Hot air and still no safe space

Whilst other cities reportedly move forward, reaping the benefits of bike-friendly design and putting wings on bicycle culture such as the 7% bike modal share in Seville (achieved in remarkable short time) and Velo-City Vienna – Newcastle could not be further from this future today.

It is a city that cannot make up its mind about where it stands with “rebalancing the relationship between road users in favour of modes of transport that diminish carbon emissions” [source Cycle Plan]. It stands divided. It pushes cyclists away then pulls us in again – maybe that roller-coaster of an emotional ride is a sign for Council standing on crossroads and that attitudes are a-changing. But for the sake of sanity of everyone involved, and the health of our fat and sick northern counties, some united voice from our transport authority would certainly be in order by now.

Northumberland Street

We recently reported on the city centre North-South route and that in the absence of a safe route (and 800 people agree, remember petition in 2010?) the least Council could do is allow cycling on Northumberland Street when crowd density is low. But, alas, cyclists are apparently a real problem. They are different, they simply don’t fit in. Oh, and that requires precious resources to be squandered on enforcement.

Percy Street

This comes when just this week we learnt that a woman was badly injured on Percy Street by a bus driver – a road environment that is well known for its informal crossings (just like John Dobson Street). We recently requested (again) the consultant’s report for Percy Street which is now several months overdue. We start to ask, what have Council got to hide?

John Dobson Street

But we hear (their latest letter attached, below) it’s John Dobson Street the Councillors want us to cycle on. They even dare to call it an “established route”. How that is possible with no dedicated cycle space, remains a question hanging in the increasingly thick air. We do wonder, how many of these “Regulatory and Appeals Sub-Committee” Councillors have ever cycled John Dobson Street to conclude all that is needed is a few “traffic signalling” improvements. No, changes must look more akin to this :

JDS - two-way cycle track


So just what has changed since 2010 when over 800 folks told Council that things have to change?

Council continues to fail to listen to cyclists’ sincere and serious concerns about safe cycle space. Any translation of these concerns into physical changes have not materialised to date. So much so, that we must start to believe Council becomes negligent in their failure to provide for vulnerable road users, and that Council fails to provide for cyclists and ensure their safe travel under the Equality Act 2010. For many years, no road space at all has been allocated to cycling; but more has rather been removed from cycle-specific use. Newcastle stopped once all the ‘easy space’ (ie where wide road widths exist) had cycle lanes painted on. This is the origin of the start-stop nature of our cycle lanes. Every journey is only as good as its weakest link. That might be one driver parking in a cycle lane. So enforcement could be used gainfully here.

All that from a Council that wants to increase cycling levels tenfold by 2020 to 20% and must be desperate to get new people on bikes. All hot air, if road space isn’t allocated to cycling soon. For it is the infrastructure, stupid [sources Beauty and the Bike, Pooley/Horton, The Energy Glut, Car Sick].

An additional frustration is that council meetings are still arranged in hours out of reach of volunteers (full-time employed, like us). We may be too challenging for them, not following their own policies. We are sad to miss the first meeting of the Technical Group discussing the Cycle City Ambition Fund which has been adopted as an action plan and contains an ambitious programme of works.

Our verdict? We have heard loads of words, some red hot air, some lukewarm welcomes, and some very icy winds are blowing too. There cannot be any doubt, Council’s approach to transport policy is in shambles. It lies broken on the floor. Pick up the broken pieces, and reassemble them. You will see the shape of a bicycle slowly emerging from the ashes. Bicycles are the key indicators for liveable cities and that means creating conditions for women and kids to bicycle.