Will the new Piccadilly be safe for a 12 year old cyclist?

York Castle Gateway’s latest development is the release of revised proposals for St George’s field and Piccadilly. Part of the wider masterplan to revitalise the area around Clifford’s Tower, these proposals will form the first phase of works.

To the south, a new multi-storey car park on the site of St George’s Field will allow Clifford’s Tower car park to be closed and made into a public space. A new cycle path will come past the carpark to cross the inner ring road at a new signalised crossing, arriving in the gardens behind Castle Museum. From here a path will take you through the gardens, which are being remodelled, to a new shared bridge across the Foss to gain access to Piccadilly, just north of Travelodge at the Mill Street junction. These proposals are covered in greater detail in a blogpost by My Castle Gateway, with coverage of feedback from a public consultation event held in early May. These first two proposals are largely progressive, and whilst we and the public attending the consultation event in early May raised a few concerns about the technical details, the route should provide a enjoyable and safe route to Piccadilly for pedestrians and cyclists.

An empty coachpark for now…

The final part of the proposed route, along a ‘renewed’ Piccadilly causes us some graver concerns; relaying the proposals to our members at our first Open Meeting we heard comments such as “a terrible design”, “it’s a lack of lived experience”, and “Their attitude is regressive. What signals do they want to send to the world about York?”.

So what’s changed on this final section? Why do we go from a design so broadly commended to one that is condemned? The answer lies in how the design plans for cyclists to interact with other users. Up to Piccadilly cyclists are completely segregated away from motor traffic, and for a significant part from pedestrians as well This is a highly recommended approach, and according to a national survey 93% of people would be happy to let an unaccompanied 12 year old cycle this kind of route¹. However after crossing the new Foss Bridge and joining Piccadilly, the design proposes our hypothetical 12 year old adopts ‘primary position’.

‘Primary position’: what’s that? It’s a term to describe when a cyclist rides in the centre of the lane in front of traffic, as opposed to ‘secondary position’ where they ride further to the left, about 1 metre from the kerb. Secondary is the typical position people ride in, but primary is recommended and necessary at times to avoid potholes, drains, debris, and parked cars.
Here’s a short video from British Cycling explaining the positioning concept further.

Primary position should not however be considered a valid design approach. Many cyclists are nervous about moving out to cycle in front of traffic even when there’s good reason due to present dangers. This is often because, despite being perfectly legal and encouraged, a minority of motorists become agitated at being momentarily held back whilst the cyclists passes the danger and may act aggressively to the rider or close-pass them. It’s not a great place to put our 12 year old in by design, and most people would choose not to; the same survey as earlier found that only 8% of those asked would happily let the 12 year old cycle down this type of route². That’s a staggering 85% drop!

The biggest grievance is the lost opportunity, we’re constantly being told that “York’s a medieval city, there just isn’t space to provide for cycling”. This isn’t the case this time. Piccadilly is one of the city centre’s wider roads with an average road width of 10.5 metres excluding footpath. The proposals seek to reduce this to 6.75m throughout (the width needed for two double decker buses to pass). This spare 3.75m (12 ft) has been reallocated to delivery bays, planters, and wider footpaths to allow cafes/bars and other commercial buildings space to spill out onto the streets. It could also be reallocated to provide kerb segregated cycle lanes, of the type so frequently seen in Scandinavian cities and even UK cities such as London and Manchester. York’s outdated Highway Design Guides don’t give a width for this kind of exemplar construction, but both London’s and Oxfordshire’s cycling design guides suggest between 1.5m-2m width³, which would see 83% happy to let their 12 year olds ride down Piccadilly into the city centre⁴.

A high quality street in Strasbourg, France; with segregated cycle provision, streetside cafe seating and plenty of trees.

To be clear, York Cycle Campaign has nothing against proposals to widen the pavement, create street side spaces and plant trees along Piccadilly. In fact we’d love that. We just can’t see why these can’t be provided alongside safe cycle provision. Early design concepts for Piccadilly show an idea for a street in which the road meanders along with curves and changes in direction slowing traffic and providing spaces for the pavement to expand when needed. The design that has followed forgets this concept in favour of a standard width to allow, fast flowing route of least resistance for traffic. Meandering curves that create interest in the street are abandoned in favour of a road designed so two buses can pass at speed at any point along it, but unlike Piccadilly in London, our Piccadilly isn’t constantly rammed with buses 24/7. The occurrence of two buses passing is infrequent enough it can confined to strategically placed passing points, allowing road widths to be reduced to that needed for two cars two pass safely simultaneously reducing the speed of the street and a providing the room needed to provide the safe cycle infrastructure the design currently lacks.

We’ve previously covered how shoppers arriving by bike spend more than those arriving by car. In a time when the health of city centre’s is in question more than ever, is it sensible to ignore such a massive opportunity to provide a safe and convenient route into the city centre? Piccadilly is at risk of becoming yet another gap in an otherwise good route; a gap which could be the difference between a family in Fulford deciding to cycle north to the city centre shops, or jump in the car and travel south to outer city shopping centres.

¹ Shared park route scenario from Aldred, Rachel. “Adults’ attitudes towards child cycling: a study of the impact of infrastructure.” European Journal of Transport and Infrastructure Research 15, no. 2 (2015).
² Busy road scenario from Aldred 2015.
³ London Cycling Design Standards pg. 52 & Oxfordshire Cycling Design Standards pg. 19
⁴ Kerb segregation scenario from Aldred 2015

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