In this post we want to look at the new street layout on John Dobson Street, and whether it has improved the experience of those who use this street. The improvements are a flagship project for Newcastle upon Tyne City Council, with a new traffic-free cycle lane that links Newcastle Civic Centre at St. Mary’s Place and the Blue Carpet in front of the Laing Art Gallery and the Journey (Newcastle’s healthy travel centre) on New Bridge Street West.
The new cycle lane has led to an improvement in the street for pedestrians. This photograph from Google Streetview (right) shows the limited space pedestrians previously had on this street – space that was further reduced as it was also the waiting area for bus passengers, and was a shared use pedestrian and cycle way.
The new street layout provides much more space for pedestrians as they now have a wider pavement which they do not have to share with people queuing for a bus or with cyclists. The bus stops have been relocated to the other side of the cycle lane, and again those waiting on that side have substantial space.
Pedestrian crossings are also clear. There is a signalised crossing on the road and zebra style crossings on the cycle way, which clearly indicate where pedestrians have right of way. Tactile pavements (the pink bumpy slabs behind the yellow sign) have been placed next to the crossings to signal to pedestrians with visual impairments where the crossings begin and end.
It will also be a much more pleasant environment for pedestrians – they are now much further from the noise and exhaust fumes produced by motorised traffic. John Dobson Street has been further enhanced by planting trees, which have been linked to improving people’s physical and psychological health and can even cut air pollution. This is important because John Dobson Street is within the City Centre Air Quality Management Area.
The improvements for cycling are dramatic. Among the things we like about the new cycle lane are:
- It is separated from the road and from the pavement by a kerb – this is a type of infrastructure that recent research found was suitable for cycling with children and less confident cyclists.
- It is sufficiently wide to allow two people to ride alongside each other and to allow overtaking. This is particularly important because the lane will be used by both young children (whom parents will want to ride alongside) and by more confident cyclists (who will want to travel faster, particularly if they are on their way to work).
- The street has clear zones for different types of travellers: pedestrians on the pavement, cyclists in the cycle lane and cars and other motor vehicles on the road. This fits with the principle of Homogeneity, which is one of the 5 principles of the Dutch policy of Sustainable Safety (one of the policies that makes Dutch roads so safe). Homogeneity aims to eliminate large differences between speed and mass of vehicles in the same space. This happens in John Dobson Street now. Motor vehicles, which are travelling the fastest and are the heaviest, are separated from cyclists and pedestrians (who are both much more vulnerable) as the vehicles are in the road. Then cyclists (slightly heavier than pedestrians but able to travel faster) are separated from pedestrians in the cycle lane.
- The zebra style crossings make it clear to cyclists that pedestrians will be crossing at these points. They also make it clear to pedestrians (in combination with the different level of the lane) that cyclists have priority elsewhere in the cycle lane.
- The cycle lane will reduce overall journey time for cyclists, which will make cycling a more attractive mode of travel. Previously cyclists had two options. They could either have cycled in the road, which can be slow due to congestion at peak times and where they are vulnerable to traffic. Or they could have used the shared space with pedestrians on the pavement – slow and unpleasant for both cyclists and pedestrians because there was insufficient space. This is important because speed of travel is one of the reasons why cycling is so popular in the Netherlands, and with Newcastle’s air pollution problem, the city needs an increase in cycling to help clean up its air.
The cycle lane also means that Gosforth residents now have a near continuous cycle route from Broadway roundabout to the heart of the city. This route is not perfect, and there are a number of issues that may make it unsuitable for cyclists, particularly for less confident cyclists or for families cycling with children. These issues include:
- junction design: for example the vehicle left turn at ASDA (next to Hollywood Avenue in Gosforth) allows cars to cut across the cycle lane at speed
- lack of protection for cycle lanes (for example at the Regent Centre there is no kerb or other protection for the cycle lane and vehicles do encroach into the cycle lane – see section 8 in this link)
- some on road sections are still fairly busy streets (for example Christon Road and Moor Road – see section 3 in this link)
- there is also varying quality of park routes / shared space. The route across the Little Moor (see section 4 in this link) functions well, however the section next to the Robinson Library is narrow for the number of people using it.
Despite these issues, Gosforth residents now have a reasonably fast cycle route into the city centre. Google Maps estimates the journey by bicycle from Broadway roundabout to the city to be 19 minutes (see above map) – that is only 8 minutes slower than the fastest car route without congestion (see map below). However at peak times, the cycle route is likely to be faster. In addition, the calculation for the car does not include additional time required to park.
3. Buses, taxis and motorcycles
Access for buses, taxis and motorcycles is also improved, as only authorised vehicles are now permitted to use the northern stretch of John Dobson Street (between Ridley Place and St. Mary’s Place). Authorised vehicles are public service buses, private hire and hackney taxis, emergency vehicles and motorcycles. This will reduce overall traffic on this stretch and consequently reduce journey time for buses, taxis and motorcycles.
The changes may also make the rest of John Dobson Street less attractive as a through route for non-authorised vehicles, and this could further improve journey times for people using buses.
Cars may appear to lose from this scheme, as they will no longer be able to drive through the northern stretch of John Dobson Street. However, this overlooks that only three years after John Dobson Street was originally opened in 1970, the A167(M) the Central Motorway was opened as a through route for traffic to bypass Newcastle city centre. As the map shows, the A167(M) provides quick access to destinations on John Dobson Street from both the north and the south. Access routes from the east and west of the city also link to the A167(M).
One concern that was raised about the closure is that it could impede access to the Royal Victoria Infirmary and the Civic Centre. However, as the map on the left shows, the A167(M) Central Motorway is a quicker and more natural access route for the RVI via the Claremont Road junction. This junction could also provide access to the Civic Centre. There is also good bus and metro access to these destinations and emergency vehicles will not be affected by these changes.
Another factor which must be considered with regard to car usage of John Dobson Street is that Newcastle City Council is legally required to reduce levels of nitrogen dioxide within the city centre as the city centre is one of Newcastle upon Tyne’s two Air Quality Management Areas (the other is the South Gosforth AQMA). It is particularly welcome that Newcastle City Council is taking steps to address this issue in light of the recent High Court Judgement against the UK government with regard to air pollution.
A Street Worthy of John Dobson?
One of the great ironies of Newcastle upon Tyne city centre is that John Dobson, architect of Grey’s Monument, Grey Street and other buildings of Grainger Town, was commemorated with one of the ugliest streets in the city, a product of the same wave of redevelopment that destroyed some of his own buildings, including the Royal Arcade.
John Dobson’s work in Grainger Town continues to form vibrant streets that remain the heart of the city, and it feels fitting that this new redevelopment has humanised the undistinguished street that otherwise does not deserve to bear his name.