Local councils are currently drawing up ambitious plans for a network of tunnels for buses to travel underground through Cambridge. The potential tunnels will link Castle Hill and Coldham’s Common. Stations included will be below Christ’s Pieces and the Grafton Centre.

Professor Robert Mair, from the civil engineering department at Cambridge University, is head of the team. His impressive résumé includes work on the Channel Tunnel and the Jubilee Line extension in the London underground. If selected, the idea will be part of the councils bid for a “city deal“.  If the bid succeeds they will then need planning permission and external funding.

This innovative transport alternative is one amongst several that are being proposed in response to gloomy predictions for Cambridge’s future as an efficient and rapidly expanding city. Congestion is regarded as a major upcoming issue, as car journeys in the city are set to take 46 per cent longer by 2021. Already congestion is costing businesses in Cambridge 1 billion pounds annually. This figure is also predicted to double by 2021.

Given Cambridge’s rapid growth rate, complex transportation developments are needed. These will help to secure the city’s economic future. Specifically, new developments like the Cambridge Biomedical Campus at Addenbrookes and the university led North West Cambridge Development need to be linked to already existing employment sites and residential areas. 

Moreover, due to the limited amount of surface transport capacity in the city’s historic centre, options to improve efficiency of transport and connectivity using traditional transport methods are limited. Nick Clarke, the county council leader, emphasizes, “We need to think innovatively“. 

Response has been mixed. Jon Green, a long-term resident who lives on Mawson Road, has witnessed the ceaseless ebb and flow of the city’s transportation problems. He states that there is definitely a need for change, be it either “below ground or in the air“.

Professor Mair’s vision is estimated to cost around 190 million pounds. This is less than the cost for a metro system. Yet doubt is still being voiced concerning the practicality and usefulness of such an undertaking. Repeatedly, people reach the conclusion that “Cambridge is simply too small“ for a new and elaborate transportation mode, as innovative as it may be.

Presently, Cambridge has the highest level of cycle use in the UK. 25 per cent of its residents travel to work by bike. In 2008, the city won the national “cycling town“ award and was issued with 3.6 million to spend on cycling improvements. The city is, however, at the limit of its capacity for bikes. Cambridge has problems with its transport, and these are about to get more serious. However, this provides opportunities for creative solutions that are more cost efficient as well as environmentally friendly.

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