Reactive response to queries
Askew Road and the associated town centre road changes were introduced to trial changes to the road system to improve traffic flows and enable active travel in the area.
An added benefit was the improved environment for walking, cycling and public transport it provided. Building on the changes we have made already, improved technology and the charged CAZ it now looks like we will not need to reduce the lanes on the bridge to comply with the air quality direction and we are now considering what we need to do to manage the traffic in our town centre accordingly. We will finalise our approach in time for the agreement of the final business case in September.
Introduction of temporary road restrictions in town centre in July 2020.
We introduced the temporary road restrictions in the town centre last year, funded by the government, who were encouraging us to bring forward temporary measures to improve cycling and walking when social distancing was in place and people were not able to use public transport. We were keen to trial the measures while the roads were quieter than usual.
A video is available which explains what we were doing, and the measures we introduced were further analysed during the consultation.
The scheme was consulted on via experimental traffic order legislation which enabled us to introduce the measures quickly but also allowed us to be flexible in altering and changing them in response to consultation.
Two online question and answer sessions were held as well as the consultation, and a report is available which details which suggestions were taken on board and which were discounted and why.
The scheme has been operating in its amended state since autumn last year.
What has happened
The period since the implementation has seen conditions continue to evolve. During this time lockdown measures have changed in a number of ways, the way people live, work and shop has changed - probably permanently - and how people travel has changed. In addition, our plans for the quays and town centre have moved forward.
We have tried to monitor against the changing background and have found the following:
- more people are cycling across the North East and the numbers did not fall off significantly despite changing weather
- less traffic is travelling through the centre of Gateshead
- traffic levels on the western section of Askew Road have significantly reduced
- traffic levels northbound over the Tyne Bridge are less than pre covid levels and are showing less growth than other major routes.
- the Askew Road bus route has made bus travel quicker and more efficient.
- it's easier to get out of Ochre Yards and for people to cycle and walk across the junction at the exit
Why did we do what we did?
The way we made the changes gave us the maximum amount of flexibility to change things and react to comments.
We believe that we need to keep these arrangements in the longer term to manage the amount of traffic and congestion in our town centre and tackle air quality.
We also need to think about what else we need to do to break the ring of concrete around our centre and tackle the climate emergency. We want to ensure more people can shift to more sustainable forms of transport and simplify the number and complexity of junctions so we can manage traffic flow better.
What we are doing now
We are finalising the air quality business case and this will be agreed by cabinet in September.
We have obtained funding to keep the Askew Road and Hill Street measures more permanently.
We are reviewing the monitoring we have done over the last six months or so and all the comments we received at the time and subsequently and are now proposing to implement the Askew Road scheme more permanently and keep it in place for the foreseeable future.
Why are you keeping the cycle lane on Askew Road - nobody uses it to cycle?
We recognise that the Askew Road cycle lanes are not yet well used by cyclists. However we believe the temporary look and feel of the scheme does not encourage use, and we need to signpost how it connects to the wider area.
As development and activity in the Quays increases this lane will provide a more direct route to reach this area.
In addition, the closure of Askew Road to heavy traffic has seen cycle use in Wellington Street and Hills Street become easier, and crossing the junction from West Street over to the High Level Bridge is much easier and safer and is getting well used, especially at rush hour.
If we can design a more permanent scheme this will help it to be better used and navigated.
The changes to Askew Road also improve our bus routes significantly and have been welcomed by bus operators.
We have recently granted planning permission for the conference centre and arena and obtained funding for changes to the routes to the quays from our town centre. The Askew Road changes help to make a pleasant and easily navigated route from our public transport interchange to the conference centre.
Why is this needed if the Tyne Bridge isn't going to be reduced down to one lane now?
One of the reasons we no longer need to reduce the bridge down to one lane is because the amount of traffic going over it is projected to reduce. The closure of Askew Road has meant many of those who used the route to pass through are now using alternatives. If we re-open the route then we risk traffic returning to previous levels and it being used as a through route.
How can this help air quality, surely it just moves the problem?
The direction from government has forced us to focus on the Tyne Bridge and therefore look at Askew Road. We know in the short term more people have been using their cars as we emerge from lockdown and it will be a few months before we know how people's travel habits have changed. It has therefore been difficult to assess what a permanent solution to our town centre issue may be.
Until there is a significant change in people's relationship with their cars we will just keep moving the problem. We will work with partners to look at what more we can do to reduce congestion and improve the centre but that needs to be considered alongside all we are doing to encourage people out of their cars and back to less environmentally damaging options.
Isn't this just about raising revenue for the council from the bus lane camera on Askew Road?
We have done all we can to ensure people are not caught out in the bus lane and the more permanent scheme will enable us to make further changes to make it better still. Revenue is not the reason for this enforcement measure.
The Traffic Penalty Tribunal Adjudicator has endorsed our approach, rejecting all appeals to date against fines for using the bus lane.
The Askew Road scheme helps us link the town centre with the quays and improve our bus routes. We know we need to make some bold changes to our town centre to create a centre suitable for all the visitors we will have, for the climate and to fit with changing lifestyles.
Haven't you made use of the temporary legislation to introduce measures you knew would be unpopular? Surely you need to consult more before it's made permanent?
The scheme we introduced was a temporary trial of something we thought we may need to do. There are always pros and cons to changes of this kind but, on balance, we think it has been a success and by using the experimental order it enabled us to change things based on feedback we received. We know we need to make some bold moves to get the town centre we need for the future.
We have not seen or heard anything to suggest that we should pull the scheme out and go backwards, so we are aiming to keep the scheme for the longer term. What we hope is people will send us their ideas of what else we should do to improve how people travel and secure the future of the town centre.
The roundabout at Bensham Road / Charles Street is now really congested. What are you going to do about that?
We know there is more to do to improve our town centre roads but we need to use the next few months to gain an understanding of how people's lifestyles and shopping habits have changed. We are looking at the roundabout and other junctions in our town centre to consider how the area will need to be used in the future. There has been congestion in the centre of Gateshead for many years and we will never fix that issue unless we persuade people who can stop using their cars for short journeys to do so. We also need to discourage vehicles from using the Tyne Bridge as a through route.