Council’s consultation confusion

It seems that the York Council is pursuing a policy of overkill with many and various public consultations currently underway.

There is already some scepticism among residents about whether it is even worth responding to the Council’s questions. A recent survey found that the majority of respondents didn’t want to see any major change to traffic signal arrangements at the St Leonard Place/Bootham junction. The views were largely ignored when a decision on changes was shelved until the autumn.

Meanwhile, the ill timed (but well intentioned) Groves experimental traffic scheme is still in operation and attracting comments. It was implemented at the height of the pandemic when streets were virtually free of traffic. It is likely to be 6 months before a “new normal” is established and the true impact of the road closures becomes apparent. In the meantime ambulances and other emergency vehicles are forced use an unnecessarily longer route.

The Council is now trying to promote it’s ” My City Centre” survey.

With the York City centre beginning to get back to normal a cautious approach to change is needed.

It says the questions are aimed at shaping “a people-focused, business-friendly city centre where people love to spend time, live and work“. You can complete the survey visit My City Centre York.

There is more than a sneaking suspicion that the questions simply replicate the Castle Gateway approach which started in 2018. There a seemingly endless stream of questions were apparently aimed at wearing down non conformist opposition.

The best test of the voracity of any survey is whether it offers the status quo as an option!

The Council has had little option but to start consultation again on its Local Plan.

Planning inspectors have asked for the six-week consultation period before examining the plan at public hearing sessions later this year.

The consultation will ask for comments on additional evidence and modifications submitted since the ‘Phase 1 hearings in 2019’, including the recent submission of the Green Belt Topic Paper Addendum (2021).

To have your say, visit Local Plan Consultation. The consultation will end at midnight on Wednesday 7 July 2021.

Consultation on “York’s Community Woodland” finished yesterday. It ran for over 6 weeks without managing to answer key questions about how much each of the options would cost and where the funding would come from.

Another consultation which closed on 11th May relates to changes to recycling arrangements. The proposed 3 weekly collection system attracted one of the highest response rates ever seen. Whether the Council decides to go ahead with the changes, despite the concerns raised, may be the defining moment for the present Council. A decision is due on 24th June.

Other current consultation ca be found by clicking this link

“Unsafe” Groves traffic scheme set to drag on

One of the consequences of the City moving into Tier 4 restrictions, as it is expected to do following an announcement tomorrow, may be that progress on some traffic schemes will be delayed.

This could affect The Groves traffic restrictions which were introduced using a temporary (experimental) traffic order last summer. The expectation was that a decision would be made early in 2021 about whether – and with which features – the scheme would be made permanent (or abandoned). However, further restrictions on movement, because of the pandemic, could mean that no stable traffic pattern will be established until well into 2021.

One of the criticisms of the scheme, which was rushed into operation following a meeting last June, was that the area had already become largely devoid of through traffic as a result of changes in the local economy.

Safety concerns remain.

The Council, in response to a Freedom of Information request in October, said, “Stage 1 and Stage 2 Road Safety Audits were not undertaken for this scheme due to its experimental nature. The project team discussed the design with road safety officers to get their input as the scheme was developed.  
Once the initial adjustments to the scheme are completed, a Stage 3 Road Safety Audit will be undertaken”.

The adjustments were made some months ago but there is still no sign of the promised safety audit.  

As well as obvious concerns, such as unmarked contra flow cycle routes, there are other issues to be addressed.

Not least of these, is access for emergency vehicles. Moveable bollards are promised as an option if the scheme becomes permanent but any decision on that is fading into the distance.

The high level of demand for ambulance services, as the pandemic tightens its grip, means revised arrangements are needed sooner rather than later.

One concerned resident has now written to the Council detailing several safety failings on the existing scheme. Issues highlighted include a requirement for all traffic exiting Penley’s Grove Street to turn left and use the Monk Bridge roundabout to complete a U-turn. An unnecessarily dangerous manoeuvre for cyclists (who may well be tempted to ignore the restriction).

In total, the resident has identified over a dozen locations where the provided signs do not meet current national regulation standards or where ad hoc bits of street furniture represent potential hazards for users.

Hopefully,  2021 will bring a more measured approach to changes to the City’s transport systems.

