“Act in haste, repent at leisure” time for York Council transport changes

Cycling numbers decline in York

It looks like more of the road restrictions introduced in the summer, as part of the Councils reaction to the COVID crisis, will be dropped.

The most criticised restriction – closure of Bishopthorpe Road –  was scrapped a couple of months ago, although officials are now threatening to revive the idea as part of “a review of the Local Transport Plan”.

A report to a meeting taking place next week provides an insight into how travel habits have changed in the City since COVID struck.

The most recent monitoring data, for September, shows that AM peak traffic volumes are around 80% of pre-lockdown, with the PM peak around 85% of pre-lockdown levels. Between the peaks, and at weekends, vehicle trips are down by around 5-10%. Bus use is 50-60% of pre-lockdown levels.

There is some bad news for the cycling lobby.

“Cycling levels appear to have fallen by around 30% in the peaks, whilst interpeak levels are not changed in comparison to the same period last year. It is likely that fewer people are commuting to and from work by bike or cycling to the railway station for onward travel by train, offset by higher levels of exercise/ leisure cycling”.

The report pointedly fails to comment on pollution and air quality levels in the City. These continue to be at record low levels (so probably don’t suit a doom and gloom narrative).

click to access

Several of the “emergency” schemes involved little more than putting out more traffic cones. Those in the Marygate and Monk Bar car park were largely unnecessary. The £10,000 a month taxi shuttle service for disabled people from the latter continues to run although it is little used. Most of the 40 parking spaces lost at Marygate are set to be restored as part of a new scheme to install a permanent cycle path link to Bootham.

Of the others, the report recommends

  • The temporary one way restriction on Coppergate is extended
  • The temporary cycle lane at Castle Mills Bridge on Tower Street is removed (only 3% of users are cyclists and there is an alternative, off road, route along the riverside)
  • The proposed scheme for improvements to York’s North – South cycle route is taken forward to implementation, with a proposed restriction on Navigation Road
  • The proposed scheme for improvements to cycle lanes on Bootham is taken forward to implementation, with a consultation commenced on the rest of the Shipton Road cycle lane scheme, including the element which would require changes to residents’ parking on parts of Bootham.
North – South cycle route

The Council has not heard whether its plea for funding a further tranche of works will be approved. These include the very expensive, but desirable, cycle bridge over the river and railway on the A1237 as well as some more eccentric ideas (a cycle path for Dunnington to the City centre).  

Despite the lack of obvious government enthusiasm for the Councils plans, the authority intends to spend £40,000 on further development of the ideas.

As we have said many times, one of the main criticisms of the Councils transport polices over the last 12 months has been its total insensitivity to the state of repair of the existing infrastructure.

Infrastructure is decaying

That is particularly true of cycle paths many of which are obstructed by potholes, weeds, and hedges. White lines have worn away, signage has faded and, in some cases, disappeared altogether.

It is that neglect that is limiting the expansion of walking and cycling numbers in the City.

Capital expenditure (funded by borrowing) is limited to providing or improving assets with an extended lifespan. Resurfacing existing paths could fall within that definition.

The suspicion is that the executive Councillors favour high profile vanity projects simply because they provide an opportunity for a good “Photo Op”.

The reduction in the numbers cycling is one symptom of poor prioritisation

York Council promises to treat icy cycle paths…

….but remains inactive on weeds, hedges and other obstructions

The York Council will discuss next week whether to continue a trial which is aimed at removing ice from some cycle paths.  A report says that a two tractors operated last winter brushing snow and ice for a small number of off road cycle tracks .

None of these were in the Acomb, Westfield or rural areas.

Cycle paths treated to prevent icing 2019/20

 Only a small part of the Tadcaster Road cycle path was treated. “The routes were approximately 18km & 25km long and started and finished at Hazel Court James Street (see map). The service completed 59 runs in total using 9000 litres of pathway KA, the structure friendly non-corrosive solution, and 12000 litres of Probrine, effectively a salt water brine mix”.

The cost of doing the work was £47,000.

According to the report, the City of York Council Cycle Officer says feedback from cyclists can be summarised as “the trial is a vast improvement and that they’d like it extending to other parts of the network which were not included in the trial”.

The winter was (again) relatively mild without sustained periods of sub zero temperatures.

Cyclists in the suburbs and villages will view this report with some scepticism. Once again there seems to have  been no objective attempt made to identify the needs of longer distance and leisure cyclists in west York.

Too many off road paths are impeded by weeds, thorn bushes and detritus. Several are now badly rutted. No regular maintenance inspections take place.

The York Council must start taking the needs of all cyclist seriously. Otherwise it will be guilty of posturing.

It should start by increasing the number of inspections that it undertakes.

