Lendal Bridge traffic ban is a cynical move that will damage York

Lendal Bridge at night. Photograph: Carl Spencer on Flickr
21 Aug 2013 @ 10.41 am
| Opinion
Lendal Bridge traffic free. Photograph: Carl Spencer on Flickr
Lendal Bridge traffic free. Photograph: Carl Spencer on Flickr

nick-eggleton-headshotIn the first of two articles about the trial ban of private cars on Lendal Bridge, Nick Eggleton argues that it will harm business with no measurable benefits

The “trial” management of traffic across Lendal Bridge is built on the motives of a cabal of vested interests, a badly developed idea, with a little evidence it’s needed, no prior consultation, hidden in a fog of diversionary issues, to the benefit of non residents and with a cat in hell’s chance of being reversed.

This is a LabourYork project. One that is not something in their manifesto. There is no mandate for this. This is an example of LabourYork kowtowing to the hidden “fathers” of the city.

Let’s look for a moment at the people making this decision and supporting it for motive.

The real reason that Labour run City of York Council have decided to do this is to support the “cultural illuminati”. The people that produced a, predictably bonkers, plan called York New City Beautiful as part of their quest to Reinvigorate York on behalf of visitors and posterity, and supported by the kingmaker Cllr Merrett’s vendetta against motorists.

The “cultural illuminati” are the same crowd that years ago wanted to christen the area containing York Minster, the Art Gallery, the Theatre Royal and the Yorkshire Museum, as a “Cultural Quarter”.

The part of their vision to pave all of Exhibition Square requires a lot less traffic going through it. The solution they came up with was to divert the inner ring road along Gillygate and down Bootham and close Lendal Bridge.

The anti car, pro cycling, anti pollution brigade led by Cllr Merrett have been used to cover that vision, by claiming congestion will be eased and pollution improved. (If it was his choice he’d ban buses too as they are worse polluters than cars, but he can’t do that – yet).

Not about the footstreets

This “trial” is not about pedestrianisation and extension of footstreets as promoted in the very expensively produced leaflets. Even the mention of the closing of Deangate is a red herring.

The Minster was crumbling due to traffic vibration. So they closed it. Rightly. Lendal Bridge is not crumbling. Lendal Bridge is not being pedestrianised – it’s becoming a bus lane, as Coppergate is.

Pedestrians will have almost as busy a road between 10.30am and 5pm as at other times. Is Coppergate pedestrianised? No.

The council claim it will make buses more reliable is also nonsense. Buses in York are at most times quite punctual. The only “issue” we have in York is buses idling and spewing out fumes because they’re ahead of schedule.

When the trial begins and car traffic is diverted along Rougier Street the buses using that route will be snarled up even more. So any improvements in bus times that use Lendal Bridge will be balanced by worse reliability over Ouse Bridge.

Poor consultation

Where are the quotes from from people like York Retail Forum or the council led City Team?

Well they weren’t consulted or even aware of this “trial” until the decision had been made. So only messages of support were included by a cynically timed news piece. VisitYork’s chair was supportive, but then VisitYork is supported by the city council: Cllr Alexander and Cllr Crisp are on their board.

City Team York were informed during a meeting at 4pm on the day The Press were told. Being told they could not know earlier as “PR needed to be managed” and there were issues surrounding confidentiality.

Scandalous, patronising and staged. Even the normally supportive Chamber Of Commerce have been provoked to object to the trail.

Lendal Bridge at night. Photograph: Carl Spencer on Flickr
Lendal Bridge at night. Photograph: Carl Spencer on Flickr

What will happen?

Turning to the likely result of this hare-brained idea: Cllr Merrett informed us on Monday that: “Officers have been working with the independent Institute of Transport Studies at the University of Leeds on developing and finalising a set of monitoring criteria which will be used in assessing the Lendal Bridge trial.

“The report on this is due this week…” No benchmarking. Still to be delivered. The trial goes live on Tuesday! This is either incompetence or deliberately designed to bias a result.