Council failed to monitor key aspect of Groves traffic scheme

After several attempts, responses to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests have confirmed that the Council had not established key base line data measurements before implementing The Groves traffic ban in the summer.

Although never formalised, those favouring the changes argued that rerouting “through traffic” onto neighbouring roads would;

  1. improve air quality
  2. reduce traffic levels and thereby accident numbers
  3. make the area “quieter”
  4. encourage cycling/walking
  5. utilise time limited central government funding grants

At the time of the decision to press ahead with the scheme (June 2020), the area had been virtually traffic free for 3 months because of the lockdown restrictions.

One of the consequences of lower economic activity has been greatly reduced pollution levels during 2020. The table below shows the current situation.

click to access latest figures

No noise measurements have been published, for streets within The Groves area, by the Council.

A response to an FOI request a few months ago revealed that accident levels have been very low within The Groves area during the last 3 years.

The Council has admitted that it doesn’t have any base line air quality measurements for the streets within The Groves area. Nor, apparently, is it monitoring current pollutions levels there (although, like the rest of the City, these are likely to be very low – see above).

The Council is also being very coy about what traffic volume information it holds. Traffic flow information for 2019 – when the plans were first discussed – should, in our view, have been published.

Similar benchmark information for June 2020 (post pandemic) should also have been published to inform decisions at that time.

Such figures as have been made public concentrate on the capacity of the nearby diversionary routes.

The Council is refusing to release information about movements within the Groves area raising, at least, a suspicion that it hadn’t completed counts. It now says that it will release information in June 2021.

The most concerning aspect of this whole process has been the lack of any safety audits. The Council has promised that a stage 3 audit will be completed. But it doesn’t say when.

In the meantime the hazards – particularly for cyclists – remain and will grow as movements return to more normal patterns.

Unsegregated contraflow cycle routes represent a safety risk

We could use the FOI appeal processes to try to force the Council to publish the details it holds on internal modal travel patterns for the periods before the traffic ban was introduced.

It would have no practical effect unless backbench Councillors were prepared to challenge the system. This they don’t seem to be prepared to do.

We must just hope that some of the more perverse aspects of the scheme don’t lead to more avoidable accidents during the run up to next years review.

Tinkering with traffic schemes in York

The new lockdown arrangements will alter once again traffic flows in the City.

The changes will affect the monitoring of schemes like The Groves, where the Council have so far been unable to produce before and after figures for air pollution and congestion.

A review of the scheme was promised early in 2021.

Very low traffic levels on Penley’s Grove Street during first lockdown

The effected streets were – like many in other parts of the City – virtually deserted during the first lockdown. Alternative routes have also been quiet since the beginning of the year.

Now the Council has formally changed the The Groves restrictions twice in the space of 7 days.

As no figures have been shared with residents it is impossible to judge whether the changes are justified.

However, the absence of any action on safety aspects of the scheme – including the controversial contra flow cycle routes – tells its own story.

Reopening the restricted access, at least for emergency vehicles, would also have been worth addressing as pressures on the NHS grow. .

Elsewhere, West Offices leaked a plan to the media yesterday which said that foot-street hours were being changed to 10:30am – 5:00pm during the lockdown.

There was no consultation on the proposal and no decision appears in the Councils official “on line” log. Sources say that it is aimed at making access to “takeaways” easier.

Maybe so.

But it is unclear why the revision simply didn’t reinstate the traditional footstreet hours (10:30am – 4:00pm). At least the signage for that restriction is already available!

York Central

It seems that the Council will determine the detailed planning application for the York Central site during the lockdown.

The proposal is likely to go to a public inquiry but when and how that could be arranged under the pandemic restrictions remains to be seen.

The applicants have failed to satisfy perfectly reasonable objections to transport access proposals for the site.

The Marble Arch pedestrian access

The Leeman Road tunnel (next to Marble Arch) would still be made one way with cyclists apparently expected to brave a deluge of liquid manure during wet weather.

Wilton Rise existing footbridge

Problems with the poor access for cyclists in the Wilton Rise area have also not been addressed.

Local residents – quite legitimately – are objecting to losing pedestrian access down the current line of Leeman Road as the railway museum stubbornly pursues its “annexation” policies.

Other more extreme objections have been lodged – including the impractical “no vehicles” lobby – but it is the failure of the developers to satisfy the concerns of “moderate” residents, which may lead to lengthy delays is getting this important scheme actually built.

