Newcastle City Council has published its plans to give more space to customers visiting Gosforth High Street, to allow remaining shops to open safely and comply with the Government’s physical distancing rules.
This follows a direction from the UK Department of Transport to all UK Local Authorities saying that work should “begin at pace on closing roads to through traffic, installing segregated cycle lanes and widening pavements.”
This is both to enable physical distancing on busy streets such as Gosforth High Street, and to enable walking and cycling as an alternative to driving shorter journeys now that public transport can no longer operate at normal capacity. A video report by the Guardian newspaper estimates that “if 90% of people [in Newcastle] who usually use public transport drive instead that would be an increase of 48% more cars on the road.” If that isn’t gridlock it would be very close.
The High Street plans are set out in diagrammatic form below and on the Council’s website. The photo at the top of the article is our SPACE for Gosforth mock up of how it might look once initial temporary measures are replaced with something a little bit more permanent.
Key changes are:
- Wider pavements from Regent Centre to Elmfield Road. As more shops open and more people visit the High Street, this will provide space for queuing, enable people to pass each other, and create more space for families and household groups to walk together.
- Waiting areas for shoppers queuing to get a bus home or into Newcastle.
- Protecting the existing cycle lane between Regent Centre and Christon Road, enabling people to cycle all the way from Brunton Lane into Newcastle on protected lanes or (mostly) quiet roads. The Council say there isn’t space for wider pavements and a cycle lane on Gosforth High Street.
- A new pedestrian crossing between Henry Street and Spital Terrace.
- Disallowing the left turn from Salters Road towards Regent Centre, in order to create more space on the pavement. We hope this is something the Gosforth Hotel can take advantage of, although we are also concerned this may lead to increased traffic on neighbouring residential streets.
- Pavements will be designated one-way, according to the Overview page for all five shopping streets although this isn’t mentioned in the page specifically about Gosforth High Street.
You can provide feedback on the proposal now, or wait until it has been implemented. According to the Council’s news article, schemes will be reviewed “three weeks after they are installed, giving local businesses and people time to get used to changes, and to consider whether further changes are needed.”
|Provide feedback on the Gosforth High Street Plans|
The Council says that “initially temporary materials such as cones and barriers will be used, with the view to more permanent materials potentially being installed following input from local councillors, residents, businesses and community groups.”
There are substantial advantages to trialling measures before making them permanent, as it allows residents and businesses to see how changes work in practice and quickly resolve any issues that do arise. Feedback from residents and businesses can be provided based on actual experience so the Council can focus on substantive issues, should any arise, rather than having to deal with misunderstandings of what is proposed or what might happen as a result. This also prevents long delays in the consultation process where discussions can end up being skewed towards (not always realistic) worst case scenarios rather than what is actually likely.
What are the Benefits?
- Changes are being made quickly to enable remaining businesses to open safely and minimise the risk of transmitting Covid-19. The approach taken using temporary measures enables this, ensuring flexibility to change if issues are found.
- Creating more space for customers who will spend money in shops, rather than vehicles just passing through. This reallocation of space should help local businesses offset some of the negative consequences of physical distancing rules.
- Crossing Gosforth High Street will be easier and safer for people on foot because the distance to cross will be much less. This is especially true for those who might take longer to cross due to mobility issues. Currently some drivers go through the pedestrian crossings on red when the lights are obscured by large vehicles in the inside lane.
- People’s exposure to air pollution will be reduced as wider pavements means people can stand further away from vehicle exhausts. If traffic is restricted then that might also reduce traffic and pollution levels.
- It should be safer for everyone on the High Street by reducing dangerous over and under-taking manoeuvres, and the narrower carriageway should encourage drivers to stick to the 20mph speed limit.
- A safer protected cycle lane between Regent Centre and Christon Road will enable more people to cycle safely between the north of the city and the city centre, bypassing Gosforth High Street using the alternative route via Christon Road, Alwinton Terrace and Moor Road.
Points to consider
- The plans do nothing yet to enable safe cycling to or across Gosforth High Street. Families, anyone who is less confident (i.e. most people), older or younger people will still have difficulty accessing local shops and services by bike. We hope this might be possible in a future iteration once physical distancing rules can be safely relaxed to give a further boost for local businesses.
- We expect the plans will discourage speeding if the lane widths are not too wide (narrower lanes are safer because traffic drives slower). Extra signing might also be useful e.g. a 20mph sign painted on the road at the entry to the 20mph section.
- We aren’t convinced a pedestrian one-way system is necessary as in most locations pavements can be made substantially wider than the minimum 4m width that is proposed, and could make visiting the shops harder for people with mobility issues. We would favour trialling this scheme without the one-way system to see first if that works and only introducing it if necessary.
- Banning the left turn from Salters Road towards Regent Centre creates a risk of more traffic on Henry Street and Regent Road North, which are often busy with children travelling to or from school. This will need to be monitored along with other local roads and further action taken if necessary.
- Ensuring businesses can continue to receive deliveries. This might require more use of back lanes and changes on side streets to turn short-stay parking into loading bays, and possibly to create additional disabled parking bays. SPACE for Gosforth produced a map of disable parking in 2016 which you can see here.
- We think these plans will be beneficial for pollution levels as one lane of queuing traffic in the centre of the street is better than two pushed right up against current narrow pavements. Further measures do need to be taken though, in line with Newcastle’s air pollution plan to ensure legal limits are adhered to, in particular to ensure buses are retro-fitted with cleaner engines. You can follow air pollution levels on Gosforth High Street via SPACE for Gosforth’s @AirGosforthHiSt Twitter feed.
Other Plans for Gosforth and Newcastle
On the Safe Gosforth High Street website, the Council mentions further iterations of the scheme could involve additional cycling parking and preventing vehicle movements between the High Street and some side roads. This could create more space for street cafes or other space for businesses to operate outside.
A separate announcement has been made about proposals, which we support, for safer local streets that can more easily be used for walking and cycling, keeping through traffic on the main road network to create low traffic neighbourhoods for the benefit of residents. This includes changes at Salters Bridge, Stoneyhurst Road and Castle Farm Road to restrict vehicle traffic so they can be used safely for walking and cycling.
Changes are also being proposed for West Road in Elswick; Shields Road in Byker; Adelaide Terrace in Elswick; and Chillingham Road in Heaton. You can find out more about these schemes on the Council’s website newcastledistrictshoppingcentres.commonplace.is/.
Gosforth High Street plans should be implemented within the next few weeks.