Gateshead town centre road network - review of scheme
We have committed to retain the transformative changes made to road layouts and management at the north end of Gateshead town centre for an extended period.
The aim of the changes was to:
- reduce through traffic and the feeling of separation between the town centre and the quays / bridges area
- improve cycling and walking links between Gateshead, Newcastle and the Quays
- prepare for the introduction of a Clean Air Zone
- Reduce delays to buses accessing the Tyne Bridge.
The changes, introduced in July 2020, have seen a bus only lane introduced on Askew Road between the junction with West Street / Wellington Street and the Tyne Bridge, and the introduction of a parallel cycle lane.
To support this change, and prevent traffic diverting along neighbouring roads, Hills Street was also closed to through traffic and Nelson Street / Lambton Street were altered to become access only to and from Trinity Square shopping centre.
Now the new layouts will be retained for an extended period, with a review to be carried out after two years.
The council is also to carry out a review of signage to help all road users navigate the new, longer term road layout.
Gateshead had several broader objectives around its changes to road layouts:
- Air quality - as a result of traffic pollution, air quality remains an important health concern, with Gateshead and Newcastle under a legal direction to remedy breaches in air quality thresholds
- Climate change - additional action to reduce unnecessary car journeys and promote alternative forms of travel remains an important element in moving towards Gateshead's 2030 aim of being carbon neutral
- Health and wellbeing - concerns about the impact of low levels of activity on physical and mental health
- Improving pedestrian and cycle connectivity between the town centre, the quays and Newcastle to support regeneration and renewal.
Since the changes were introduced, government policy has shifted even further in favour of retaining schemes which prioritise active travel, unless there is compelling evidence to remove them.
The Government has stated that low traffic schemes introduced in the last 18 months should be retained "unless there is substantial evidence to the contrary".
We are working with Newcastle City Council to improve air quality, with a Clean Air Zone due to be introduced in summer 2022, and the changes made to Askew Road have helped to reduce traffic levels, and hence improve air quality, on the Tyne Bridge and approaches.
We will also be looking at what further changes to other roads and junctions in the town centre can be made to improve traffic circulation.
Major experimental changes to road networks within Gateshead town centre were introduced in July 2020. We used an Experimental Traffic Order, which allowed the maximum amount of flexibility to change and alter the scheme based on feedback through consultation.
A final decision has to be made on the experimental order within 18 months, and we will also consider the wider impact of the changes we made - and the funding available to invest in infrastructure.
Reasons for the scheme
In July 2020 we said we wanted:
'To create a safe environment for pedestrians and cyclists during the COVID 19 pandemic. As the country deals with and recovers from COVID 19 new challenges have arisen in providing essential works to keep the public safe.
Highway space will be used differently as we recover from the pandemic with more emphasis on walking and cycling and the reallocating of road space to support the need for social distancing'
The timing of the introduction of the scheme reflected the particular circumstances surrounding Covid 19. This had seen major reduction in levels of general traffic and, given the scale of the impact of the changes, this was judged to be an appropriate time to trial this approach.
We received over 300 responses to the consultation on the Askew Road/Hills Street closure. The main areas of objection were:
- increasing congestion and delays caused by the works (32% of comments). This response was expected because of the initial impacts of the scheme, with a number of quite radical temporary traffic management measures in place and, for a short period, the northbound A167 flyover was also closed to motor traffic
- poor signage or road markings (25%). These relate in particular to the introduction of bus lane enforcement and account for most of the more recent comments received
- a perception of additional pollution being caused due to diversion of traffic and increased queueing (14%).
Other areas of concern included access to Ochre Yards (and from this area to the Tyne Bridge), lack of adequate consultation in advance, adverse economic impacts, perceived limited benefits for cyclists, and impacts on taxis. There were also a small number of supportive comments.
As part of the consultation two online Q&A sessions were held - one specifically for residents of Ochre Yards. Following the Ochre Yards session a report considering all the suggestions put forward was collated and published on our Ochre Yards Options Appraisal page. Some changes were made as a result of the suggestions.
Assessment of impacts
Any decision on a scheme of this scale will require a balancing of various, sometimes conflicting, considerations. It is rarely possible to meet all demands, and there will inevitably be advantages and disadvantages.
Reviewing the impact of this scheme has also been made more difficult in the light of the position with Covid 19, which saw major changes to traffic patterns reflecting changing restrictions. It is likely that some changes to travel patterns, especially around work, will be more permanent, though the scale and nature of these remain uncertain.
The results from this can be summarised as:
Bus operation - The main bus operator, Go Ahead, has expressed strong support for the scheme, seeing major benefits on a corridor that is one of the region's busiest. Improvements in bus reliability and journey time have been sustained, even when traffic levels have approached normal. There continue to be high levels of abuse of the bus lane on Askew Road.
Pedestrian/cycle movement - Askew Road remains a major crossing point for pedestrians and cyclists travelling between Gateshead town centre, Newcastle and the quays and numbers are increasing.
Traffic flow - there is less traffic in the town centre core overall and northbound on the Tyne Bridge, suggesting some through traffic has re-routed but there is more traffic on Regent Street and on the A167.
Air quality - Information on air quality (NO2 concentration), for a monitoring site at Mulgrave Villas (close to the West Central Route) show a decrease in pollution levels between 2019 and 2020. However, given the impact of Covid 19 it is not yet possible to draw long term conclusions about the impact of this specific scheme on air quality.
Further predictive modelling work undertaken in response to the legal direction on air quality has found that the major restrictions on Tyne Bridge capacity, which would have caused huge disruption across the town centre area, are no longer necessary to achieve compliance with air quality thresholds.
The reduction in northbound flows across the Tyne Bridge partly resulting from this scheme is likely to be a contributor to this, although it is not possible to say definitively.
- The assessment of the impacts of the scheme suggest that it has had notable benefits, particularly for pedestrian and cycle movement at the north end of Gateshead town centre. These are, and remain, important objectives in relation to wider aims relating to climate change and health and wellbeing.
- At the same time, we recognise traffic displacing to roads elsewhere around Gateshead town centre has caused some problems, even though increases in traffic levels have been less than originally predicted.
- Improvements to traffic light phasing as a result of fewer junctions have helped with the free flow of traffic.
- Until there are significant reductions in traffic flow, junctions will continue to operate at capacity.
Making a final recommendation on issues such as this is always a balance, with the experimental scheme having delivered both advantages and disadvantages at different places and for different users. However, having taken the issues discussed above into account, we believe permanent retention of the scheme is the most appropriate recommendation.