No safety audit completed on Groves traffic scheme

Contrary to claims made on social media a few months ago, a response to a Freedom of Information request has revealed that no road safety audits were completed on The Groves road layout changes before they were introduced in the summer.

Safety audits area mandatory for changes to highway layouts. Their purpose can be viewed by clicking this link

It is without precedent in York, for a scheme of this size to be implemented without the Stage 1, 2 and 3 audits being completed.

It is of no relevance that the scheme may have been labelled as “experimental” by Council officials.

It appears that a Stage 3 (post construction) audit will be undertaken when changes to the layout have been completed. It is unclear when this will happen and what changes may be planned*.

The revelation is the most serious of several concerns highlighted by the Councils refusal to respond fully to the request for information. In due course, this may be explored further with the Information Commissioner, but the safety aspect (including the controversial unsegregated contraflow cycle lanes) may require action from Grant Shapps the Transport Minister  who has been scathing about the quality of some “emergency” traffic changes introduced post COVID. The Groves scheme was funded from the governments “emergency transport budget”

Unsegregated contraflow cycle lanes on narrow road have been heavily criticised

The Groves scheme was designed in late 2019 and so preceded the start of the pandemic.

The response also raises the question of just what the scheme was intended to achieve?

Most commentators have pointed to improvements in air quality. However, air quality across the whole highway network in York has been good since the start of February and the Council has been unable to produce any figures suggesting that The Groves is any different in that respect.

Some said that there would be fewer collisions. Accident data – mostly pre lockdown –   reveals that there were no severe accidents in The Groves area and that there were no accidents at all involving children. The severe collisions that were recorded happened on the alternative route for traffic (Clarence Street, Lord Mayors Walk, Monkgate) with most at the road junctions which are still open to traffic. Thus, the scheme may actually have increased risks on the network as a whole.

The Council has refused to reveal the pre and post implementation traffic levels in the area. There is absolutely no reason why the 2019 base figures should not be in the public domain. The Council instead promise to include the figures as part of a public review of the scheme during the first quarter of 2021.

With traffic levels currently running at about 80% of pre COVID levels, we are not expecting to see a significant impact on congestion levels on alternative routes.

The removal of “through traffic” from The Groves will offer residents who live there a quieter lifestyle. Whether it is safer or less polluted may now be open to question.

The type of closure chosen and its impact on emergency services, deliveries and local businesses has been subject to criticism

There is no good reason for the York Council to be so secretive about the scheme and it is downright irresponsible to include elements which increase hazards for road users without undertaking, transparent, risk assessments.

Recent accidents in The Groves area. May not include most recent incidents.
  • The Council has now published the changes it is making. They are;

a. Change the position of the road closure on St. John’s Crescent, to relocate it at the junction with Garden Street. Removable bollards will be installed for part of the closure to provide a secondary emergency access route to streets off Garden Street/St John Street;

b. Remove 2.4m of on street parking on St John Street (both side) near the junction with Garden Street to facilitate turning movements at the junction;

c. Change the position of the road closure in place at the junction between Neville Terrace, Park Grove and Brownlow Street, to address issues with some drivers using the alleyways between Neville Terrace, Eldon Terrace and Amber Street to bypass the closures;

d. Remove the parking bay adjacent to 25 Neville Terrace to facilitate access and egress for larger vehicles, including emergency vehicles.

2. Approve a Temporary Traffic Regulation Order (TTRO) to waive Pay & Display charges for parking areas near the shops on Lowther Street and adjacent to the local shop on Townend Street (between Abbot Street and Del Pyke) for a duration of 6 months.

Changes published by York Council on 20th October 2020

Groves traffic scheme update

Lord Mayors Walk was busy at lunchtime today as was Clarence Street. But traffic was moving.
Debris from York’s inner city riot (planter damaged by counter revolutionaries!) has been removed. A damaged road closed sign can be seen in Lowther Street
Concrete blocks have been installed on Penleys Grove Street
…and on St Johns Crescent. (Rather ugly?)
NB. The planters were supplied, on a commercial basis, by the disabled persons cooperative.
Meanwhile LEGO has been deployed at the junction of Eldon Street and Lowther Street
Contraflow cycle lane on Markham Street. In effect there is no room for a cyclist to pass a van coming in the opposite direction. Street is heavily parked up so avoidance is very difficult. Really quite an unsafe arrangement.
Haxby Road end of Markham Street. No warning about contraflow cyclists. Dead end sign no more true of this street than several others nearby.
Misleading sign on Lowther Street. Should read “no through road”. Shops and businesses are open
…and a superfluous sign on St John Road.? Hasn’t been a through route for some years.