What will not be measured is how businesses were affected. It is impossible for the council to measure the cost to business.

They may be able to measure decreased footfall but linking it to spend in the city centre retailers reliant on residents for sustaining jobs is not easy.

Most visitors to York spend very little in our traditional shops. Sure they spend in attractions, some cafés, restaurants and bars. But retailers rely on pounds spent by residents. Residents are being given another reason, on top of the ever increasing cost of car parking, to avoid the city centre.

What about the benefits of clean air? The environmental issue is also counter intuitive. Lendal Bridge is one of the most open clean air points in York. Ouse Bridge and Clifford Street where the traffic will be diverted too are closed in canyons and the air already dirty.

More jams

Diverting cars through “managed access” will just mean the already congested route over Ouse Bridge, past Clifford’s Tower, will add to the bottleneck where it meets traffic from Skeldergate. Madness.

The arterial road that is the eastern inner ring road and Lawrence Street will collapse into gridlock.

Any benefits to cleaner air around St Leonard’s will be wiped out by the worse air caused by increased traffic further south with congestion through Fulford or to the west where the Leeman Road area will become an even more polluted rat run as a tributary to the new inner ring road.

The already high pollution on Gillygate will be made worse by the increase in congestion.

This six month trial is a cynical use of Cabinet power by LabourYork. This project has no ‘objectives’ to measure success or failure as it is billed as part of a consultation. A trial is not a consultation. It may be semantics, but it’s actually very manipulative.

As there are no objectives, the trial cannot fail. So it will be heralded as a success and therefore will be a permanent fixture.

Ahead possibly is a further “trial” to extend the hours of managed access to 7am to 7pm to match those of Coppergate. All in order that visitors can sit in Exhibition Square, drink coffee and eat ice cream.



32 thoughts on “Lendal Bridge traffic ban is a cynical move that will damage York

  1. I have also been a victim of this highway robbery. As a driver of 45 years, visiting the City of York for the first time and enjoying it, I have to say how disappointed I was to get the dreaded brown envelope on my return home almost 3 weeks later and only just in time to avoid doubling the penalty.

    My wife who has also been driving for 37 years, was sitting in the passenger seat and neither of us saw the signage to indicate the prohibition. I would say that at the very least the notices need to be clearer, as we both missed them.
    I did write to the authorities and was told that as a visitor I would not have been aware of the local advertising campaign that preceded the ban. That’s quite correct, as we were more in awe of the City and it’s many distractions when driving through it. I am in no way a dangerous driver, my record proves that, and it still annoys me to think of what has happened.

    York hasn’t got the same allure as it did have.

  2. Just to let York council know that after being fined “twice” last year for going through the bus lane in the space of 1hr I vowed never to take me kids back to York. Take this into consideration, I spent £720 in a single weekend last year in York with my two daughters on hotels & attractions, food ect, I’ve since been to Whitby & Harrogate for weekend breaks & spent £650 & £570 on hotels & attractions, this is money York council has lost, as well as word of mouth this is damaging for a city which if we are led to believe needs money, so tell me, is giving someone a fine, a very sly fine been worth it? it appears not, I’m one of many who will not return to this city, but hey, the council knows best!

  3. The real reason for closing Lendal bridge is actually as part of the terms of sale for the old council building opposite the theater Royal. To allow then to have it as a new hotel they had to cut the traffic outside to allow vehicles to stop. Nothing to do with cutting down traffic at all, why has this not brought up?

    The inner ring road is now directed through Lower Street(residential) and Leeman road (also residential). There are little kids playing in these areas and a primary school! What are the council thinking of?

  4. Just been to York with my two daughters for a weekend, as im an only parent & money is, well scarce, it was our only break of the year, I took them around the walls & to many of York’s attractions, Dungeons, Chocolate factory ect & we stayed in a local hotel, to my utmost disappointment I have now received a fine for going across lendal Bridge & the admin charge is more than the fine, im worried that ill have to do without the baics for a couple of weeks in order to pay this fine/admin charge. Well done York City, its not all about making money, it should be about the little guy who in my case comes to your City with his children & spends what little money he has, a nice carefully planned weekend has now turned out to be an expensive & bitter one. Never mind eh, im only 1 voice, hey kids how about Whitby next time!

