A positive post-bus vision for Hobson Street


I’ll be long gone before this happens, but we can dream…can’t we?

Over the past year I’ve been trying to prod the great and the good to do something positive about Hobson Street in Cambridge in particular the old cinema as described here.

In 2016 I took the above photographs of buildings on this route that is now little more than a bus route through town. Banning traffic other than when students are moving in/out would make a huge difference to this place.

Note the darker cream coloured building top left – that’s the old County Hall from 1913 built for the old Cambridge County Council when it covered a smaller geographical area. It was found to be too small following the growth of local government during and after the First World War, hence the move to Shire Hall in the early 1930s. The future of Shire Hall is uncertain – see their plan for a hotel…and my call for an expanded museum on the site.

Waterstones opens a new ground floor cafe

I was in there today – and it was packed with students.


The above pano shows the Citi-3 bus at the bus stop that used to serve a packed cinema and then bingo hall. I’m not sure what the ownership history is of that site but the city deserves so much better. Again, the ball is with Conservative ministers who have restricted the legal and financial powers of Cambridge City Council of acquiring that site over the past seven years that they have been in power.

And yes, I will make it party political because they are the ones in office. (Should Labour or any other party take power and not make the changes to free up local councils legally and financially, they’ll get it in the neck too. But they are not in office).

“How could Hobson Street be better? Banning busses – where would they go?”

Edward Leigh of Smarter Cambridge Transport has part of the answer: a ring and spoke system for Cambridge, after which you have a general ban buses and cars from the town centre.


See the article at http://www.smartertransport.uk/buses/.

The second addition is the Cambridge Connect underground light rail that would cover the journeys that need to go through the city centre for those that don’t want to change lines. But that’ll take more than a few years to build and will cost more ticket-wise. (Though buses ain’t cheap).

“Haven’t we been here before with Hobson Street?”

We have. This is what Christ’s College had lined up for 1937 but never went ahead with it.


What it would have done is open up Hobson Street. Potentially it would have replaced this wall below.


High wall with narrow pavement – a staple feature of Cambridge if you are a town-dweller. You don’t need ‘Private – Keep Out’ signs, you just need to ‘design out the public’ – which is what a fair amount of the architecture does. Why would you want to walk down a street that has a high wall on one side of a narrow pavement, and loud diesel-belching buses on a narrow road on the other?

“Can it be improved?”

If the Master and Fellows of Christ’s College want it to be.


The above from G-Maps, you can see Christ’s College on the right, with a car park and a big tree next to Hobson Street on the college side. By the tre on the college side is another car park as in the photo below.


More than enough space to do something nice for both the college and the people of Cambridge.

Again, the principles that architect Walter Gropius had are sound in creating a street-side courtyard. There is potential for a widened pavement and two courtyards. If they really need a car park it can be built underground, or simply say that it’s a car-free site.

“I can’t see the college agreeing to that!” 

Me neither. The only other alternative is to allow cars going into the college to come back the other way, but have very tight restrictions on who can and cannot use cars.

“Cars and Cambridge don’t mix, do they?”

It’s the culture change that’s needed. Remember that 100 years ago hardly anyone used a car in town. It was mainly the wealthy undergraduates that started using cars first, before local businesses picked up on using cars and trucks – mainly for delivery. Interestingly in both world wars, the fleets of delivery vehicles that the larger firms had were all commandeered by the military for the war.

“How do you change the culture in Cambridge?”

For a start by enforcing the laws on driving cars in Cambridge – that means resourcing and directing the local police to clamp down on anti-social drivers. The trend of (mainly men) driving cars with loud engines is something I find particularly annoying. Just as Cambridge University has nominally tight restrictions on car usage by its undergraduates, the same should apply for other universities in Cambridge, the cram colleges and language schools. But again, the problem is enforcement – in particular where there is no financial incentive for the language schools and cram colleges to enforce such rules. For them, all that matters is the bottom line – ie profits. The high turnover of students also inevitably makes it difficult to have a civic culture take root.

“Walking maps for tourists and visitors?”

Or anyone else for that matter. As discussed on Smarter Cambridge Transport at http://www.smartertransport.uk/the-metrominuto-map/  there are enough bus stops where such maps could be displayed. Ditto coffee shops and takeaways. Put them up in places where people have to wait.

“Who are you to tell car drivers they cannot drive their cars in Cambridge?”

Mr Angry from Royal Tunbridge Wells – writing in green ink using block capitals.

Actually it’s a reflection of the urban-rural divide. The poor rural bus services mean that people who need to get into Cambridge to work, cannot do so except by car. Existing train services are already jam packed. Again, it is the neglect of successive governments and county council administrations that has led to the situation we are currently in – where only belatedly have they started taking action. But such is the pigs breakfast that Conservative ministers made of the arrangements for local government in and around Cambridge that we’re still trying to find out who has what responsibilities on transport. The county mayor? The combined authority? (Heard of them?) The County Council? (where the ruling party has zero councillors inside Cambridge City?) The City Council? (Where all of the parties on the City Council do not form the majority on the County Council?)

Are there other streets that could be transformed by pedestrianisation?

Look at Market Square, Petty Cury and St Andrew’s Street. They all used to be roads that the general public could drive cars down. It was only in the 1930s that car parking restrictions were put in and road signs were formalised.

350316 STDMoon cartoon motorists road signs and fines

New road signs in Cambridge – brilliantly satirised in the Cambridge News by Sid Moon, from the Cambridgeshire Collection in the Cambridge Central Library.

It’s one of those things where something like this for whichever street in the centre you choose to make big changes to, someone will get angry. The challenge is whether the plans to transform them can inspire and encourage enough people – and decision makers to push for them to make them happen. But given historical precedence in Cambridge where it takes decades for a good idea to come to fruition (eg 80 years for the ice rink, 80 years for the current guildhall), I will be long gone if it takes 80 years to transform Hobson Street. I’m not sticking around till 2100 for anyone to complete it!




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