We still love Gosforth High Street

It is now over eighteen months since wands were installed on Gosforth High Street as part of the Council’s response to Covid. This blog looks beyond the look and feel of the wands, focusing instead on their impact on traffic volumes, air pollution and road safety, and suggests specific actions that could be taken to help the High Street thrive in future.

Key Points

  • Traffic volumes in 2021 were 15% lower than in 2018 and 2019.
  • Less traffic means reduced noise and lower carbon emissions.
  • Air quality measurements (where we have them) show a slight improvement.
  • Road safety is improved.
  • There are opportunities for future improvements if the single-lane layout is retained. This should include replacing the temporary wands with high quality permanent materials.

A Bit of History

Pollution, safety, noise and congestion have long been concerns on Gosforth High Street.

At SPACE for Gosforth’s launch event in September 2015, we asked local residents what they thought about Gosforth High Street. The answer was that “We love Gosforth High Street, but …

On the plus side, people listed the High Street’s role as a community hub, with good quality independent shops, pubs and restaurants. The list of “buts” was longer: noise, pollution, too much traffic, not feeling safe, parking, “Too much concrete, not enough green’’.

In 2019, we ran a Gosforth-wide survey and the answers were much the same, which we wrote up in our blog Your Streets – Your Views – Gosforth High Street. Too much traffic, poor air quality and noise were the top three concerns.

DEFRA have estimated that pollution, congestion, carbon emissions, traffic collisions, lack of physical activity (because high levels of traffic stop people walking and cycling) and noise, cost the UK billions of pounds each year. We wrote about this in our blog Billion Pound Issues on Gosforth High Street.

Traffic Volumes

At the end of 2021 traffic volumes were 15% lower than in 2018 and 2019. This is despite the ongoing roadworks on the A1 and warnings in late 2020 that across the city traffic levels were back to pre-pandemic levels and could get worse.

Less traffic is generally a good thing. It means safer streets, less pollution, less carbon emissions and less noise, making it more pleasant (or at least less unpleasant) for people to stop and shop on the High Street. Moving vehicles away from the pavement to a single lane in towards the middle of the road further reduces noise levels for people shopping on the High Street.

Average Daily Traffic by Month and Year 2018-2021, on Gosforth High Street

Air Pollution

Air pollution levels improved dramatically in 2020, mirroring the reduction in vehicle traffic. The graph below shows pollution levels at the north end of Gosforth High Street by Woodbine Road, usually the most polluted part of the High Street. In 2020, all measurements on Gosforth High Street were within legal limits. Air pollution measurements for 2021 haven’t yet been published.

Traffic volumes in 2021 were similar to late 2020 so it is possible air pollution levels will have remained just under the legal limit. This would be substantially better than previous years, including 2017 when Gosforth High Street was the most polluted street in Newcastle.

Air pollution levels measured at the north end of Gosforth High Street

If air pollution measurements in 2021 are less than the legal limit, the Council would be bound by the Air Quality Standards Regulations 2010 to “ensure that [pollution] levels are maintained below those limit values” in future.

Road Safety

There have been substantially fewer road traffic collisions on Gosforth High Street since the wands were introduced. The bar chart below shows recorded collisions between Elmfield Road and Regent Centre before and after the wands were installed.

Road Traffic Collisions on Gosforth High Street before and after the wands were installed.

The one serious injury in 2021 was by Regent Centre where a ten year old boy was struck by a driver in a Land Rover. This was in the section with two lanes heading north and a 30mph speed limit. SPACE for Gosforth has previously proposed the 20mph speed limit is extended north to past Gosforth Academy to be safer for school children crossing the road.

Opportunities

Returning to the pre-pandemic layout would be a significant backwards step, making Gosforth High Street more dangerous, more polluted and increasing carbon emissions.

Safety could be further improved by extending the single-lane 20mph layout to north of Gosforth Academy, and by setting vehicle lanes to be no wider than 3m.

The look and feel could be improved by replacing the temporary wands with high quality materials similar to the Grey Street proposals, including planters where there is space.

Continuous all age & ability protected cycle lanes & cycle parking would increase the people-moving capacity of the High Street and make it safer and easier for people to cycle to the shops. Most of Gosforth, Kenton, Jesmond and High Heaton are within a 15 minutes cycle ride of Gosforth High Street.

Decluttering the pavements, adding more planting and benches, and creating a continuous pavements over side roads would make the High Street more accessible and more pleasant to use on foot. With cycle lanes added, the existing bollards on the pavement could be removed adding 60cm to the width of the pavements.

Crossings by Regent Centre could be improved by removing the central ‘sheep pen’ so people walking can cross in one go. We have also previously proposed moving the crossing by Elmfield Road 70m south to be between Elmfield Road & The Grove.

Street ends could be pedestrianised like by Woodbine Road to create additional space for events or for more seats or planting. For example, Trinity Square could be extended across West Avenue and/or Ivy Road.

Even with these changes, there would still be a vast amount of space allocated to vehicles on and around Gosforth High Street. Some consideration could be given to whether this could be put to better use, either temporarily, for example for a street market, or more permanently.

Google Earth picture showing the huge area taken up by vehicles on or near Gosforth High Street

10 thoughts on “We still love Gosforth High Street

  1. Gillian Wright

    Gosforth High Street would definitely benefit from less traffic – but the bus fares are ridiculously high, so unless you reduce fares, people will still use their cars as it’s cheaper.