    1. In York on 18 and 19 November and got a penalty notice on both days! Spent money on
      B and B, eating out, local shops and York’s extortionate Car Parks. I’ve been driving 37 years and not once committed a traffic offence, so I feel the signage or more importantly the alternative route signs like “All Traffic” are just not clear enough. Feel cheated and conned by this and will definitely not be spending my money in York again.

  5. We spent a lovely weekend in York earlier this year.Visited today to shop and book another hotel.Horrible experience due to stupid closure of lendal Bridge.Didn’t stop – drove to Harrogate to shop.Back to Chester for next hotel break.The idiots who have closed the bridge have made traffic terrible and will drive spenders away from York

  6. Hmmm … what a money spinner! If the council were interested in restricting traffic I suggest they would provide more adequate signage. In reallity it appears they are interested in making money from unsuspecting motorists. In York for a weekend break that cost me more than I had planned … didn’t they have a tradition of hanging highway robbers in York? Perhaps they should reintroduce the practise for the local councillors who came up with this daylight robbery?

  7. Like the last 3 comments I too received a fixed penatly fine for driving over Lendal Bridge, didnt see any obvious signage, normally a bus lane is marked BUS LANE actually on the road in front of you and its normally during rush hour traffic, not 2.38pm. York council must be making some serious money from this. Great stay in York, won’t be rushing back though.

    1. Never before in the field of traffic management, has so much been owed, by so many to so few! (Sorry Sir Winston)

  8. got to york city sunday 29 sept looking forward to our one night stay at the guy fawkes inn took about an hour to find it as well as the car park,for first time visitors as in any city the road systems are baffling.Enjoyed york so much was planning to go back for a longer stay until a brown envelope arrived this morning with a fixed penalty notice for crossing lendal bridge bus lane,What a Joke.Our first and LAST visit to york.

  9. in york for the weekend, just got a fixed penalty notice for crossing lendal bridge, what a con, I can’t remember seeing any bus lane signs, the road just looked normal access, the photo shows cars in front and behind me.

    what a con the council must be making a mint, ruined a good weekend in york, you can stuff your city last time you’ll see me.

    how can this be justified

  10. Having spent over £17 to park in the Castle car park I also got a PCN for crossing Lendal bridge. York is just too expensive for me. The signage on the approach to the bridge is poor & mis-leading. The only way I have to protest is not to visit again.

  11. I sympathise with retailers in York I am a retailer in Canterbury Kent where our batty council did almost the same. Stating air quality would improve it didn’t it was pushed to another area … Too much for me to write here please check websites in Facebook get Canterbury moving and CITA please also check the Kentish gazette or check westgatefail in twitter… Please fight back we are… This was done for stagecoach bus company to run huge buses around the Westgate towers pushing car drivers and our customers to other towns …. Email me if you need any further information by the way who are your bus company… Good luck Debbie Barwick

  12. I wish you all luck. Goggle Get Canterbury Moving, we have suffered a year of complete gridlock in Canterbury,the result was that our County Council had to intervene to halt the “trial” Our City council even with all the evidence would not accept the damage done and wanted to extend it for a further 6 months.
    Even today we are still fighting their irrational struggle to reintroduce it.
    Contrary to their stated claims that pollution went down by 50% (Because of that particular lie the Transport supremo is being questioned by a Scrutiny committee) We had a residential area pushed into breaching the European recommended maximum levels. Please look at the last 18 months of our local papers if you want to see just how bad things got. Don’t let your Council rail road you into gridlock.

  13. We have the same thing in Canterbury, year long traffic ban on cars going through Westgate Towers and closing off a major road into the city – absolute chaos. On the pretext of ‘clean air and protecting the Westgate Towers’. Not true, Stagecoach have bought huge buses and they won’t fit through the archway so traffic lights were installed so they could operate a one way system around the side of the towers.
    Public meeting called by local paper Kentish Gazette for Tuesday 24th September – huge amount of concern.

