A traffic-free Mill Road?

The recent closure of Mill Road for emergency repairs has prompted a debate about removing unwanted through traffic on a more permanent basis. Join the debate.

Go to latest updates

See our readers’ comments. And add your own.

See also our post Closure of Mill Road Bridge for Railway Works.
Will the bridge remain open for pedestrians and cyclists? What linking bus services can be provided along the two sections of Mill Road? What will be the impact on Mill Road’s independent traders?
Read more and join the debate.

Throughout the closure we would like to see:

  • Traffic counts on other routes to the city centre and Grafton Quarter
  • Surveys of traders on the impact on their takings and on deliveries
  • Surveys of pedestrians, cyclists, bus users and local residents using Mill Road on how their journeys have been affected

This will be essential data for planning a positive outcome for more permanent traffic reduction along Mill Road whilst minimising disruption to traders and residents.

A thriving Mill Road: remove the through-traffic

From Martin Lucas-Smith

Mill Road should be a thriving place, with tens of thousands of residents around it, and a fantastic range of shops and community facilities. Yet traders are often struggling. Why is this?

What’s the one thing that almost everyone agrees is bad about Mill Road? The traffic. So isn’t it time something was actually done about it?

These two are strongly linked. Mill Road is currently a place that many people, myself included, either avoid completely, or visit and then leave as quickly as possible. It’s too unpleasant, polluted and noisy. All the trade from people who might actually stay for a while, or would be more likely to walk/cycle through if they didn’t have to battle the cars taking up all the space, is lost.

Mill Road has all the conditions for a popular, even trendy, location: central, cosmopolitan, offering something unique. Yet trading is still marginal. Get rid of the cars simply passing through, and the street can be opened up – to people actually visiting – and spending money and time there.

Some people think removing traffic would make trade suffer. Look at Bridge Street, and the bollards installed in 1997. Before the closure, there were 700 cars per hour passing through. Now, it is a thriving place, with the streetscaping in 2000 providing an even more pleasant environment. Who would return to all that traffic now?

Pretty much all the problems of Mill Road that people complain about can only be solved by getting rid of the through-traffic – it is both the cause and the solution:

  • If you want Mill Road to be a place where people actually want to visit and stay a while, you have to get rid of the through-traffic.
  • If you want lovely new ‘parklets’, where people can hang out and enjoy a coffee outside shops/cafes, without breathing in polluted air, you have to get rid of the through-traffic.
  • If you want traders to have space for delivery bays, getting vans off the pavement, with access 24/7, you have to get rid of the through-traffic.
  • If you want buses to run on time, and be more regular, you have to get rid of the through-traffic
  • If you want to walk and cycle safely, you have to get rid of the through-traffic.
  • If you want to get rid of pavement parking, where people feel they shouldn’t block other passing cars, you need to get rid of the through-traffic.
  • If you want places to park your bike, you need to get rid of the through-traffic.
  • If you want new space for public art, you need to get rid of the through-traffic.
  • If you want wider pavements, you need to get rid of the through-traffic.

If you want to be able to drive in and out, to access your house or the car parks, you would still be able to still do this, at any time – we are not calling for pedestrianisation.

This would be achieved by a closure to private vehicles at the bridge. Buses, cycles, emergency vehicles, and (out of necessity) taxis would be allowed through. People can still drive to every part of Mill Road, just not through. Delivery drivers sometimes already exit the same way they came in, or via selected side roads. It’s workable.

We know that most of it is through-traffic, because in July, a sinkhole had appeared near the Co-op. But calm and tranquillity broke out. You could hear people talking across the street. It was at last safe to cycle. People could still drive in and out. Mill Road felt like a place again. Just for two days.

With parklets, and all kinds of other changes like those listed above, Mill Road could be thriving, far more pleasant and safer, permanently.

You can read our full set of ideas at: Mill Road – our vision for 2019 and beyond.