Groves traffic scheme already looking half baked?

After the shambles of the Bishopthorpe Road closure and before it the Lendal Bridge fiasco, you might have expected that proposed major changes to the road network in York would have been handled with caution by the Council.

Planters vandalised

It appears not judging by the reaction to the road closures in The Groves yesterday. Activists even took to removing some of the physical barriers (planters) while a Press headline pronounced a (slightly exaggerated) “Gridlock” on Lord Mayors Walk..  

If gridlock is to become a reality, then it is likely to be in wet weather following a return to school and the reopening of city centre offices. It is then that the emergency services together with public transport, utilities and delivery drivers will face their greatest challenge.  

Unfortunately, without the consent of residents, changes like this will always result in confrontation.

Executive Cllr Andy D’Agorne approved a plan to limit traffic in the Groves area at a meeting held on 24th October 2019. The plan was supported by the two Labour Councillors and one Green who represent The Groves area.

Later Green Party supporters were to try to blame the LibDems for the plan using an “only following orders” from the coalition defence. In truth, the LibDem leadership stood aloof from the issue and chose to watch on while the drama unfolded.  The Tories as usual were late into the game, waiting to see how the wind blew before acquiring retrospective wisdom. The timetables attached to the Tory government transport grant offer helped to provoke the stumble.

We believe that Andy D’Agorn is a sincere man who holds passionate, albeit uncompromising, beliefs. He deserves respect for standing up for his views in a very public way. However such drive needs to be tempered with humility and a willingness to take a step back.

A decision was made by Cllr D’Agone on 22nd June 2020 to restyle the proposals as a reaction to the COVID crisis. Ostensibly he wanted a slice of the governments sustainable transport grant. Significant changes were made to the original proposals although there was no further consultation.

Very low traffic levels on Penley’s Grove Street in recent months

There was no poll which could have offered all affected residents, whether they lived in the Groves or elsewhere in the City, the opportunity to support the new plans or opt to retain the status quo.

A change of this scale should have been publicised by delivering a leaflet to every home at least in east York. It was not. Publicity relied heavily on social media.

The Variable Message Signs on York streets referred to changes in The Groves, repeating the Lendal bridge failing. Many motorists do not actually know the names of the bridges, streets and neighbourhoods that they might be driving over or through.

“On street” signage was woeful – possibly the consequence of the rushed implementation.

Sat Nav systems still direct drivers into what are now dead-end streets. A nightmare for the growing number of delivery drivers who have filled the supply void since the pandemic.

So what can be done? It is true that things will “settle down”. Police action could force drivers onto alternative routes like the already congested Clarence Street.  

If “through traffic” is to be excluded from The Groves, then a gate or rising bollard could be introduced on Penley’s Grove Street and Lowther Street. This would allow selective vehicle access for local residents together with emergency vehicles, utilities, deliveries etc.  It might be a costly system with reliability an issue but it would remove some unnecessary journey’s, and the pollution which they would generate, from neighbouring roads.

There does need to be an attempt to find a consensus solution, which could attract wide support in the City, before any more impulsive decisions are made.  

Groves area road closures start on 2nd September

The York Council, has announced today that road closures in The Groves area will start on 2nd September. The opening coincides with the start of the new school term – traditionally very busy week on the roads.

Although plans to reduce traffic in the area were widely welcomed, last minute changes to the proposals mean that there are elements of controversy. Not least among these are concerns about safety for cyclists on some of the contra flow lanes.

Some traders have also warned that there busiesses may be affected by the loss of passing trade and difficulties for delivery drivers.

The project does however have the support of the Green and Labour party Councillors who represent the area. It is to be hoped that the scheme has been better thought through than the recent closure of a traffic lane on Bishopthorpe Road.

Very low traffic levels on Penley’s Grove Street in recent months

Traffic level on the short cut routes through The Groves have, in any event, been very low since the lock-down period.

