It's on your bike, or feet, for Cambridge commuters

JEREMY SMITH AND VIV POSSELT
Last updated 05:00 15/02/2014

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It started with gridlock and frustrated commuters, but now, two weeks on from the repairs that turned Cambridge's Victoria Bridge from a thoroughfare into a one-way bottleneck, the townsfolk are finding creative - and even enjoyable - ways around the traffic problems.

Many trying to get to school or work on time are walking or cycling rather than braving traffic, and the company tasked with busing around 500 schoolchildren from Leamington to schools across the bridge had shifted its schedule to accommodate the delays.

The four-month project to widen footpaths and carry out maintenance is the most extensive in the bridge's 106-year history. The bridge is open only to southbound traffic travelling from Cambridge to Leamington, leaving long queues of cars clogging Shakespeare St each morning.

Among those adopting a non-vehicular mode of transport is Andrea Pettigrew, who was seen walking her children Ethan, 7, and Chloe, 5, to Cambridge Primary School yesterday. She said they had cycled most days - yesterday they chose to walk.

"I've really enjoyed the fact that it seems more people have been forced to change their lifestyle and find other ways of getting to work."

Glenys Bichan has also started to bike to work since the project began. It's her first time cycling to work, and she reckons it cuts her commuting time in half - it takes her 17 minutes to bike to work, 45 minutes to drive.

She also thinks the number of people now walking over Victoria Bridge has "easily doubled", and said there were even ‘traffic jams' on the footpath.

"There are so many people crossing to Cambridge that if there's someone going from Cambridge to Leamington, because the footpath isn't wide enough, it can become quite clogged up. I guess that vindicates the work Waipa District Council is doing."

One trend concerned her: "I've seen riders getting so frustrated with how long it would have taken them to walk across the bridge that they are riding across the bridge on the road in the opposite direction of the traffic."

She was finding it enjoyable enough to consider leaving the car in the garage in future and biking to work in summer.

Most schools on the Cambridge East side said the late arrivals that characterised the first week of school had eased, primarily thanks to a move by Cambridge Travel Lines to change its schedules.

The company's manager, Michael Pidduck, said that between 400 to 500 of the 3500 to 4000 students using the buses daily came from the Leamington side of town, and at the start of the bridge project, traffic delays meant they were regularly 15 to 20 minutes late.

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"We then sent out hundreds of letters to those using the buses, and gave them two days' notice to change the pick-up times. We now collect them 10 to 15 minutes earlier, and it's been going well.

"As far as we know, we haven't left anyone behind - we would hear pretty smartly if we did."

Cambridge Chamber of Commerce chief executive Raewyn Jones said some adjustments were being made by businesses in town with most making more appointments at times of the day when they can avoid the traffic.

Some businesses are taking a flexible approach.

One, All Sew Embroidery, pre-empted the traffic woes and advised customers through its website that it had set up a drop-off and collection point in Leamington. No one had yet used it but Tessa Marsden, who owns the company with husband Andy, said the company had never been busier.

"We've had more walk-ins over the past couple of weeks than we have ever had." 

- Waikato Times

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