Martin Lucas-Smith, York Street, and Camcycle

See also the article from CamCycle: Mill Road reclaimed for humans – a vision (PDF 384 KB) and CamCycles’ post, Our vision for Mill Road.

Liz Irvin, Camcycle Volunteer, adds…

Dear Mill Road Bridges,
I’m a CamCycle volunteer helping out with our Mill Road campaign.
I am pleased to see that you have published Martin Lucas-Smith’s article about our vision for Mill Road with no through-traffic, which would allow more room for pedestrians, cyclists and delivery vans, reduce congestion, improve air quality and make the street a more pleasant destination. We think the closure of the bridge next summer is a great opportunity to trial elements of our vision. We would love the Mill Road community’s input, and would appreciate Mill Road Bridges being involved in this process.
We are holding two drop-in public consultations over the coming weeks to gather the views of residents, traders and visitors to Mill Road.
Kind regards,
Liz Irvin
Camcycle Volunteer

We say:
It would be great if these two events were to attract a large attendance by a lively crowd to further the debate.

Over 18 thousand adults live off Mill Rd. If it were closed to private through traffic, it could have widened pavements and cafe extensions to shops.Dave Baigent, city councillor for Romsey.

For more on the size of the Mill Road community of communities (over 25,000 souls in 2011) read this post,  or the PDF (316KB)

New! Experimental closure to through-traffic scheme currently on Mill Road … aka street repair. Will Cambridge grind to a halt, or will people cope, showing that a more permanent change would work?  – CamCycle

A view from Romsey Labour‘s Making spaces for people consultation page…

Romsey Labour often discuss the possibility of how Mill Road can be made safer and this was raised again at the last meeting.  At that time opinion was balanced in favour but this is a moving feast and it was decided to have it as an agenda item at the next ward meeting.

What follows is a view in favour

This action follows a very positive response to the unexpected blockage of Mill Road by a road collapse 27th-28th June – this has reopened the debate about if we could have a trial stoppage of through traffic.  A trial closure at Mill Road Bridge monitored by CCTV could mean:

  • all private vehicles would be stopped from crossing the bridge
  • all of Mill Road would still be accessible
  • deliveries could be 24/7 and this would help traders.
  • it would be much safer space for pedestrians/cyclists (see the amount of collisions)
  • massively reduce pollution
  • buses could have a traffic free route and be on time
  • Of course there remain people who are against this because it will interfere with their car journeys – there are also concerns about pushing traffic onto other roads.  The traders have also indicated that they remain opposed.

Cambridge Cycling Campaign on the other hand are enthused and they have raised the potential of introducing ‘parklets’.  Seen below these would be used to widen the pavement and allow shops to extend their frontages – to allow ‘pop up cafes’ for example. They believe that trade would be increased for traders if the road was closed to through traffic and with parklets there would be further gains.


These ‘parklets’ would be relatively cheap to construct and make so much difference to the narrow parts of pavement on Mill Road.

Nothing that has been suggested would remove access from any part of Mill Road.  Deliveries could continue as before and because there was no through traffic the lorries would be unlikely to frustrate drivers, cyclist and pedestrians.  This has got to be a way forward and people should contact their councillors to make their views known (for or against).

It may even be that the Greater Cambridge Partnership could be approached to fund this trial.

From Romsey Councillors: Dave Baigent, Anna Smith, Sophie Barnett, Noel Kavanagh

As a non-party-political community group, Mill Road Bridges would love to hear from councillors and/or activists of other parties about their vision for Mill Road. Come on Conservatives, Greens and Liberal Democrats!

Making space for people on Mill Road – Smarter Cambridge Transport

The closure of Mill Road while a sinkhole was repaired prompted people to wonder whether the road could be closed permanently to through traffic. Some have called for a trial closure and Camcycle is putting forward a vision for a Mill Road with wider pavements, improved streetscape with parklets, and more cycle parking.

The café tables on the pavement around 196 Cocktail Bar hint at what a vibrant street culture we could have if Mill Road were more hospitable for people, and less so for motor vehicles. As alocal, I’d love to see this. It’s exactly the vision that our local community should be aspiring to.