It should also agree a routine maintenance programme covering sweeping, weed treatment and hedge cutting on off road paths.  

It must also acknowledge that periodically it will have to renew notices and refresh white lines. At the moment many of these have just faded away.

Weeds obstruct Tadcaster Road cycle path
More weeds breaking up the path surface
Thorn branches are hazard on cycle paths
Detritus on oaths which are not regularly swept
More detritus

Face mask Friday – but concern grows about Council knee jerk decisions

Face masks will have to be worn in shops from today. It remains to be seen how effective this government policy will be.

What is now clear is that some of the impulsive decisions taken a couple of months ago, at the peak of the pandemic by the York Council, have not met the test of time.

Tinkering with traffic systems without proper consultation or impact assessments was always a recipe for failure.

Crucially no attempt was made to define how success would be measured.

So how have they fared?

Bishopthore Road lane closure

This was intended to provide queuing space for shoppers. It was claimed that it would make social distancing easier.

Critics pointed to new hazards for cyclists on the contraflow lane, increased congestion & pollution on alternative routes and a missed opportunity to trial an off peak pedestrian area (10:30am – 4:00pm) approach.

The results have been disappointing with the alternative Nunnery Lane/Blossom Street/ Scarcroft Road suffering for increased congestion. Bus services have been adversely affected. There has been short cutting through residential areas like St Benedict Road where parking is also now a problem

There is little footpath queuing on the east of the shopping area. The forecourted shops on the other side have adequate space although bollards have reduced flexibility.

Verdict – scrap it

An ill considered scheme which missed the opportunity that part time pedestrianisation might have offered.

Fortunately there have been no accidents involving cyclists yet, although northbound traffic levels remain below average (as they do across the whole of the highway network)

Reduced social distancing requirements (now one metre rather than two) and the introduction of face masks should lead to this trial being abandoned. A more thorough consultation on the options for the Bishopthorpe Road area could then take place.

Bollards have not improved social distancing on Bishopthorpe Road
Problems with car parking and short cutting through the St Benedict’s Road area

Foss Bridge

One of the general traffic lanes across Foss Bridge on the inner ring road was repurposed for cyclists (southbound) . The lane had been coned off while maintenance work on the bridge was carried out in the early spring.

Most cyclists opt to use the riverside off road path. Comparatively few choose to use the inner ring road.

Verdict – retain and consult on its future

There has been little congestion on this section of the inner ring road although general travel patterns are not expected to return to pre COVID levels before September.

The cycle lane has been obstructed on occasions by delivery drivers, taxi pick ups etc. so the solution is less than perfect.

Vehicle numbers on this section of the inner ring road greatly exceed the number of cyclists

Monk Bar car park disabled spaces

The Council allocated 40 spaces at the Monk Bar car park for blue badge holders when additional access & parking restrictions were introduced in the City centre (e.g. Goodramgate). A “free” taxi service link to the rear of Kings Square is offered. The decision – like several others – was taken by the Councils acting chief executive with no prior consultation.

Blue badge holders can park on single yellow lines and park free of charge at Council car parks.

The little used taxi service is costing taxpayers £354 a day.

It appears that no attempt was made to assess the demand for disabled parking spaces at Monk Bar or for the taxi link. The Council didn’t specify the use of low emission vehicles on the taxi contract

Typically no more than five blue badge holders are parking at Monk Bar at any one time. The remaining general parking spaces are being increasingly used but the car park has yet to reach the full occupation levels seen before the pandemic. The Council has also recently allocated more on street parking spaces for blue badge holders in streets like Duncombe Place.

While the initiative was well intentioned, the Council hopelessly misjudged the demand for the service.

Verdict – revise the scheme

The number of reserved spaces can be reduced and the taxi link abandoned. Consultations can take place with disabled group representatives and traders on other options. These might include a “home to city centre” subsidised taxi service for the disabled where costs are recompensed when goods are bought.

Monk Bar blue badge spaces unused
Narrow access path at Monk Bar car park. No provision made for social distancing (see Maygate below)

Marygate car park

Around 40 parking spaces have been cordoned off. The Council claimed it was to allow cyclists to avoid joint use of the footpath (which links Scarborough Bridge to Bootham Terrace). In turn this helped to maintain a two metre social distancing zone.

The scheme was criticised when proposed because if failed to assess the effectiveness of the obvious alternative (encouraging cyclists to use the internal car park service road) which would have involved the loss of only one parking space.

There were bigger problems on other routes from Scarborough Bridge both at the north (Marygate) end of the bridge and crucially at the station itself. A narrow tunnel connects the shared cycle/footpath to Bootham Terrace.

The introduction of one metre social distancing guidelines and the use of face masks will reduce any health threat.

