Newcastle City Council have proposed that Blackett Street and parts of New Bridge Street are made into a pedestrian area linking Northumberland Street, Monument and Old Eldon Square. This blog is our response to the Council’s consultation.
The other changes to the City Centre proposed alongside the Blackett Street plan include:
- Buses that previously used Blackett Street will now use the new bus loop (for a map see our response below).
- Revised arrangements for access and deliveries to minimise traffic in the new pedestrian areas.
- A new pedestrian and event space on Ridley Place at the north end of Northumberland Street.
- New / relocated disabled parking and taxi ranks.
- Cycling infrastructure on adjoining junctions.
More details of the proposals and a link to the consultation (which finishes on 31 January 2020) can be found here.
Dear Councillor Ainsley,
Re: Transforming our city
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Council’s proposals relating to Blackett Street and surrounding areas.
We wholeheartedly support the Council’s ambition for Newcastle upon Tyne to be “A place that has cleaner air and puts people first, and where public transport and healthy, active travel, such as cycling, and walking is a choice for everyone.”
Currently air quality on Blackett Street and New Bridge Street is poor; almost double the legal limit for air pollution in 2018. Large numbers of buses dominate the street, putting people at risk, in some cases with tragic consequences. On Blackett Street in February 2019, a gentleman was killed on his mobility scooter just trying to cross the road.
Traffic Injury and Pollution Data for Blackett Street and the surrounding area
Because of the large number of buses, cycling on Blackett Street and New Bridge Street is only currently a choice for the brave and doesn’t support the Council’s policy that “streets and roads should be designed to be safely used by children and those with limited mobility” [City Council October 2019].
Life and health should not be traded for other benefits. People have a right to be able to travel safely, and simple errors shouldn’t lead to someone being seriously injured or killed.
Richard Grainger’s Vision: A “City of Palaces”
Grainger Town has been a place of forward-thinking innovation combined with elegance and beauty for almost 200 hundred years. Richard Grainger transformed the area from the remains of a medieval and industrial city and created “a City of Palaces; a fairyland of newness, brightness and modern elegance.” (William Howlett 1842) https://www.newcastle.gov.uk/our-city/history-and-heritage
Richard Grainger’s original vision for Grainger Town was for streets and buildings to be “promenaded” around as well as lived in. The 1997-2003 Grainger Town project recognised this by having as one of its aims to create “a high quality pedestrian-priority precinct, encouraging appreciation of the surrounding architecture, and transforming the experience of walking through this area and promoting civic activity.”
Currently, a very large part of the road space on Blackett Street and New Bridge Street is reserved for vehicles with people squashed to either side.
Current vehicle-priority on Blackett Street
The Council now needs to complete the Grainger Town vision by making Blackett Street and Old Eldon Square traffic-free, and it should do so as soon as possible to address Blackett Street’s poor air quality and road safety issues.
Northumberland Street, which is already traffic-free, gives us an idea of what Blackett Street could be like, with much lower levels of pollution, virtually no traffic-related injuries in the last ten years and thriving businesses. The closure in 1998 is evidence that removing vehicle traffic not only works but allows an area to thrive. A generation on and the number of shoppers along Northumberland Street would be impossible to sustain if this street had continued to support two-way vehicle traffic. Complaints that Christmas stalls and rides had restricted the space in Northumberland Street only serve to demonstrate how the pedestrianised area is not only now accepted, but fiercely protected.
No one would suggest now that the city should turn Northumberland Street into a bus station, and in years to come people will wonder why the same was ever allowed on Old Eldon Square.
Blackett Street south frontage – January 2020
Old Eldon Square has the potential to be one of the best locations in the city centre but is currently dirty, noisy and dangerous. Apart from the east side where John Dobson’s original buildings survive, Old Eldon Square is surrounded by dark brown brick walls that make it look like the goods entrance to an out of town shopping centre. Making it traffic-free will allow these blank walls to be brought back to life with new businesses, street cafes and planting, and allow the square to be used for public events without risking the wellbeing of the people attending.
Blackett Street full of people on a summer Saturday
As above, we strongly support the removal of traffic from the areas identified in the Council’s plan. The following detail feedback is about proposed changes to transport arrangements.
1. Buses and Accessibility
We support the concept of the Bus Loop, as set out in Council Policy UC7 adopted in March 2015, and that, as per that policy, this should be “the principal route for buses within the Urban Core to ensure there is good service around and to the edge of the retail area with less reliance on the routes that cut across it.”
