Streets and bicycles in MN and UK

Cattle in (the middle of) Cambridge

Cattle in (the middle of) Cambridge

Cambridge, England like Northfield, MN is a city of cows and colleges but with more of both: Cambridge University has 31 colleges plus Anglia Ruskin University; the cows are not only within the city limits, but right downtown. But, the time and space scales are very different: Cambridge is about 6 times larger than Northfield in population occupying about the same square footage.  By 1855 when Northfield was founded, Cambridge University had been around for more than half a millennium.

Kings College with cow

Kings College with cow

I have been thinking about bicycles – both because I have become the accidental cycling advocate, but also because I am just seeing so many regular folks cycling around Cambridge – old people, kids, people in suits, families, cargo bikes, shoppers, workers.  You know, cycling for transportation in regular clothes while talking on your mobile phone – just like driving!  There are cycle tracks, bike lanes on streets, bike-specific signals and lots of bike parking.  The very center of Cambridge is a pedestrian and cycle only area.  There’s a national-level Get Britain Cycling Campaign (here are the recommendations including a £10 per person/per year budget increasing to £20 – if Northfield adopted such a budget/policy locally that would be $315,000 for cycling annually) and Parliament itself just had a debate (transcript here) championed by the MP from Cambridge, Julian Huppert.

Compared to Northfield, Cambridge cycling looks pretty amazing.  Cycling for transport is so rare in Northfield that most of the real planning and infrastructure questions aren’t even on the horizon (yet).  In Cambridge, there are many, many more cyclists (18% of adults cycle to work – the highest proportion in England – and 47% cycle at least once a week – but perhaps exaggerated), more car traffic, narrower streets and more constraints (regulatory, architectural, etc.); the problems of cycling access and safety become regular transportation issues.  So, while there is much more bicycle infrastructure, it is not complete nor always well designed (and new development does not always consider cycling appropriately).

Improvements to a difficult 5-way intersection

And, sadly, Cambridge is not immune from the slings and arrows of outrageous politicians.

Meanwhile, back in Northfield, the TIGER trail had no bids for construction, but will be re-bid this Fall.  TIGER funds continue to be awarded for retrofitting the auto transportation system for other modes of transportation and in support of Complete Streets.  As Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx noted “This is investment. It’s investment in safety. It’s investment in community. It’s investment in mobility.”  Minnesota State Senator Scott Dibble (from an interview with Streetfilms) said of the Sabo Bridge

“There’s been some criticism about the amount of money we spend on these facilities…But when you do the head count and you really do the cost/benefit analysis, and compare that to how much money we put into the transportation infrastructure for cars — and you look at the benefit, in terms of transportation, in terms of connecting communities, in terms of livability, quality of life and just how it makes people feel about where they live — it just can’t even be compared.”

And, I’d add for Northfield’s TIGER trail, it’s spending to increase the productivity of the existing transportation network by creating a new link between the two halves of town at a very small (compared to auto-spending) cost.

I wonder how the conversation would change if we had (1) Cambridge rates of cycling and (2) elected leaders at the local and state level championing cycling.

This post originally appeared at


6 thoughts on “Streets and bicycles in MN and UK

  1. Laura EashLaura Eash

    Thank you for posting this lovely piece about two great towns that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting!

  2. Jeff Klein

    A bit of an aside, but it’s hard not to notice how much the idea of biking in “regular clothes” warms urbanists’ hearts, and I understand why. Having said that, though, I bet it would do much for the bike transportation share if there was something of a cultural shift towards more practical clothing being acceptable on a day-to-day basis. I don’t mean sporty bike spandex, I just mean minorly technical clothing. As a grad student, I have the ability to cruise around town in comfortable, quick-dry wool shirts with an ugly backpack containing a smooshed rain jacket and an extra long sleeve shirt. If I were to get a “real job” and be expected to show up with a suit and a briefcase and a slicker I don’t know how I could keep doing it.

  3. PhilmerPhil

    @Jeff, I know how I would do it. I’d throw on my suit and ride my bike to work. I wouldn’t race to work, just cruise so I don’t break more of a sweat than I would if I were to walk. I’d also make sure to keep riding my upright bike that keeps me in a non-aggressive position and continue using my basket, as to avoid a sweaty back and shoulders from a wearable bag.

    Sure it’s not possible for everyone with job sprawl, but if you live less than five miles from work, you should be fine. The Dutch and Danes manage, so can we!

  4. Nathanael

    Northfield is small enough that most of it can be walked.

    It’s low-traffic enough that vehicular cycling is safe *except in a few spots* around the highway next to the river. However, cycling between Carleton and St. Olaf is not very *pleasant* due to the hills — it’s easier to walk.

    What Northfield really needs is train service to the Twin Cities, but that was killed by some deranged state legislators from Lakeville and Bloomington. Sigh.

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