Huge support for safer neighbourhoods

A big thank you for those who responded to our call for action, wrote to Newcastle City Council and want to see safer streets in their neighbourhoods for social distancing. 

In this article, we would like to share the thoughts and stories of local residents in Newcastle. We hope we can amplify their voices, inspire others to re-imagine their neighbourhoods and ask for change to support local decision-making.  

The pop-up cycle lane on Queen Victoria Road in the city centre is a a great start and a clear example of road space reallocation and how quickly it can be done. Many would like to see improvements in their local area too, where they live, shop, socialise and play. We got lots of great ideas from across the city including Jesmond, Heaton, Gosforth, Byker, Walker, Parklands, Dene, Ouseburn, Elswick, Wingrove, Kingston Park, Fawdon and Kenton.

Living with Covid-19 – yesterday, today and tomorrow

Big changes have happened in our lives over the last few months. The lockdown gave us quiet streets for a few months enabling people to enjoy, sometimes for the first time, cycling for errands, leisure or to work.

As the lockdown is being released, the traffic is slowly coming back and many residents have reported dangerous driving including speeding. Already they are thinking about the future, when the shops will re-open and the school runs will start again – some later than others. 

Jenny said “ I was delighted to read that Newcastle is planning to invest in safe, sustainable ways for us to travel about the city while maintaining physical distance. On most of our pavements, it’s impossible to maintain 2m or even 1m distance. We’ve been stepping into the road to pass each other, but this is getting harder as traffic increases. More people have been cycling, which is wonderful and so important for health, especially since both obesity and air pollution make Covid-19 more deadly. We need to make sure this can continue as the lockdown eases. I’ve already heard parents say “it’s been wonderful allowing the kids to cycle during the lockdown, but I’ve had to stop them now.” 

Tony said  “I ride the streets of Newcastle, and particularly Jesmond,  every day at the age of almost 76 and am delighted to find how safe and traffic free most of them are at present, and for cyclists of my age (and for children) this is the only way that most will continue to travel in a mode that is so much better for our health and for the environment.”

Clare gave a poignant account of how it is like to live in a residential street dominated by through motorised traffic where cycling and walking is unsafe and social distancing impossible:  

“Our family have started to use our bikes since lockdown started because there has been less traffic and we have felt safer. Unfortunately the exception to this is on our residential street – Hollywood Avenue, Gosforth where high volumes of vehicles are continuing to cut through this residential street breaking the 20 mph limit well in excess of 30-35+ often much higher and with very unsafe driving practices. As a family with a child aged 10 we have experienced lots of dangerous driving and anti-social behaviour on Hollywood Avenue even during lockdown, including being told by a car driver to use the pavement and a car overtaking us on a roundabout – mounting the large hump on the roundabout to so. Two examples of too many negative experiences on our residential street. We have regularly used the cycle routes into Newcastle and have felt relatively safe during lockdown except on the Hollywood Avenue section. We have watched lots and lots of people of all ages try to maintain safe social distancing on Hollywood Avenue on foot and cycle – it’s currently impossible due to the high volumes of speeding cars. As residents we are wholeheartedly behind any plans Newcastle have to make our city safer and more environmentally friendly for pedestrians and cyclists, and to reduce car use. We would greatly appreciate this being extended to our residential street by closing Salters Bridge to vehicular traffic. It could become part of a fantastic cycle and walking network linking all parts of the city.

Close that bridge!

Many other local residents like Clare have written to the Council asking for Salters Bridge as well as Haldane Bridge in Jesmond to be closed. These closures together with other measures such as one-way systems for cars and filtering form part of an overwhelming ask to civilise residential areas, reduce rat-running and create low traffic neighbourhoods.

A local resident wrote “ In particular, I think that Highbury, Jesmond should be closed off to vehicles coming over the bridge and Gosforth High Street could easily allocate one lane on each side of the road to cyclists and pedestrians.

There is support to get the measures planned for the programme of Streets for people implemented. Other people asked for road closures using planters and bollards. In Kingston Park, safer places to cross and measures to slow the traffic down were mentioned.

