Cycle Safari: Elswick and Benwell

It is with great pleasure that this year we were able to start running our cycle safaris again. For those who don’t know what this means – no we are not going looking for lions! But we do hope to spot a few new zebras on our streets. The aim of the safaris is to check out potential routes where we would like to see protected cycle lanes in the future, and to review new infrastructure on some routes previously identified.

On 6th July this year we had the pleasure of cycling along the new cycle route on Elswick Road and Benwell Lane. This route has two recently completed sections, with a long central section on Adelaide Terrace which has not yet got the go ahead. We were delighted that Chi Onwurah MP, who is MP for Newcastle Central, could join us for this ride and she shared her experiences of cycling on the route when out and about in her constituency. We were also joined by a number of other members, some of whom were familiar with the route.

The first thing to say is that those sections which are complete are very comfortable to cycle on. We were able to chat while we cycled, which certainly wasn’t the case in the section with no protection. Here, the volume and speed of traffic makes it very unpleasant and sometimes frightening. The best part of the new route is definitely the east-bound section of Benwell Lane, where there is a lovely long continuous cycle lane protected by both a wide build-out and parking. You can see our previous comments on the plans here and here.

It was good to see improvements for pedestrians along the route too. New and improved crossings and a narrower carriageway makes this feel like a much more accessible place for those on foot. However, we felt that pedestrian and cycle priority could have been made clearer through continuous pavements and cycle lanes on some of the side roads on the new sections. Some of these were little more than driveways or park entrances and it seemed unnecessary for walking and cycling to give way to these.

We discussed the difficulties of implementing new infrastructure with Chi Onwurah. She asked us some challenging questions and it was fantastic to have the opportunity to debate some key issues with her. We talked about the importance of building protected cycle lanes in every ward of the city because cycling is not, as some people imagine, just a middle-class hobby. In fact, data shows that levels of utility cycling in Newcastle are similar regardless of people’s level of education. We highlighted the urgency of improving the environment for people on foot and cycles and discussed how cycling infrastructure could positively impact on walking, particularly when it resulted in reduced vehicle speeds through road narrowing and additional crossings. We also talked about the necessity to design for the future. Young people who grow up with this new infrastructure will not only be able to travel independently from an earlier age, but will also see it as their normal. Fear of change can be a major barrier to implementing new infrastructure, however it is important to remember that the next generation will not see it as alien in their landscapes. Hopefully they will fight to protect and extend it!

We’d love to hear from you if you have comments about this new route. Our next safari will take place in the spring when we will check out the new cycle route on the Great North Road. Details to follow soon.