  14. Oh! joy… As a York resident and driver who frequently uses Park and Ride ..what a treat not to have alight the bus and negotiate the overflowing traffic island outside the museum gardens to cross into Lendal.

  15. Not sure where we’re misunderstanding here. The studies shows clear evidence for significant reduction in traffic volumes. The Council have been clear about publishing their predictions of where the remaining redistributed traffic will go. I assume you can find this yourself. The studies also show that predictions of chaos – which I think is the real claim you’re making (‘a quart in a pint pot’ etc) – are usually unnecessarily alarmist.

    So the question remains: what alternative could possibly stand a better chance of achieving a reduction in traffic of 10% – 15% (could even be more! of course we don’t know, that’s the whole point of doing the trial!) without causing chaos. Which is what all the available evidence suggests will (and won’t, respectively) happen. If you can come up with an alternative that could manage all this, and in addition doesn’t get motorists all worked up in anticipation, then you have really achieved something!

    Fact is, transport planners have been struggling with these questions for decades, and have done huge amounts of quantitative research and studies. They’re not the fantasist anti-car mob you try to write them off as. I appreciate that this may be inconvenient for you. For instance, the issue about “all the car drivers are wannabee-Clarksons, chugging their way 500 yards to the paper shop and back” – well, there are such things as the National Travel Survey, which tells us things like 40% of all trips under two miles are made by car, and the Social Attitudes Survey which tells us that on average, respondents reported making five journeys of less than two miles by car in a typical week. So if we’re going to reduce traffic, this is the nut we’re going to have to crack.

  16. Actually what I said is even if the Lendal Bridge closure results in the average drop in car use on that specific route that the report indicates (10.6%), that still leaves 89% of the existing traffic to swell York’s other already congested roads: a point you resolutely refuse to accept, even though it is the conclusion of the peer-reviewed paper you base your argument on.

    Oh, and Lendal Bridge was closed to traffic for one month in 1978 for maintenance (at the time of catastrophic floods in York) – do I really have to list the reasons that that is not an adequate model to predict the consequences of the current plan in 2013? Snatching that single figure out and brandishing it is really amusingly blatant cherry-picking…

  17. The old “it’ll be different here” argument – no matter how wide your evidence base people will always try to find some reason why this is a special case. Even if a temporary closure of York’s Lendal Bridge is itself one of the case studies (incidentally reporting traffic levels down 15.9%!)

    If you acknowledge that it’s entirely likely that a significant proportion of the cars “won’t come” and that any resulting redistribution is likely to be far less disruptive than expected, as the study showed (pretty damn robustly), then I’m not sure what we’re disagreeing about. And you’ll surely agree that there’s everything to be gained from doing the trial!

    If anyone else has got an alternative plan which would reduce traffic levels by around 15%, which has been shown not to cause massive disruption, and will do all this without upsetting anyone, then I’m just one big ear! (I expect Councillors would be too)

  18. But nothing in the paper contradicts what I have said, in fact it supports my case. (Perhaps you need to read the links you post more carefully?):

    I said that a ‘small percentage’ of journeys won’t get made. The report’s authors agree: that on average 10.6% of journeys don’t happen. Now, we can quibble about whether this counts as ‘small’, but it doesn’t change my assertion that a significant proportion of the traffic from Lendal Bridge will be diverted elsewhere, causing knock-on congestion (as York City Council themselves acknowledge).

    The authors of the paper acknowledge that their result is based on a huge variety of road closure schemes and that every case is different. Many of their 70+ case studies from 11 countries are not in the least bit comparable to the Lendal Bridge closure. Some were temporary as a result of roadworks, some were ‘pedestrianisation’ schemes analogous to the closure of the footstreets in York (NOT comparable to the closure of an arterial route), a large number were in London or other major European cities with planned and regulated public transport systems, some were the introduction of bus lanes alongside existing roads.