Observations at the car park suggest that the cycle route through the parking spaces is very little used (with some cyclists opting to use the service road anyway).

The car park has been busy on occasions but has not yet reached capacity. This may change if August is as busy as it has been in the past

Verdict – amend the scheme to allow cyclists to use the car park service road.

There is no Coronavirus heath justification for routing cyclists through car parking spaces. The break in the perimeter fence can be retained – and one place bollarded off – to allow access via the service road to Bootham Tce and Almery Garth. A ramp to St Mary’s – promised but never delivered – would be a useful for both cyclists and disabled buggy users.

The Council should sort out an acceptable route for cyclists wishing to access the route from Scarborough bridge to Lowther Tce (long term plans for the station frontage remodelling need to recognise this demand)

Conned off section on Marygate car park is little used by cyclists
No cycling when you reach the station

Highway repairs list for “second quarter” revealed

The council has published details of the footpaths, cycle routes and carriageways that it plans to resurface in July, August and September.

There is more than a little irony in some of the choices. Bishopthorpe Road – part of which is currently closed to traffic – will be resurfaced. Tadcaster Road is mentioned although this work has effectively been completed.

£408,000 is to be spent on the National Cycle Route 65. The local part of this route links Selby via York to north of Skelton. The section from Naburn to Riccall has been criticised as being virtually impassable for ordinary road bikes because fo tree root damage. It is understood, however, that this is not the section that will be reconstructed. (NB. A section of Terry Avenue is likely to be badly affected by flood prevention works over the next 2 years)

National Cycle Route 65

Path obstructions hinder social distancing

The Council has started to put signs out warning about upcoming road resurfacing schemes in areas like Tadcaster Road, Nunnery Lane and James Street.

Unfortunately some of the signs are blocking footpaths making “social distancing” more difficult.

Council signs blocking footpaths on Tadcaster Road

Some Councillors have promised to take up the issue but really a more fundamental change is needed.

Signs could be place on lampposts at a height that would inconvenience no one while being clearer to all road and path users.

Weed growth and faded signage on neglected cycle paths near A1237 at Clifton Moor

There are also increasing problems with paths being blocked by overgrown hedges while weed growth go unchecked on the path surfaces.

Social distancing difficult on the River Ouse cycle/foot path near Scarborough bridge

There are concerns that some locations, which had problems with weed growth in 2019, have again been omitted from this year’s treatment programme.

No sign of weed “die back” on Tadcaster Road cycle track

There is little evidence of “die back” on some routes despite the first treatment cycle having finished.

Overgrown hedges have blocked the footpath at Clifton Moor
Carriageway and cycle lane impeded also at Clifton Moor

Keeping cycle paths open

We’ve reached the time of year when hedge growth can begin to block cycle and footpaths. Fortunately, because many are currently working from home at the present time, domestic hedges should be getting regular attention (subject to protecting nesting birds). The lack of a green waste bin emptying service is, of course, an issue that will need to be resolved.

It is less clear what resources the Council will be able to deploy to keep on top of public hedges.

In the meantime it may be down to volunteers.

Thorn branches trimmed from cycle track entrance

We trimmed back thorn branches today from the cycle track at the top of Askham Bryan Lane. They were growing at eye height and represented a potential hazard for both cyclists and walkers.

However it is probably expecting too much to depend on a purely voluntary effort to trim overgrowth.

For some time we have suggested that there is a need to appoint a couple of Path Wardens. They  would be responsible (in summer) for ensuring that there were no obstructions for either cyclists or pedestrians. They could also fill in potholes and repaint markings while keeping signage and other infrastructure in good condition.

 In winter they could help with de-icing.

Whether the Council can rebalance its budget, when the present crisis if over, to give greater priority to maintenance issues like these remains to be seen.

In the meantime, residents should continue to report incidents where obstructions represent a hazard for path users.

Hedges – A good time to check if they need trimming

There were a lot of problems during the summer with hedges obstructing public paths. In some cases, the obstructions were caused by Council owned trees and bushes. The jury is still out on whether new processes and budget allocations announced earlier this week will result in an improvement during 2020.

Hedges on the boundary of private gardens and the public highway (including foot and cycle paths) are the responsibility of the hedge owner. Home occupiers must ensure that the highway is kept clear of obstructions at all times

Obstructions can be a significant problem for some users. The partially sighted are at a particular risk and cyclists being “swiped” by stray branches can lead to more serious accidents.

In some cases thorn buses like brambles and roses overhang paths representing an added hazard.

Thorn bush branches at eye height are a particular risk

Sadly, like the problems with damage to verges, in recent years the Council has been tardy in ensuring that hedges are cut back from paths. They do have enforcement powers which have been used in the past to force action. In extreme cases hedges have been cut back to the path line after notice periods have expired. The owners were charged for the work.