A council media release says,

City of York Council is introducing the planned trial road closures within The Groves on Wednesday 2 September.

This forms part of a local regeneration project and those who usually drive through the area are encouraged to plan an alternative route or where possible cycle or walk for local journeys. A leaflet and map of the changes is being circulated to residents and businesses in the area.

The work is part of a two-year regeneration project with residents to make the area an even better place to live. Local people have said they want better air quality, less traffic and the chance to build on the existing community spirit.

These aims support the council’s priorities of promoting sustainable travel. They also help with the need to maintain social distancing during the current Covid-19 pandemic.

All through routes in the Groves area between Haxby Rd/Clarence Street and Huntington Rd/Monkgate will be closed to traffic. Alternative routes are via the main roads surrounding the estate including Lord Mayors Walk.

The works that will be carried out are:

  • The existing closure point at Neville Terrace will be removed to allow more direct access to Haxby Road from that side of The Groves.
  • Road closure points will be introduced at the junction of Lowther Street/Brownlow Street, and on St Johns Crescent, Penleys Grove Street, Neville Terrace and Earle Street.
  • Brownlow Street and March Street will become one-way streets except for cyclists, whilst Penleys Grove Street will be two-way to allow traffic to exit onto Monkgate from this part of The Groves.

Cycle routes in all directions throughout The Groves will continue and will benefit from less traffic.

A small number of parking spaces will be removed or relocated to make room for turning points at the closures, and the existing resident parking zones will merge so that local people can park more flexibly. 

Planters will be placed at the majority of the closure points and residents will be invited to help plant them up.

The measures will be introduced over two days (1st and 2nd September). The work to introduce the measure will be undertaken under minimal traffic management.

Staff on site during the installation will be operating under social distancing guidance wherever possible due to the current restrictions with permission from the local authority to undertake this essential work at this time.

Household waste and recycling collections will take place as normal.

As with any construction work, there is likely to be a certain amount of disruption and inconvenience to the public while the closures are put in place. The contractor will at all times try to keep any disruption to a minimum.  Once the measures have been introduced, they will be monitored and kept under review and can continue as experimental for up to 18 months.

During this time, the scheme may be adjusted in response to residents’ experience and feedback. The scheme can be made permanent (subject to consideration of comments received) at any point as long as it has been in place, unchanged, for at least six months.

Residents will be able to observe the measures and reflect on how they are working, and pass on their comments to the council for review by email

There will be a public Executive Member for Transport decision meeting on the outcome of the trial after at least 6 months prior to confirming any permanent changes.

Coronavirus York updates; 22nd June 2020

Deaths and test results

It is now 19 days since anyone tested positive for Coronavirus in York. The total of positive tests remains at 462

There have been no further Coronavirus deaths at York hospital

Groves Road closures

The proposal to close through routes in The Groves area was approved today by the Green Party’s transport executive. It remains to be seen whether the decision will be “called in” for review.

Initially we expect that the closures – anticipated to be implemented within 3 weeks – will have little effect other than perhaps inconveniencing some residents who live within the affected zone (They face a longish detour for some journeys).

Some cyclists may also feel less safe when using the narrow streets with two way working also being reintroduced.

However if traffic volumes return to more normal levels in the autumn, there remains concerns about the impacts on congestion and pollution levels in the surrounding area.

Road closures in the Groves – decision tomorrow

Decisions on a whole raft of changes to traffic access arrangements in The Groves area are due to be made at a meeting tomorrow morning.

Details can be found by clicking here

Several objections to the plans have been recorded. Most come from people who live in the affected area.

Some of the objectors have pointed to a lack of clarity on what the objectives of the exercise are and what success measures will be used? The Council is understood to be using some of the money, provided by the government to help with social distancing in the post COVID period, to fund the scheme.

At present, there is very little non local traffic using roads like Penley’s Grove Street.

Little traffic on Penley’s Grove Street this weekend.

The decision will be made by Cllr Andy D’Agorne. The decision can be “called in” for further consideration by any 3 Councillors. It would then be considered by an all party committee.

Separately the York Councils over reliance on “remote” meetings, and the delegation of major decisions to a small cabal of officials and politicians, is attracting increasing criticism.

Other Council are maintaining a more open and iterative process.