“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.

Highways schemes approved by Council

More minor highways improvement schemes have been approved under the York Councils delegated ward budgets.

They are located in the Dringhouses, Fulford and Osbaldwick wards. A list can be viewed by clicking here

The process and method of prioritisation of the use of the £1 million available budget is obscure. No comprehensive list of the improvements approved and implemented in each part of the City has been published on the Councils web site. Requests for improvements to footpaths and roads in the Westfield area have produced little response.

Even in Fulford, where funds are being allocated, some may wonder whether an investment in replacing opaque panels in local bus shelters might have deserved some consideration? Instead two prominent shelters look shabby or are overgrown by vegetation.

It is a similar picture on the west of the City.

The delegation of funding decisions to local communities is a step in the right direction but currently allocation processes look to be a combination of patrimony and chance.

Government announce funding for York transport schemes

City of York Council has been allocated £658,350 to support more active travel across York and the many residents who are choosing to walk and cycle more throughout the city’s COVID recovery.

No new bridge for cyclists crossing the river Ouse on the A1237 (not enough money) but the Council says it can widen the existing cycle path (!)

The Government’s Active Travel Fund is designed to support walking and cycling as a long-term method for commuting. To receive any allocation from the fund, the council must carry out wide reaching engagement on a variety of proposed schemes to inform designs for people-centred transport infrastructure and more active travel opportunities for residents.

There is likely to be some scepticism about the Council choice of schemes (see below). It’s plan for a cycle path from Wheldrake (pop 2000) to the City centre for example doesn’t appear to have been based on any sort of cost benefit analysis.

Other villages such as Dunnington (pop 3300) are closer, so cycling is likely to be a much more attractive option for commuters living in that area.

The Council has computer modelling facilities available which would allow it to prioritise, what are very scarce, resources on initiatives which will give the maximum “bang per buck”. We’ve had too many impulsive decisions in the recent past ..and too many vanity projects. Decisions need to be made with clear base line figures, milestones, quantifiable targets and proper outturn appraisals.

No plans have been announced to improve the lamentable state of the existing cycle network. Parts of the York Selby cycle path – which is not too far away from Wheldrake – is currently unusable because of surface damage

Cycle lanes are planned for Acomb Road in Holgate

According to the Council, “the consultation, which will launch later this year, will provide residents the opportunity to shape future plans and ensure that they are designed to meet the needs of local communities.  By using the consultation to develop high quality cycle routes, we can encourage more people to walk and cycle as part of their everyday travel in the city”.

This funding is the second phase of funding, following on from an initial £193,000 received in summer this year.

The Council claims that, “This second phase of funding will allow the city to build upon action taken so far this year through temporary changes to road layout and improving cycle safety, and enable the council to design and implement more permanent and wider reaching schemes to support residents with active travel opportunities across the city”.

The measures proposed to be consulted upon and delivered include:

  • Measures on Shipton Road (north of Clifton Green), linking with ongoing improvements to cycling infrastructure on Bootham;
  • Cycle lanes along Acomb Road;
  • Some city centre measures, for example a pedestrian/ cyclists crossing of Tower Street near St George’s Field;
  • Improvements to the cycle lane on the A1237 bridges over the Ouse and East Coast Main Line;
  • Cycle improvements between Wheldrake and Heslington.

Consultation will be carried out in the coming months and feedback collected from this will be reported at an Executive Member for Transport Decision Session in early 2021.

This work will be carried out in coordination with the implementation of the council’s Economic Recovery Strategy. The strategy focuses on prioritising active travel, working with bus and rail operators to ensure people can continue to use public transport with confidence and creating a more people-focussed city centre.

The council’s iTravel team will be supporting engagement across local communities and schools to better understand barriers to active travel and how this funding can improve this across the city.

York Central

Residents will wake up this morning to discover that the York central development has passed another milestone. It now has the necessary planning permissions to permit a start to be made on site.

A Public Inquiry will still be held to determine whether Leeman Road near the Railway Museum can be stopped up.

Overall the development should provide a welcome boost for jobs and homes in the City.

The Council has, however, failed to recognise the importance of “first impressions” and the practicalities of accessing the site by various modes of transport.

The proposed one way system through the Leeman Road tunnel is ridiculous. It means more congestion and a cycle ride which will be both awkward and – in wet weather – unnecessarily unpleasant.

The access from Wilton Rise is hopeless for all but the fittest cyclists and is totally inaccessible for the disabled. The promised new cycle bridge from Chancery Rise should have been incorporated in the latest planning application but no Councillor seems to have had the guts to highlight the issue.

