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New infrastructure for Cambridge could mean tunnelling under medieval city

New bridge works for cycling / walking Chisholm Trail 'corridor' running north-south across Cambridge

Running our 'Science Cities' forum last autumn opened up questions around the complex issues of transport in Cambridge with connections to science parks and new settlements across the region.

The city is growing rapidly due to the success of its university research and biomedical laboratories, which is putting pressure on housing provision through global talent relocation.

A shortage of housing as well as traffic congestion has resulted and it is hoped that after the government unlocked up to a further £400 million in City Deal funding to the Greater Cambridge Partnership, it will be able to push forward with its programme to ease congestion and support the delivery of new homes and jobs.

As an important follow-up online discussion this week we spoke to the Chair and Chief Executive of the Greater Cambridge Partnership, Cllr Aidan Van de Weyer and Rachel Stopard, about plans to build new infrastructure, including its work on 'corridor schemes' which will form the first phase of the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro (CAM).

A package of ideas is being worked on and as part of this tunnels could be built under Cambridge, through which autonomous vehicles will operate, carrying passengers to their work and homes.

Rachel said:

'Our new corridors are part of 'phase one' of a rapid mass transit network and the Mayor of The Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority will lead on the tunnelled section of the Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro (CAM). Our schemes are designed to link up with any tunnelled scheme and any further extensions.'

Rachel continued:

'We are not talking about a light rail system but the autonomous vehicles would have rubber tyres and so can run on tarmac. The corridors we are building are mainly in the congested areas. If the Mayor takes this metro network to less congested areas outside the city you want a vehicle that can go on normal roads. It could become an autonomous vehicle system and we are working on a pilot with a Coventry company. Before Covid-19 struck, trials for these pods were due to start on the bus way into the biomedical campus.'

The CAM is planned as a 'turn-up and go' service, with high-quality, zero-emission, trackless vehicles or pods which are powered by electric batteries with no need for overhead wires.

According to the Combined Authority the aim is to create a 142 km network with a 12 km twin-bore tunnel under the medieval university city, served by two underground interchange points including one at Cambridge station.

The CAM will serve inner transport corridors in the Cambridge area, including the Biomedical Campus and Cambridge Science Park and reach the new communities at Waterbeach, Northstow and Cambourne. It will also serve the regional area, extending to St Neots, Haverhill, Mildenhall and Alconbury

The business case report - initiated by Mayor Palmer - found that the CAM would 'unlock significant growth while offering high value for money.' The report estimated in 2019 that up to 100,000 jobs and 60,000 homes could result from the CAM.

The construction costs are estimated at £4 billion and the benefit-cost ration (BCR) figure of the metro would be considered as offering very high value for money by the Department of Transport's assessment standards, comparing favourable with Crossrail 1 and 2.

Away from the CAM scheme Aidan commented that a lot had been achieved in the first five years of the GCP, with a number of infrastructure projects to improve walking, cycling and public transport successfully delivered or under construction:

'What we have achieved in the first phase includes several public transport schemes now underway - including Histon Road - and the important North South cycle route linking the new Cambridge North station and Addenbrooke's medical campus with the Biomedical campus in the south. We have a new bridge over the Cam purely for cycling and pedestrians which will shorten the time it takes to cross the city.'

He also described how important it is that the Greater Cambridge Partnership has been helping the city region population during the current pandemic with immediate improvements to traffic flow:

'There are short term measures including working with the county council on expanding pedestrian areas in the city centre and reducing traffic in streets which have high cycle use. We are also undertaking lots of business engagement alongside South Cambridgeshire DC and Cambridge City Council, especially on cycle packages, e-bikes and providing cargo bikes for deliveries. We have been talking about sustainable last mile deliveries through using cargo bikes.'

Rachel added:

'For a relatively small city we need more bespoke solutions than London, so e-cargo bikes could be a solution as they need smaller consolidation centres or depots. We are not starting from scratch and we have been putting in new high quality cycle lanes over the last few years.

'Working out what is the best road use hierarchy is the aim while pushing the car further and further out of the city. We have deployed some experimental road closures and the Covid-19 pandemic offers an opportunity to test and trial new road uses.We held the first UK citizens assembly on transport in October 2019 to debate air quality and how transport might change.'

'We have commissioned Hatch to look at the economy element of the pandemic and engage with the business community to discuss how working arrangements might change as a result. We are building an evidence bank on impact of Covid-19 on business behaviour. We don't want to go backwards by having everyone revert to using cars.'

Read more of our discussions with the Greater Cambridge Partnership in our 'Infrastructure 2020' report due to be published shortly.

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