In summary, “Any measures that can be introduced to remove through traffic in the area will be a huge improvement to how pleasant the area is to live in and to walk or cycle through to create more space in the aid of social distancing at the moment and hopefully in to the future. “

Access to schools

Many like Tony asked for safer access to schools and a roll out of schoolstreets across the city.

In addition to schools in Jesmond and Gosforth, Hotspur school in the Ouseburn, Benfield School and a school in Sandyford were specifically mentioned.

Jim said “I urge you to progress quickly with implementing measures which will reallocate road space to walking, cycling and play, in particular Benfield Road and surrounding area to facilitate pupils getting to and from Benfield School… I’d also appreciate a lot more transparency from the council who should be publicising their plans to take advantage of this once in a generation opportunity to transform the way we travel in Newcastle by radically improving cycling and walking infrastructure in and around the city.

A resident wrote “Atmospheric pollution is appalling outside West Jesmond primary school.  Roads leading to schools should be closed so that children arriving and leaving school do not have to compete with hundreds of parked up cars idling, emitting toxic fumes, and filling the road forcing parents and children to be in close proximity on the pavement (i.e. not able to socially distance).  Walking and cycling to the school is dangerous due to the volume of traffic outside the school. Many people turn their vehicles in the road (mounting the kerb in the process) making it dangerous for those not in cars.”

Francesca said : “Based on my experience of walking and cycling in my local area I would like to outline some of the urgent requirements needed. I would firstly like to see the lanes on Great North Road from Regent Centre up to and through Gosforth High Street, reduced to one lane rather than two, to enable a more cycle & pedestrian friendly environment, which will allow safe social distancing. Christon Road in Gosforth is the promoted cycling route between the Great North Road and Alwinton Terrace and whilst it has been encouraging to see more families cycling along this road, during the lockdown I am extremely concerned about the lack of pedestrian and cyclist provision on this road. It is also the main road to Gosforth Industrial Estate and the Nexus depot, so there are large HGV wagons driving down this road at all times of the day. Despite the road having a 20mph speed limit, I have observed this being broken regularly due to the nature of the road layout which is long and straight. Therefore drivers can pick up speed for quite some distance and this occurs even more so if the traffic lights at the end of Christon Road are on green. Whilst there are speed humps on the road, they do not slow down cars and therefore existing traffic calming measures do not work on this road. In addition, there are two schools accessed via this road, so it is not appropriate to have HGV wagons driving down this road, particularly at the start and end of the school day, nor is it appropriate for drivers to be driving at excess speeds.”

Play streets

While mobility and transport was often the main thread, many residents also talked about the benefit of having local space for playing and socialising and how wonderful it was to see children playing safely in our streets during the lockdown.

Liz said : “During the past 7 weeks it has been great to see how pleasant, friendly and healthy our local communities can be – fewer cars, lower emissions, cleaner air, less noise, more birdsong and wildlife, and more bikes, walkers and children playing safely in the streets. I hope this can be preserved as much as possible. It has felt like a much happier and healthier city to live in. This is a great opportunity to achieve some lasting positive changes in our city.”

Richard said “ This is such an opportunity – genuinely perhaps once in a lifetime – to change things for the better in terms of the health and happiness of our population. If any plusses can be found in this current situation, surely it’s less pollution, safer streets for kids to cycle and play on and less noise and general dominance of vehicles.” 

Do it now!

More than ever before, there is a overwhelming sense of urgency to put in place a range of measures to enable safe active travel and create safe place to play and socialise across Newcastle. John said “As former Chair of the Newcastle Cycling Stakeholder Forum I have had first hand experience of the difficulties faced in creating a more liveable city in which cycling plays a key part in urban transport.  The CV19 crisis creates an imperative to enact major changes and to do so quickly. “

On-going communication is essential to keep people informed of future changes. The temporary and experimental nature of measures put in place means that rather than lengthy consultations, feedback can be sought after implementation to ensure that adjustments can be made and most importantly the momentum is not lost.