So off to a bad start then.

Lets hope the developers come up with some solutions to these issues before the new properties are occupied.

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.

“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

£1.25 million contract let for electric charging points in York

According to the Councils web site,

the contract will cover the purchase of various EV charging infrastructure assets and associated support services. The intention is to procure £1.25M of assets and services from this contract initially, and the contract will give us to option to procure up to £5M of assets and services in the future”.

The successful tenderer was Chargemaster Limited

The Council says, “a competitive tender was carried out through the ESPO framework between 14th Aug and 4th Sep 2020.

Of the £1.25M of initial purchases, £800k will be externally funded by a successful bid to the YNYER LEP. The remaining £450k will be funded by City of York Council”.

“An Executive Decision has already been made to undertake EV infrastructure works; a record of this decision is available.

Executive approval for the required budget was made during the budget process and has already been assigned to the Transport Capital Programme.

As such, there are sufficient Executive decisions in place to permit an Officer Decision on the signing of the contract.

This reasoning has been reviewed by Legal Services and Finance who support this approach, on the understanding that purchases from the contract beyond the initial £1.25M amount will require additional decision making authorisation.

No details of the other tenders received have been published

Marygate changes – “on line” consultation starts but does anyone know?

The Council has started an “on line” consultation about the changes that they plan to make to the pedestrian/cycle route which links Scarborough Bridge to St Mary’s, Bootham and beyond.

Unfortunately very few people know about the plans or the consultation.

The background information glosses over the future of the Marygate car park.

The main area of concern relates to the possible permanent loss of parking spaces in the car park. The car park has been very popular with visitors and shoppers over recent months. It is vital for the City centre economy.

Unfortunately around 40 spaces at the car park have been unusable since the York Council coned them off in June.

Marygate car park full but empty spaces coned off by Council

The consultation document says “Marygate car park will be relined to enable a modest widening of Railway Walk”

It doesn’t say how many spaces will be lost.

There is no opportunity given on the survey to support or oppose individual sections of the proposal. Instead only narrative comments are invited.

It will be impossible to quantify these, so the final decision on the scheme will rest with one York Executive Councillor (Cllr D’Agorne)

Other aspects of the plans are likely to be less controversial.

These include

  • Construction of a shared-use, low gradient, ramp over the existing short flight of stairs from St. Mary’s to Marygate Lane to enable people travelling by bike or on foot, as well as people with mobility issues to use St. Mary’s as a preferred quiet route.
  • The improvements here will also include some resurfacing of the carriageway.
  • Introduce traffic signals at the junction of Bootham (A19)/St. Mary’s/The Drive to provide a controlled and safer crossing of and exit onto the A19 for people travelling by bike.
  • This will also benefit residents of St. Mary’s by giving them a controlled exit onto Bootham to overcome queues from inbound traffic
  • The existing nearby pedestrian crossing on Bootham will be upgraded and brought into the same control as the new signals. Three on-street car parking spaces on St. Mary’s to be removed closest to the junction to allow the stop-line to be set back into the street.

The consultation is being run by something called the West Yorkshire Combined Authority ‘CityConnect

The budget for the plans is £250,000. It would come from the Department for Transport (DfT) ‘Transforming Cities Fund’,

Subject to approval, construction work on the schemes would likely start during the winter and completed by spring 2021

More details can be found by clicking here

The consultation survey (such as it is) can be accessed by clicking here

Traffic levels and pollution still below February levels.

Latest air quality monitoring information published on the Council dedicated web site confirms that pollution levels remain at low levels in the City. Even historic hot spots like Gillygate are recording the lowest recordable level of NO2 pollution.

Latest figures in York

The Council provides a weekly commentary on air quality

The Council has not published traffic level information recently but a national study by the Travel Technology Forum suggests that vehicle use is at about 80% of pre lockdown levels. HGV movements have returned to February levels. Bus services are running but with reduced usage.

National transport use trends

Cycling activity has fluctuated. Figures suggest that use is sensitive to weather conditions.  Relatively few choose to cycle in wet weather and this may result in a further decline as winter approaches.

The latest COVID restrictions may also further reduce the number of journeys being made in the City.

The introduction of street closures in places like the Groves has had little impact on journey times. Alternative routes remain lightly trafficked.

Around 20% of the workforce remains economically inactive. This may change when the governments furlough scheme comes to an end.

In turn any general return to work, and the reopening of city centre offices, may further test the transport system in City.