracted a small counter-demonstration. Plugging the message hardest here was a man who identified himself to me as Marley C.
I asked him if he thought of the risk that congestion charge here in Cambridge would effectively shift the congestion to the villages.
“There’s a risk, but the way to prevent that is to have the villages also plan around that and make sure that any remaining traffic does not affect the villages too much. I think it’s overall a good plan — once it’s in place, those are the kind of kinks we can work out. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater! I recommend Not Just Bikes YouTube channel if you want to find out more about why cars are so bad for cities and how we can move away from them in the future.”
A bystander at both demos was Daniel.
“Less traffic in Cambridge would be nice to see. A few weeks ago, I nearly got hit by a car crossing over on a red light. The congestion charge could work if it was inside the ring road, and not encompassing the entirety of Cambridge and Addenbrooke’s, which is the main thing I’m against. Or if it was more emissions based, that would be a much better solution. Right?”
A congestion charge would answer part of the question but not this one. Daniel isn’t unique in wishing for such a thing. Local discussion groups online, amid many denunciations of the GCP, feature occasional posts saying, “The congestion charge might work if…”.
Congestion charge supporters demo
The group Cambridge Parents for the Sustainable Travel Zone is organising a demonstration for Saturday 10 December in support of the charge. The consultation closes on 23 December. East Anglia Bylines looks forward to reporting the result when it appears.
We plan to report other views on this story. What can you tell us about how the plan will affect you? Write to [email protected] .