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Cambridge: Britain’s Cycling Capital

In the city of Cambridge, just about an hour's train ride north of London, you'll find lots of people bicycling. In fact, the official bike mode share is 22 percent, but advocates believe it's even higher and could comprise up to 50 percent of all trips in the city center.

More than protected bike lanes, the key to Cambridge's success has been the management of motor vehicle traffic. For one, the city center is now ringed by a cordon of moveable bollards that only recede for buses, taxis, and some service vehicles. Private cars are not allowed downtown but people on bikes are free to enter at any time -- which makes the bicycle the most convenient mode of transportation.

In residential neighborhoods, Cambridge has also tamed cars using a strategy called "filtered permeability" -- placing physical barriers at some intersection that divert motorized traffic while allowing other modes to filter through. This prevents motorists from using residential areas as short cuts and encourages cycling. Similar techniques are employed in famous cycling cities like Groningen, Copenhagen, and Amsterdam, and even here in the U.S. in places like Portland and Berkeley.

Cambridge is a growing city, and if new residents choose to drive cars, its streets could become overwhelmed by traffic. So the effort to create better streets for biking and walking continues. Recently, the city has adopted a 20 mph speed limit for most of its roadways, and a new push is on to install much more robust protected bike lanes in targeted areas where cycling feels less safe.

For bonus footage of Cambridge streets, check my post from earlier this week.

Clarence Eckerson Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • ubrayj02

    I would love to know the political history of this situation.

  • TOM

    "Filtered Permeability" is just a bad grid by design that is bad connectivity for all users but especially bad for four-wheels.

  • tbatts666


    So many examples of how we can change streets at a smaller level to encourage biking and walking!!

    Really interesting to see the mix of helmet clad reflective type people and normal people on bikes.

    I love your work so much!! <3 <3

  • Kevin Love

    In my opinion, the essential key point was made at the 5:30-5:45 mark. Students in Cambridge are not allowed to have a car. Since they comprise a large part of the population, this automatically gives a high cycle mode share.

    For places that do not have a large part of the population banned from car use, Dutch-style protected cycle lanes are necessary to grow cycle mode share.

  • Jim Chisholm

    Although there are some 20k undergraduates in Cambridge, over 25% of 'work' trips within Cambridge are by bike, as well as many, like me, who cycle in from surrounding villages. The so called 'necklace' villages within about 10kms of City just about double the population. 'Greater Cambridge' has a population of around 250k and is expected to grow by some 20+% in next few years. Official annual counts of cycles are deliberately taken 'out of term' so no school, college, or university trips are included. Then some 30k cycle trips cross the river Cam each day, and very many cycle trips do not need to cross the river. Education trips do not dominate. I don't suppose the 93 year old that Clarence filmed passing through the 'filtered permeability' is a student!

    Since DH departed all those years ago , much progress has been made, and even since Clarence filmed we've some new long stretches of segregated routes on main radials complete with 'floating' bus stops.

  • zentierra

    One of the biggest sticking points for me, as a U.S. citizen, was the concerted effort to calm car traffic by reducing the speed limits. Because inattentive drivers, travelling at high speeds, are THE main reason most people in my country will not even consider getting on a bike. And that, in turn, is why creating a culture that treasures the "complete streets" approach is such an ongoing struggle.

    But we ARE changing. And films like this one help tremendously, by showing what can be :)

  • AMH

    I don't see the video.