    If you were to strip out all the cases where obviously favourable factors not present in York were at play, there’s every reason to believe that the Lendal Bridge closure will fall at the least optimistic end of the scale, quite possibly well below their 10.6% median figure. But even if 10.6% is achieved, the question still remains: what will happen to the remaining 89.4% of the traffic?

    It’s interesting research, but it doesn’t show what you want it to show.

  19. Dave – I gave a link to a study by respected academics. Can you supply any reviewed quantitative evidence to back up “everyone with the slightest experience of the road network knows…”?

    It’s precisely to solve questions like this that people invented science and statistical analysis. Just saying “I reckon…” doesn’t cut it!

    There’s a great and highly relevant paper that reviews over 70 case studies and collates opinion from over 200 transport professionals worldwide – called “Disappearing Traffic: The Story So Far”

    “Reallocating roadspace from general traffic, to improve conditions for pedestrians or cyclists or buses or on-street light rail or other high-occupancy vehicles, is often predicted to cause major traffic problems on neighbouring streets…. The findings suggest that predictions of traffic problems are often unnecessarily alarmist, and that, given appropriate local circumstances, significant reductions in overall traffic levels can occur, with people making a far wider range of behavioural responses than has traditionally been assumed.”

    – these people know what they’re talking about, Dave. Can you give any reason why we should believe you over them?

  20. The faith that anti-car campaigners place in the simplistic notion that ‘if you build roads, cars will come. If you remove roads, cars will stop coming’ (or any one of the different sloganistic formulations that you hear among such circles) is alarming.

    Everyone with the slightest experience of the road network knows that it’s not true and it’s not even a ‘rule of thumb’; used as a general rule it’s complete nonsense. It is possible to cite endless contrary examples for every class of road. It all depends on the particular demand of a given road, the nature of the journeys that people are making, and – crucially – in the alternative routes available as well as a whole host of other factors.

    At the end of the day, York has a finite capacity on its existing road network. If you shrink it by needlessly closing arterial routes you will increase congestion elsewhere in the system. There is no magic wand, you can’t get a quart into a pint pot. Perhaps a small percentage of journeys won’t get made (at what cost to the people concerned? nobody seems to care), but the idea that a significant proportion of the existing traffic will just evaporate belongs to the fantasy realm that every anti-car campaigner seems to have constructed in their heads. The one where all the car drivers are wannabee-Clarksons, chugging their way 500 yards to the paper shop and back, dreaming of the open road, rather than real people going about their stressful, busy real lives.

  21. This article is a little hysterical, no? The idea that transport policy is determined by by the whims of York’s hidden “illuminati” is borderline delusional. The “New City Beautiful” report was not written by another who could be described as a “hidden forefather” of the city. Alan Simpson is a professor of architecture from Newcastle. The idea that Cllr Merrett leads the “anti car, pro cycling, anti pollution brigade” is equally implausible to anyone who’s been involved with environmental campaigning in York.

    Doesn’t it seem a little bit more plausible to suggest that it’s driven by a desire to reduce traffic levels in one of the only two ways known to work? After all CoYC is in “technical breach” of air quality levels across the city (where the rest of us simply “break” laws, councils are in “technical breach”).

    “Where does all the traffic go” is a valid question but one which there has been widely studied. The phenomenon is called “traffic evaporation”. Put simply: if you build roads, cars will come. If you remove roads, cars will stop coming. Have a read of http://www.worldcarfree.net/resources/freesources/EvidenceontheEffects.rtf for the evidence. There is a modal shift, but a lot of shorter journeys simply don’t get made.

    There will be some redistribution, of course – the Council’s report models and predicts this (volumes on Leeman Road up a little bit, on Gillygate down significantly, on Foss Islands Rd and Nunnery Lane up significantly) – but this is precisely what’s been trialled.

  22. There are many cities in Europe that have had similar issues and more have banned/ limited traffic than not.
    Their motives may be mixed and varied – but by a wide margin the tourists and locals find themselves enjoying a cleaner and more beautiful public space.

