Close the Gates

New trial to protect part of the historic city walls & enhance a key shopping street might close a road but could open up a street.

Currently it’s the only one of York’s historic bars without any vehicle restrictions, but from this week (10th December 2018) all motor traffic will be banned from driving out through Micklegate Bar. This follows a decision made by the Council Executive in a meeting back in September, at which we represented your views, to introduce a trial traffic restriction suggested at by Cllr Johnny Crawshaw (Micklegate, LAB) at a Council meeting in May.

“The shameful truth is Micklegate bar stood for 800 years undamaged, through the siege of York in 1644, but it’s being damaged now for the sake of our convenience. If you go and look at the bottom part of the gateway the oldest part you’ll see scrapes and scars from a century’s worth of vehicle collisions.
The time has come to look after it a bit better so that it can stand for another 800 years and more as the gateway to our great city.”

Cllr Crawshaw speaking at the May Council meeting

The trial, which will last up to 18 months, has a bollard placed in the westbound archway of Micklegate Bar, along with signs denying access to all motor vehicles. Cyclists are allowed to continue through as normal. If the trial is successful, then the changes could become permanent. There’s also scope for the trial to be amended to include further restrictions on the other archway.

The new bollard taking pride of place in the outbound archway

This isn’t the first time in recent years that Micklegate Bar has been closed to motor traffic. Last year the old city gates were closed fully to allow repair works to be undertaken. During this period the Council reports having received ‘little adverse comment on the closure’. This could be due to the bar having low traffic flows of only 316 motor vehicles an hour, and not being a crucial motor connection through the city. Conversely, and perhaps surprisingly to some, the local Micklegate Business Initiative commented at a full council meeting that the majority of businesses were in favour of a closure, hoping it would ease congestion on the street and allow better use of the street for siting of seating and planters.

And there could be good commercial sense behind their favour. More and more research is coming out showing the benefits of improving commercial streets for walking and cycling. In a comparison of improved and unimproved streets, a recent report for Transport for London ‘Street Appeal’ found that those which had been improved, prioritising pedestrians and cyclists, bucked national trends with a 7% yearly decrease in vacancies. In comparison, the unimproved streets in the report saw an increase in vacancies of 14.5% a year.

Other studies help explain this difference. They’ve found that improvements for cycling and walking increases retail spend by up to 30%. Furthermore, per square metre, cycle parking delivers fives times the spending than dedicating the same area to car parking.

But how does that work? Surely driving to the shops means people can buy more because cars hold more stuff? Well, first you have to actually get there. The numbers are in part due to the ease of cycling and walking compared to driving. Struggling through traffic and worrying about parking simply means that pedestrians and cyclists visit more often. Research from 2014, again for TfL, found cyclists visit town centres 1.5x more frequently than motorists.

For inspiration of shopping by bike, look up #Quaxing on Twitter – a verb that developed as a tongue-in-cheek response to an Australian politicians disbelief that people shopped by bike

Size doesn’t really matter either; just because it’s easier to fit a widescreen TV in a car, doesn’t mean people buy one every time they drive to the shops. People don’t stop buying on a shopping trip once they’ve filled up what they can carry, but once they’ve got what they need. This is especially relevant for shopping streets such as Micklegate, where purchases will frequently be smaller in size, bought for need, and often spur of the moment. These days, large item purchases are generally purchased at out of town shopping centres, or online with home delivery.

A misconception of how people are arriving at shopping destinations is not uncommon: a perception survey of businesses in Bristol found they overestimated arrivals by car by 100%. A similar survey in Waltham Forest showed an overestimation of a staggering 300%.

The results of a 2003 survey in Graz, Austria, which inspired Sustrans to conduct a similar experiment in Bristol

Visits to shopping streets are increasingly becoming more about the experience and activity rather than material goods, hence the amount of coffee shops appearing around York. The focus on the overall experience is one key way to compete against large online retailers. By becoming ‘sticky streets’, a term used in urban design, they hold on to you for longer; whether it’s enticing you in for coffee or browsing the interesting shop windows. A large part of creating these ‘sticky streets’ is improving the street environment, by removing noise and air pollution, and making the streets safer. The TfL Street Appeal report found a 216% increase in this ‘sticking’ behaviour in the streets it studied that had been improved.

York Cycle Campaign will be following the trial restriction of Micklegate Bar with interest, especially if moves are made to extend the closure to prevent access from George Hudson Street. 69% of YCC members surveyed supported the closure of the bar in either one or both directions; two moves initially put forward by the council. As ever, when the opportunity arises to comment, the Campaign will consult its membership for their views, but until then we wish the restrictions and the businesses of Micklegate the best of luck.

If you want to see cycling in York that is safe, convenient and accessible to everyone, and are keen to have a say on how the Campaign responds to actions such as this then be sure to join the Campaign, for only £5 a year.

More information on the restrictions can be found on the Council’s website.

This post was amended on the 13th of December to include a quote from Cllr Crawshaw

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