    You’re very naive looking at the number of cyclists who use the High Street. All that money is wasted on them. On my visit last week, I saw TWO cyclists only; one big guy was ON THE FOOTPATH & one lady was on the road.

    Most of the heavy traffic is buses. Why isn’t Regent Centre used as a terminus where passengers can hop onto a frequent, free bus into Newcastle? This would then mean a LOT less traffic on the High Street.

    How are you going to clean the sides of the roads if you’re blocking them off?

    You need to have repeat speed limit signs on the roads to reinforce them. This reminds drivers to be extra careful whilst driving too, not just to stay within the limits.

    Reply
    1. TW

      Most cyclists avoid Gosforth High Street if they can because the wands force the cyclists to have to use the same lane as the traffic and this is both dangerous and intimidating. If the high street had a segregated cycle lane it would see a lot more use by cyclists (and if there were less vehicles maybe pedestrians too). You need to stop thinking that it is all about the car.

      The bus services need to be coordinated so that every private bus company doesn’t try to run every service they have down the high street. We need control of the buses like they have in London and Manchester.

      Reply
    2. SPACE for Gosforth Post author

      Hi Gillian,

      Thank you for your comment.

      We’ve seen more people cycling on the HIgh Street but agree that numbers are low still, including for the reasons TW mentions in his/her comment. If a safe route separate from traffic was provided this would definitely change. Currently between Hawthorn Road and Salters Road there is no separate provision.

      There are about 600-700 buses passing through the High Street every day so that is a lot but compared to 15,000+ total vehicles it’s not an awful lot. It was a bit out of scope of the blog but the main reason Regent Centre isn’t used as a bus terminus is because we have privatised bus services in Newcastle. The Council is working on a bus partnership and integrated ticketing which might improve this.

      I don’t really understand the question about cleaning the side of the roads. Woodbine Road is blocked off and there aren’t any cleaning issues we are aware of.

      Reply
  2. david mayne

    The current system is very dangerous for cyclists: At several points they are forced out into a single lane of traffic because of the positioning of the wands (designed to make the footpath wider, but actually resulting in making a space which isn’t used by anyone!). Wht is it not possible to make clear safe cycle lanes the length of the High Street?
    In the blog, the comments about air pollution are not correct: No figures are given for readings in 2021 (only in 2020 when traffic levels were much lower due to lockdown measures). The fact that traffic volumes may be 15% lower does not equate automatically with reduced pollution, as currently most of those vehicles are taking much longer to travel the length of the High Street, therefore emitting more (rather than less) fumes during their journey. I would like to see some up to date fugures. My impression is that pollution seems worse, due to large amount of virtually stationary traffic.

    Reply
    1. SPACE for Gosforth Post author

      Hi David, thank you for your comment.

      We agree on the cycle lanes. It would definitely be possible to provide separate space for cycling on the High Street.

      Official pollution figures for 2021 won’t be published until ~October so we have published all that is available in the public domain. Volume of traffic isn’t the only factor in pollution but it is quite an important one, and pollution levels after the wands were installed in 2020 were still much lower than in previous years.

      Reply
  3. Emgee

    The focus on the High Street is becoming annoying. Does anyone wonder where the traffic has gone? The answer is Broadway West and Kenton Road. Traffic volumes and pollution have increased massively. So not such a success story after all.
    So rather than slapping themselves on the back congratulating each other. Space for Gosforth need to look at the big picture and come up with a plan that works for everyone in Gosforth.

    Reply
    1. SPACE for Gosforth Post author

      Hi Emgee,

      We’re aware you’ve made this comment before. We do have some thoughts for how to improve Gosforth more widely which we’ll publish when we get time.

      Please feel free to email in any suggestions you may have.

      Reply
      1. Emgee

        You asked for suggestions, here goes:
        1. Adopt a Tyne & Wear whole area approach.
        2. Put in place a realistic ULEZ as in London covering the whole of T&W.
        3. Introduce a flat rate fare for buses in T&W as per London.
        4. Phase in 100% new buses with low emissions technology.
        5. Have more 20 mph speed limits and increase the policing of speed limits using technology.
        I have also emailed these suggestions.

        Reply
  4. Michael Robinson

    I would suggest that detailed research is undertaken to understand why so many people drive from outside the Newcastle City Limits along GNR at rush hour mornings and evenings.
    Where have they come from?
    Where are they going?
    Why are they in a car as opposed to bus or on a bicycle?
    What would make them use a bus or bicycle?

    As for the High Street, it would be a good idea to ask the business owners what they would like for the High Street to ensure their businesses prosper.

    Currently the High Street looks a mess.

    I agree that the Regent Centre should be a bus hub/terminus and restricted to electric or hydrogen buses.

    Reply
    1. SPACE for Gosforth Post author

      Hi Michael, thanks for your comment.

      That’s an interesting idea for a study. Are you aware of anywhere that has done this before and what conclusions did they reach? There is plenty of research on what influence’s people’s choice to walk, cycle, drive or take the bus and it is reasonably well understood how to reduce traffic levels.

      Definitely the business owners (if they want to be) should be involved in any discussion on the future of the High Street.

      Reply

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