    The Minster’s piazza scheme continued into Duncombe Place – with Simpsonesque visions from Minster to Station Rise- joining with the Exhibition Square similarly landscaped, would be an area to rival the best Europe has to offer.
    The medium term goal for York must be to rival the best that the international traveller can experience and continue to reinvent itself- or lose market share!

    Simpson’s City Beautiful. Ron Cooke’s Reinvigorate, and the lesser known but equally visionary plans by Peter Goodchild – commissioned by The Minster Quarter- to make Lord Mayor’s Walk an avenue of beauty- show that York can stop punching above its weight and assume a leading role. A position to be envied by others.

    Its rapid rise in recent years to having an ‘across-the-social-spectrum cultural offering’ means it now attracts the high end tourist and gives its indigenous population a rich and varied city in which to live and enjoy-with pride.

    In some circles the closure of Lendal Bridge was first discussed ten years ago!

    CYC must assess the trial by honest and transparent means, open to public scrutiny. There must be no hint of Lendal Bridge becoming ‘lendalGate’!

  23. Some people believe the closure will result in modal shift. I chose the word carefully because it is a ‘belief’, as the sketchy supporting evidence comes from cities with good integrated public transport, often either state-regulated like London or state owned as with the cities abroad that are included in the evidence base. York doesn’t even have a bus station, let alone a tram system or underground! Not to mention that many of the present journeys across the bridge are to get elsewhere, not to get into town, to avoid the already congested roads elsewhere. We live in a small city, not a massive urban conurbation where the main problem is getting around the centre.

    So how much modal shift will actually occur as a result? If I understand the council’s report correctly, they suggest between 0% (yes!) and 10%. So even in the most optimistic scenario, ignoring the caveats about the evidence above, actual traffic levels will only drop slightly. So… where *does* all the traffic go?

  24. The ‘logic’ of the closure was well satirised (by someone else) along the lines of:
    “Let’s close Lendal Bridge!”
    “Like it! But where will all the traffic go?”
    “Erm… Cars are BAD. Closing roads is GOOD!”
    “Let’s do it”

    This is a dismal idea put forward by people who don’t care about the hardship that will be caused as a result. The knock-on congestion will blight the lives of the communities through which it is routed, the ordinary people in cars/vans/lorries just trying to go about their business, and the bus passengers stalled in resulting snarl-up.

  25. Nick seems to be presuming that car use will stay the same or increase. Would be nice if people considered the shared space we all need to use in a cooperative way rather than stamping feet over having to change habits. We will be monitoring footfall and air quality at our place on Museum St. during the trial. My worry about the Ron Cooke plans for the city centre is that there is a serious lack of cycle parking in all projected views. Apparently bikes are ‘unsightly’. The sight of rubbish spilling out of bins is worse. We need recycling bins in town centre.

  26. Excellent points. As a resident seeking to attract clients to my city for commercial purposes I can validate the difficulty in getting people to drive to our city and spend. To have no measure of success in place the week before the “trial” goes live is beyond negligent, it is reckless. An abuse of power to push individual political agendas.

  27. I think Nick is completely wrong, and he is selecting the wrong arguments. The only real focus should be in reducing the congestion and air pollution on Gillygate where it is already breaching safety guidelines. Traffic coming down Gillygate, or the equally congested Bootham, can generally only go over Lendal Bridge, so closing the bridge should reduce congestion and therefore air pollution. Time will tell, but the world didn’t come to an end when Gillygate was closed for six months when the sewers were being repaired.

  28. Time will tell. I look forward to seeing how this goes in the next 6 months. Every time I go to a European city I notice how much nicer things are without cars around – they seem to be kept away from city centres. But Nick may be right. We will see.

    1. I must admit when in Rome I very
      Much enjoyed walking round the colosseum traffic free …. Oh hang on

      Though you’re right, when in Paris I stood and gazed for hours at the Arc de Triomphe with not a car in sight ….. Oh hang on

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