We note that only one of the three main bus companies that serve Newcastle city centre currently uses bus stops on Blackett Street, and that passengers that use buses provided by the other two companies do not suffer unduly as a result. Blackett Street will be no further from the new bus loop than Northumberland Street is from the current nearest bus stops.
However, it must be acknowledged that passengers arriving by buses that currently stop on Blackett Street will have a variety of destinations and may want to connect to other bus or Metro services. We would therefore encourage the Council to work with bus companies to ensure that passengers have a choice of routes that allow them to access different destinations within the city. This could be achieved through the accessible, and preferably electric-powered, city centre bus shuttle idea we suggested in our response to the Council’s “Breathe” Air Quality consultation. Currently someone transferring from an east-west bus to one heading north would have a six-minute walk from Blackett Street to Haymarket.
Clearly different people will also have different mobility needs and it is important to ensure that Newcastle is accessible as possible for people with disabilities. We would therefore like to see the Shopmobility scheme expanded to better cater for public transport users rather than requiring people to drive and park to access this service. In fact, regardless of the outcome of this consultation we would like to see this idea taken forward. This could be funded by NE1 instead of their free parking offer, which by reducing the incentive to drive would also help reduce congestion and pollution in the city centre.
Not just buses on Blackett Street
In addition to the above we suggest:
- To avoid delay to public transport, other vehicle traffic on the bus loop should be minimised as far as possible. All non-stopping traffic should be directed to use the Urban Core Distributor ring road, and the busiest sections of the bus loop should be bus-only.
- For the same reason, the Council should remove non-stopping through-traffic from Percy Street and Mosley Street, both of which are identified in the Council’s Policy map as Public Transport Distributor Roads.
- Good quality well-lit walking routes should be provided from the bus loop to major city destinations including the RVI, with clear signage to show the way. Footways should be free from obstruction and wide enough for when they are at their busiest. Signalised crossings should prioritise people on foot with short wait times and comfortable crossing times.
- Maps should be displayed at regular intervals and at bus stops showing walking routes and which bus stops serve which routes.
- Multiple options for connectivity between bus routes and with the Metro should be provided to passengers have a choice of routes. E.g. someone travelling west to east across the city may wish to change from a bus to a Metro at St James to avoid city centre congestion, or if travelling east to north a change at Haymarket Bus Station would be better rather than the current six-minute walk from Blackett Street.
- Bus stops should be good quality and provide shelter and seating for waiting passengers.
- Vehicle speeds should be rigorously monitored to ensure all traffic sticks to the 20mph limit.
- In the interim, prior to this proposal being implemented, the Council should enforce existing bus-only regulations on Blackett Street and Grey Street.
Newcastle City Centre Bus Loop and Public Transport Distributor Roads
In October 2019, City Council agreed a motion on cycling that said that “Cycle and walking routes should be abundantly available especially within a 3-mile radius of the city centre or major transport interchanges.”
This motion acknowledged the clear benefits of cycling for health and life expectancy, the ability to move more people in the same space, reducing the cost of travel for residents and helping to reduce air pollution and green house gas emissions. In addition, many studies have shown how good cycling facilities are good for local businesses.
Government guidance states that Councils should aim for a 400m grid of routes that are safe for all age and ability cycling and allow access to key destinations. 400m is about the same distance as Haymarket Metro to the south end of Northumberland Street. This, along with the Council’s adopted policy, suggests that safe cycling routes should be provided on Blackett Street and on a tight grid of connecting cycling routes throughout the city centre, including in Zone 3 ‘Other areas of the city’.
The Council has previously produced graphics to illustrate what might be possible on Blackett Street. Traffic-free cycle lanes such as those shown, which are clearly marked and not shared with people walking, have been found to work better for people walking as well as people cycling. To gain the maximum benefit there also need to be safe onward links to the wider city cycle network at both east and west ends and connecting south to Grainger Street and Grey Street.
Newcastle City Council Blackett Street mock-ups from 2017
Living Streets have produced a report about problems with shared walking and cycling routes, and although the report concludes that issues with sharing are less at destinations where there are high numbers of people walking, there is plenty of space to provide separate lanes so sharing is not required.
The Council motion on cycling also supported the addition of secure cycle parking. This provision should be spread throughout the city centre and the Council should consider family users (multiple bikes of different sizes including children’s bikes, cargo bikes and women’s bike frames) when selecting what types or combinations of racks to use.
We also suggest that the Council propose to local bus companies that they should provide training for their drivers in how to drive around and safely overtake people cycling.