But, wearing my Smarter Cambridge Transport hat, I have two concerns: the first is about the practical impact of a closure point on vehicles needing to access homes and businesses. Even if Mill Road were opened up in the early morning for shop deliveries, at other times, motor vehicles of all sizes (other than buses) would have to be directed around loops through residential streets either side of the closure point.

A bigger concern is the effect of treating this part of the city’s road network in isolation. Mill Road is special, particularly to those who live around it, but…

Read the full article: Making space for people on Mill Road – Smarter Cambridge Transport (PDF 777KB)

From Leader of Smarter Cambridge Transport, Edward Leigh

Mill Road reclaimed for humans – a vision

At the start of July, Mill Road was closed to through traffic, as a sinkhole had appeared near the Co-op. Calm and tranquillity broke out. You could hear people talking across the street. It was at last safe to cycle. Mill Road felt like a place again. Just for two days.

We want to make this permanent. Mill Road has for too long been a conduit for traffic rather than a place for people – the result of cars cutting through it to get to/from the city centre.

Cambridge didn’t grind to a halt in July. Cherry Hinton Road did experience delays, but we believe this problem can be dealt with, as discussed below.

By taking out much of the through traffic, alternative travel becomes much more attractive. For instance, buses would keep to time, and services could be expanded to be much more regular.

However, it’s not enough just to stop through traffic. We’d like to see a whole range of changes. This change is not really an agenda for cycling: it’s about turning Mill Road back into a place again.


Traffic evaporation – what about surrounding roads?

It’s a common misconception that when streets are changed to stop through traffic all the traffic goes elsewhere. Not so – ‘traffic evaporation’ occurs. People change their behaviour, resulting in a lot of car journeys simply disappearing.

In the case of Mill Road, cycling would at last be safe, bus journeys become practical, and walking without breaking into a cough from the poor air becomes possible.

Of course, some traffic will be displaced, and it’s important that Cherry Hinton Road in particular has action taken on it. Cherry Hinton Road is wide enough for a proper cycleway in many places, again providing an alternative to driving, and ought to be a pleasant tree-lined boulevard. Combined with the proposed Workplace Parking Levy and/or a Toxicity Charge – both of which are needed in Cambridge – traffic in the surrounding area can be minimised.

Mill Road is a much narrower road and, unlike much of Cherry Hinton Road, is a high street, densely lined with shops and other facilities. Pedestrian and cycle traffic is much higher on Mill Road, and 18,000+ people live off Mill Road – a very densely-populated area.

Read the full article from CamCycle here: Mill Road reclaimed for humans – a vision (PDF 384 KB) Mill Road – our vision for 2019 and beyond and CamCycles’ post, Our vision for Mill Road.

Madeleine Loewe’s comment (see below, 19 February 2019) about the death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, a 9 year-old girl from Hither Green is backed up by this report, by Nicola Davis, in The Guardian.
Revealed: asthma’s deadly toll on young people in the UK
European health report finds Britain has highest mortality rate of countries studied

See also this excellent piece from The Observer: Deadly air in our cities: the invisible killer

Post your (pre-moderated) comments below.

6 thoughts on “A traffic-free Mill Road?”