No such notices have been issued recently.

Of course, some occupiers may not be physically able to cut badly overgrown hedges. It has been suggested that this is a service area that a “not for profit” start-up could usefully exploit. There are already several local gardening companies which offer trimming services.

Even the Councils own cycle tracks were obstructed last summer

With leaves now off trees and hedges, winter is the optimum time to deal with long standing problems. This needs to be done before the start of the bird nesting season.

The Council also has powers to require its tenants to cut garden hedges as do social landlords.

We have advocated for some time the appointment of a paths supervisor who could trim back Council owned hedges and initiate action against irresponsible neighbours who cause obstructions. We hope that the Council will fund such a post in its new budget.

We hope to see some well publicised action from West Offices over the next few weeks.

Plan to grit 11 miles of York’s cycle network

New off road vehicles are set to be used to grit 11miles (18km) of York’s cycle network this winter.

If successful, the pilot could be extended across the city to help keep cyclists safer in winter conditions.

A report detailing the pilot will be taken to a public meeting on Thursday 19 September, for approval to start during the winter season between November and March.

The pilot includes using two different vehicles to grit 11miles (18km) of cycle network, using small all-terrain vehicles including a quad bike and a gator type machine.

The trial is welcome but rather distracts attention from other more pressing issues facing cyclists.

Many cycle paths in the City are obstructed

Many cycle paths are currently obstructed by overhanging hedge and tree branches. Unchecked weed growth has also reduced path widths as has the failure of the Council to systematically “edge” verges.

Perhaps the most pressing issue though is potholes. These affect some cycle lanes and many inner sections of carriageways – the surfaces most used by cyclists.

It is now 10 years since the last major programme of cycle margin maintenance works took place in the City.

The Council says that, “Popular cycle routes have been chosen for the de-icing trial, including the new Scarborough Bridge and other off road bridges too.

The introduction of the new smaller vehicles will ensure the networks are effectively gritted.  Off road cycle networks are often difficult to grit or salt because cycles don’t have the same weight or action as a vehicle tyre. Effective gritting works by vehicles driving over the grit with their tyres which beds the grit into the snow and ice.

Whilst cars or heavy vehicles generally follow the same tyre path. Cycle tyres are much thinner and therefore these typical treatments are less effective.

For the pilot, the council will hire the vehicles and if, following the pilot, the council decides to roll this scheme out across York, it will look to purchase new vehicles to the council’s fleet.

The cost of the pilot is estimated to be £42k. This will be met by the current winter maintenance budget which is £401k.

By its nature the winter maintenance budget is not predictable, in 2018/19 there was an underspend of £61k. Should this not occur in 2019/20 there is a winter maintenance contingency available of £258k, in addition to the annual budget, which could be utilised.

This pilot will not formally be part of the council’s Winter Service Plan, but will run alongside this a pilot.  After the winter the pilot will be assessed and considered for formally incorporating into the Winter Service Plan”.

Preparing for the winter season:

The council has stockpiled 3,000 tonnes of grit, which is stored in its grit barn at Hazel Court depot.

On average, crews spread around 4,500 tonnes of grit per season, over 75 road treatments (gritter runs).

Each season, crews treat eight routes across the highway, covering 365km of York’s road network, including 22km of priority footpaths and, when recourses allow, 58km of cycle network.

The decision session takes place on Thursday 19 September at West Offices from 2pm and is open to members of the public or is available to watch later online from: www.york.gov.uk/webcasts

A copy of the report can be read by clicking here

More blocked cycle and footpaths in York

We urge residents to report what appears to be an increasing number of instances of paths being obstructed by hedges in the City

The cycle path on Field Lane in the Hull Road ward is now completely blocked. Hasn’t happened overnight!

The public footpath on Hull Road outside The Elms is now completely obstructed. Potentially dangerous on what is a busy road. Pedestrians are being forced onto the carriageway.
Not a hazard (yet) but gutters in Maple Grove are choked with weeds. Verges an eclectic mix of weeds and wildflowers

The Thanet Road cycle track on the other side of the City has its share of obstructions but the main issue here continues to be litter.

Idyllic scenes on the Ouse BUT…

Cyclists will be hoping that the York Council’s announcement that £500,000 will be spent upgrading major cycle routs in the City will allow for work to be undertaken on the York – Selby path. In places, the popular leisure route has become very uneven following the ravages of winter.

River Ouse at Naburn today. Well within its banks

Snow melt has caused large ponds to form on low woodland

The cycle track is still scarred by graffiti and dumping. The Council no longer clears graffiti unless it is judged to be obscene.