“Well it’s not Blackfriars Bridge, but it’s close,” said fellow York Cycle Campaign member Rebecca when I met her at 8am one May morning on Lendal Bridge for a cycling count. I confess that I was slightly sceptical that numbers of cyclists on Lendal Bridge could be comparable to those on London’s Blackfriars Bridge, where around 60% of people crossing the bridge do so by bicycle, but when the count was done, the numbers proved her right. Fully 47% of the vehicles (270) which crossed Lendal Bridge from the east/the direction of the Minster, were bicycles, and 53% (305) were motor vehicles, including buses, lorries, vans and cars. Of these motor vehicles, about two thirds had one occupant, meaning that approximately 36% of people crossing the bridge on the road (i.e. excluding pedestrians) did so by bike, with 29% of people crossing in a single-occupant car and 29% crossing in a multi-occupant car*.
I’m blown away by these figures. One would expect the cyclist numbers to be greatly boosted by the excellent weather, and it’d be interesting to repeat the count on a cold, windy day, but nevertheless, they are far in excess of the typical cycling rates associated with York i.e. the approx 10% of people in the 2011 Census who reported regularly cycling to work. Indeed, the more such counts we do, the more reliable the stats, but still, wow.
Some other observations were:
1. The poor design of the junction on the west/station-side of Lendal, as Rebecca pointed out. The lack of lead-in lane to the Advanced Stop Line (ASL) means that cyclists can find themselves stranded from the ASL a few cars back (see photo). In other words they can’t use the one safety feature that has been put in specifically for their protection at the junction.
2. But another reason why cyclists didn’t get the full advantage of the ASL was how they chose to use it when they did reach it. Rather than use the full width of the ASL, they tended to queue up one behind the other on the left. This meant there was nothing to stop motorists immediately speeding past the line of cyclists on the left when the lights turned green, which rather negates the whole point of an ASL. Rebecca thought it was a York thing, suggesting that London cyclists do use the full width, which seems a fair observation.
3. Respect for the lights and ASL was generally good, though a few motorists did choose to park in the ASL (see photos) and others blitzed through the lights just as they had turned red, with one near-collision as a result (a handful of cyclists also went through the lights).
4. There was a good mix of cyclists in terms of gender and age, though there were very few children to be seen
We returned to catch the afternoon rush hour, joined by a third Campaign member.
“Are you doing a cycle count?” asked the woman who had come to a halt in the ASL with a smile.“Yes!” we replied.“Are you going to get us segregated cycle lanes?” she asked, City of York Council lanyard dangling from her neck.(turning around to show the YCC logo on the back on our vests) “We’re trying! We’re the York Cycle Campaign!”“Great. Well good luck” she said as the lights turned green.
Part 2 of our traffic observations at the same junction where Lendal Bridge meets Rougier Street, this time between 16:30-17:30, had similar results to our morning count: of 472 vehicles crossing Lendal Bridge from the direction of the Minister, 39% were bicycles, 36% single-occupant vehicles, and 25% multi-occupant vehicles (including buses, though there were very few buses). We estimate thus that 27% of people crossing Lendal Bridge were doing so by bicycle over this period. Thirty per cent of these cyclists meanwhile turned left on to Rougier Street and left again, to access the cycle parking or the National Cycle Network path beyond. This time however we were joined by a third Campaign member, who counted vehicles coming from the railway station, turning left on to Lendal Bridge towards the Minster. There, the picture was slightly different: of 522 vehicles, 24% were bicycles, 39% single-occupant cars, 15% multi-occupant cars, 7% taxis, 7% vans/lorries, 6% buses/coaches, and 3% motorbikes (my categorisation was slightly cruder, hence my use of the term ‘vehicles’ rather than ‘cars’).
Beyond the raw counts, there seemed to be more and worse encroachments on to the ASL by motorists, preventing cyclists from reaching it. We also spotted a few motorcyclists driving through the entrance off Rougier Street for cyclists. And finally we met a lady and her husband who were pushing their bikes along the pavement. They were visiting York for the day, leaving their car at one of the park and rides: “Cycling from the retail park has been really easy, but cycling in York is a nightmare.”
Overall, it was fascinating. For Rebecca it appeared to confirm how poorly designed the junction was for the masses of cyclists trying to use it. For me it underlined how unrealistic the Council’s transport model is (which either ignores cyclists or hugely undercounts them. It’s true that there’s a fairweather effect, but a Campaign traffic count at the same point on a damper day later in the week revealed that cyclists still accounted for 24% of vehicles using the bridge, or an estimated 14% of people crossing the bridge by road) and how unfair the car-centric viewpoint of the Council’s transport outlook is when it comes to design and allocating resource. Over a third the people crossing the bridge in the morning by road were cyclists, yet the entire gyratory has recently been redesigned only with motorists in mind. Of these motorists, the 29% who were the sole occupants of their cars benefited the most, since the Council’s transport planners only see in terms of ‘passenger car units’, not people. These motorists enjoyed 54% of the road space used despite only accounting for 25% of the people crossing the bridge in the morning, while cyclists had to contend with at most 8% of the space, despite accounting for 36% of all people crossing the bridge. How exactly does this support the Council’s adopted hierarchy which prioritises cycle movements over motorist ones?
Finally, it was interesting to see how the different transport modes used the space. How, in particular, despite the utter lack of provision for cyclists, people on bikes still crossed the bridge more quickly than people in cars, because the small amount of road space needed by cyclists meant that they were able to get past most, and sometimes all the motor traffic waiting at the lights. If cyclists had more space on this bridge, how many more people would choose to cross Lendal Bridge by bike? Enough to consider twinning Lendal Bridge with Blackfriars Bridge?
Overall, it underlined the value of actually getting out, counting traffic and studying behaviour of York’s transport users. Needless to say it’s something we’ll be doing a lot more of as we seek to make cycling in York safer, convenient and more accessible.
*Making the reasonable assumption that the multi-occupant cars had two occupants in total (which most such vehicles did appear to have) while the few buses that passed had the average number of passengers reported by City of York Council: seven.