  1. I live on Romsey Broadway. In order to get to Addenbrooke’s, first of all I have to find where the bus stop has moved to because of the major gas repair works on Mill Road. The original bus stop is now operating but there are no details of waiting periods (3 an hour?!).
    I then have to catch the minbus to Sainsburys, and wait again for a bus to Addenbrooke’s.
    If I want to go into city centre from Sainsburys, I have been told that the last bus leaves at 1.28pm, which means I still have to wait for a bus to Addenbrooke’s, change yet again for one of the services to the city centre. And then of course have to do the journey in reverse in order to get home. I am fairly confident that if I wanted to spend an evening out in the city centre, there will be no service to take me home – am I right?
    Could you please explain to me why Sainsburys has suddenly become a bus depot? A more logical approach would have been to run the service direct to the hospital, where passengers can transfer for the city centre, railway station or Park & Ride.
    On a more personal note, I have just been diagnosed with secondary cancer in my brain and am having major surgery on Monday. I am not allowed to drive and have handed in my licence which could be withheld for 1-3 years. Obviously during that time I will have to attend regular outpatient appointments, but your pathetic C2 only offer 3 buses an hour – there and back. I do not have the stamina. I will be totally dependent on Dial-a-Ride, taxis and the goodwill of friends. I don’t need this extra burden.
    I recognise that Stagecoach is not a charity, but it should be a service which supports local residents. Mill Road (1.5 miles from the city centre, and not a village) and the rest of the C2 route to the hospital is a vital and necessary service, we have no other option; Sainsburys is a luxury. Please sort out your priorities.
    The bridge works were/are unavoidable, but the alternatives put in place for the Romsey side of Mill Road are 100% unworkable.
    And throwing street parties is not tempting or useful. We want a BUS!

  2. Dear Editor,

    The UK was shocked by the death of Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah, a 9 year-old girl from Hither Green who suffered from asthma. It has been established that her fatal attack in 2013 was triggered by high levels of pollution at her home which was 80ft from the South Circular Road. My condolences to her mother Rosamund, and my admiration as, since Ella’s death, Rosamund has campaigned for pollution to be the recorded cause of death on her daughter’s death certificate.

    Local Councillors and County Councillors should be aware that there is at least one child, living less than 20ft from Mill Road, who has been hospitalised with asthma when pollution levels were high. The London Mayor sees the reduction of pollution as part of his remit. Please learn from Ella’s tragic death and find a way to cut down pollution on Mill Road.

    1. Really enjoying the lack of traffic & better air quality while the Mill Road bridge is closed. Getting to work (via a different bus route) has also been far less hassle than I anticipated. Wondering what other residents are thinking. Is pedestrianising Mill Road still being considered?

  3. I think Cllr. Baigent’s proposal is full of good sense. It is simple and will allow both traders and residents to reap the benefits of less congestion. I am also convinced by the ‘traffic evaporation’ argument. At present walking and cycling along Mill Road is dangerous, cut the through traffic and both walking and cycling will become pleasurable and safe.

  4. Making Mill Road car free is not the solution, though the road should be made more pedestrian and cycle friendly.

    1. Most fully pedestrianised streets become quite sterile unless there is a very large pedestrian usage. some cars give a street life.
    2. However positive ways of encouraging fewer car journeys is welcome.
    3. But many people will still need to use cars:
      3.1 to get to work, especially if they work shifts, out of town etc.
      3.2. To take children to school ( not all can walk or cycle, not all can get to a walkable school)
      3.3. to go shopping – most families cannot do family shop on a bike
      3.4. The elderly or disabled need cars to shop and for access – walking to bus stop often too far, cycling often impossible, certainly carry shopping.
    4. What is needed is changes to road surfaces and planting using planters and trees to link a series of green spaces from Petersfield to Brooks Road. This would slow down and deter traffic by making Mill Road more visibly a shared space, rather than a road where traffic flow was considered priority – at present the state of the pavements is visually horrible when not dangerous, esp considering they must have one of the largest numbers of pedestrians in Cambridge outside the city centre.
    5. The spaces and Movement consultation at the Maths centre failed to cover Mill Road. The online consultation was not widely known about and froze as I was completing it.
    6. The presentation by Mr Hamilton Bailey on Mill Road traffic issues was supported but has never since seen the light of day. It makes a good starting point. Money will always be an issue, but at present there seems to be a lot of it for favoured projects. Mill Road is the best known street in Cambridge outside the city centre, unlike other main roads it brings people together from both sides, rather than dividing them as other arterial roads do. So time for this to be recognised ?
      See: Hamilton-Baillie Associates Ltd – Civilised Space
    7. The bridge should not divide Romsey and Petersfield, but link them.

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