Great North Road – council planning

Two stretches of the Great North Road seem set to get a ‘hybrid cycle lane’ – that’s space separated from traffic. The separation method is still under debate and we hope to be involved in these discussions. All that is good. But as for every route, the proof is in the route continuity and space clarity. And here is where we are let down again by our council. The Cycle City Ambition may have started to crumble.

Funding is complex

So. Newcastle City Council has released plans for Gosforth’s Great North Road (GNR) – section Broadway in the North, down to Moorfield / Moor Road in the South. The plans and planning are (for a better word) complex, and so is the funding situation. All the design and construction is paid for by funds awarded by the Department for Transport, although these are funnelled to the council through different strands. One funding stream is the one-off Cycle Safety Fund whilst the other funding streams are sourced from ‘traditional’ road funds. This means that the project briefs – ie what the project is trying to achieve – may be very different, and possibly at odds with each other. In a council with a strong city transport policy and political steer on city planning this friction may be overcome, but Newcastle is very weak in its vision for the city and falls back on traditional highway design practices, brushing walking and cycling aside.

Routes are unclear

The funding situation and hence the briefs are complex, and so is the routing. One thing is clear. The Gosforth Strategic Cycle Route (SCR) goes through Gosforth High Street. But ‘inexperienced’ cyclists are now encouraged to bypass the Gosforth High Street, and are alternatively routed through Christon / Rothwell / Moor Road. This getting-them-out-of-the-way attitude may well explain why the design for Gosforth High Street contains no cycling infrastructure to speak of. We support the red route proposals for Gosforth High Street, but it’s simply not enough. We want to see road space allocated away from car use too. Cycling needs space. All this would make the High Street a much more pleasant place – other cities and countries have proven that reducing car dominance attracts people and makes modal shift happen. As for the bypass, are ‘inexperienced’ cyclists thought not to use shops, or go to the pub or enjoy a coffee? We are baffled. And the council has already come up with further bypasses on Gosforth SCR, this time for Blue House Roundabout. They also failed to communicate their internally-made decision effectively – we only found out by mistake. Council has set up numerous meetings over the last year. What are these for if not to inform, discuss and influence decision-making?

Communications are lacking

Newcastle council have not been sufficiently open and transparent during the GNR scheme development (and this is not the only one we are aware of where that’s the case), so we have to play catch up again. It’s disappointing to find ourselves in this situation, when we asked to be involved and expressed great interest in making this a real success story for Gosforth and the city, together. We previously commented on the Gosforth plans and made some suggestions. You can read them here. Our response back to council using the formal route via the traffic order consultation can be found here

Vision is hazy

The designs must move away from designing for the self-fulfilling and congestion-inducing ‘flow of traffic’. To create a great place for people, we should also turn the back on traditional traffic modelling and think more about how to make the transition to a better, healthier modal share. We must make greater use of designing for cycle/walk safety and continuity and give these modes priority, particularly in the dense urban residential context that Gosforth falls into. Whilst GNR roundabout at Broadway might shape up to even use innovation and with a little tweaking could be a good design – there is no relevant cycle provision near the GNR junction with Salters / Church (in fact it looks like a pure highway design from the 1960s). It seems that patchy provision is what the engineers have “designed for” along GNR with cycle space simply disappearing into the fast motor traffic. Some basic mistakes have been made in the layouts such as failing to neck-down for reducing turning speeds, putting cyclists into harm’s way at the GNR roundabout at Hollywood – see image below.

Yes, road designs have to improve, but possibly above all: council communication, collaboration and engagement methods must drastically be made relevant and fit for purpose too.

We really must start reducing road space and capacity for private car journeys to bring about that mystical modal shift. We’ll seek to speak to Councillors about that.

You can discuss and view the plans an the Cycling Embassy UK website

Image 1 : How not to do it. Streams of bicycle and car traffic clash. We proposed to completely remove the left turn filter lane.

GNR-Hollywood - marked conflict

Plans for the locations on Great North Road (and the bypass)
Broadway [pdf]
Park Avenue / Harewood Road [pdf]
Hollywood Avenue [pdf]
Regent Farm Road / Christon Road [pdf]
Salters Road / Church Road [pdf]
Church Alwinton on High Street bypass [pdf]
Moor Road on High Street bypass [pdf]