On-street parking should be minimised within the Urban Core. Where it is provided it should be priced in order to encourage people to use the major car parks and to reduce traffic circulating to look for on-street parking spaces. Best practice suggests that pricing should aim to have at least 20% of on- street spaces free at any given time so that people who need it can easily find a space to park.
We support appropriate placement of disabled parking spaces, including in the city’s major car parks, and would like to encourage the Council to also find ways to better support people with disabilities to walk, cycle or use public transport.
4. Beyond the Bus Loop – further development
The Council in its consultation documentation states that as a city ‘we’re growing, changing and investing in tomorrow. After all, great cities don’t stand still.’
We would like to suggest that once the changes being consulted on have been approved, the Council convenes a Grainger Town working group made up of major businesses and employers, transport providers, transport user and residents’ groups that support that Council’s ambition for ‘a place that has cleaner air and puts people first, and where public transport and healthy, active travel, such as cycling, and walking is a choice for everyone.‘ and to realise the ‘City of Palaces’ vision.
Such a group would require a clear terms of reference that sets out how it will support the Council to achieve its policy goals and avoid further delay that might prevent air quality or safety targets being met.
Ideas for this group to look at might include:
- Extending the benefits of clean air and reduced traffic on adjoining streets by for example removing on-street parking on Grey Street and replacing it with extended pavements and greenery.
- Installing water fountains and/or play features for children.
- Walking routes and signage.
- Options for making the city centre more accessible for people with disabilities.
- City centre cycle hire.
- Low carbon last-mile deliveries.
- Installation of electric power for events to replace diesel generators.
Old Eldon Square is a key destination in its own right, and the removal of vehicle traffic creates opportunities for regeneration and more events for the benefit of the city and its residents.
It is also currently an air pollution and road danger ‘hot spot’, but has a high potential to be improved for people walking and for east-west journeys by people cycling who are currently excluded from this area by the high volumes of buses and other traffic.
The Council has been working on these plans since at least November 2017 and the proposed arrangements have been trialled on numerous occasions. The Council should now move quickly to make Blackett Street and New Bridge Street traffic-free well before summer 2020, even if initially with temporary measures, to bring air quality in line with the government directive and to prevent more people being seriously injured or killed.
In 2015, the Newcastle Chronicle published an article stating 23 pedestrians had been killed or injured by buses in the city since 2012. These concerns are not new and will not go away without the sort of action proposed by the Council for Blackett Street and New Bridge Street.
In the interim the Council should ensure residents and users of Old Eldon Square are aware of the high levels of air pollution and that people should not spend more time than necessary in the area. While we understand why the Council has permitted events in the square in the past, no further licences should be issued until the traffic has been removed. This includes the Screen on the Green.
SPACE for Gosforth
Traffic-Related Injuries on Blackett Street and New Bridge Street
1. “Man taken to hospital with chest pains following two-vehicle crash in Newcastle city centre” January 2020
2. “Man on mobility scooter hit by bus in Newcastle city centre dies in hospital a day later” February 2019
3. “Pensioner in hospital after bus crash which brought city centre street to halt” December 2017
4. “Six passengers injured after bus suddenly brakes in Newcastle city centre” October 2016
5. “Newcastle Council reassures pedestrians after 23 are killed or injured by buses since 2012” May 2015 including:
- April 2014 “Paramedics called to Blackett Street, close to Grey’s Monument, where a woman in her 50s was lying in the road after being hit by a bus. She was taken by ambulance to the city’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, where she was treated for head injuries not thought to be serious”
- October 2012 “A man in his 20s was struck by the Stagecoach number 63 on New Bridge Street West, at its busy junction with Northumberland Street. He was taken to hospital “to be treated for a sore elbow”
- September 2012 “An 84-year-old was taken to hospital with head and arm injuries after he was hit trying to cross Blackett Street near to the bottom of Northumberland Street”
- August 2012 “A man in his 20s was hit as he attempted to cross New Bridge Street West, near the end of Northumberland Street”
6. “Accident in Newcastle City Centre” October 2013
7. “Another pedestrian hit by bus in Newcastle city centre” October 2013
8. “Eighth victim of a bus accident in seven months” February 2013
9. “Man hurt in bus crash” January 2007
10. “Chaos as man injured by bus” October 2003
Other relevant press stories
https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/business/business-news/ambitious-plans-transform-newcastle-city-13913379 Ambitious plans to transform Newcastle city centre – November 2017
https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/plans-breathe-new-life-newcastle-13933605 November 2017 cabinet approval
“Outside of London, Newcastle’s Northumberland Street is the next most expensive shopping road in the UK, with an annual rent of £1,742 per square metre.” 2004 http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/business/3954649.stm