Cycling Could Triple in Car-Free York

The following press release was originally written for YorkMix and appeared on the 7th of January 2020

The idea of restricting cars and dramatically improving public transport in York by 2023 has caused a stir in recent days. So how can York achieve this bold vision and how might it feel? Many other cities, including Sienna, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Utrecht, Groningen, Freiberg, and Ghent have already met the challenge head-on and seen dramatic improvements in quality of life, without sacrificing their economy.

“We’re delighted that the council recently supported the motion to restrict non-essential car journeys within York’s city centre by 2023, and we think that looking for inspiration from other cities that have successfully implemented congestion controls is the best way for York to achieve this ambitious target whilst ensuring our city continues to thrive.”

Robyn Jankel, co-chair of the York Cycle Campaign. 

The bustling Belgian city of Ghent shares many parallels with York and is an interesting comparison. In 2017 Ghent – a winding medieval city with two rivers, heavily dependant on tourism and with a similar sized population to York – introduced bold plans to cut vehicle traffic and pollution. The city was divided into a central zone and 6 districts around the outside. Cars were excluded from the central zone (as they already are from the foot-streets of York), but allowed to drive in each of the 6 districts, so long as they didn’t cross from one district into another.

Video by Streetfilms delving into how Ghent transformed their city

Prior to the introduction of this circulation plan there was a lot of negativity and anxiety, with many saying that it wouldn’t work. But as soon as it was introduced the plan transformed the city almost instantaneously, and the people of Ghent started to reap the benefits. Air pollution dropped dramatically and traffic congestion evaporated. The road space that the traffic plan freed up enabled the council to create fast and reliable routes for public transport and safe cycle paths, without the need to invest heavily in expensive new infrastructure. And the evidence suggests that people in Ghent are willingly choosing to leave the car at home and use public transport or hop on their bike. In 2017 some 22% of people cycled in Ghent; by 2019 this has risen to 35% – a 60% increase. 

City Stats

York, Yorkshire

Population: 198,051

Population density: 687/km²

Cycling’s share of all trips: 15%

Cycle to work share: 11%

No. of days rainfall/year: 117

Coldest month: January (avg. 7°C)

Ghent (Gent), Belguim

Population: 260,341

Population density: 1,700/km²

Cycling’s share of all trips: 33%

Cycle to work share: 34%

No. of days rainfall/year: 221

Coldest month: January (avg. 6°C)

 York shares many similarities with Ghent, and faces the same sort of problems that Ghent did prior to the introduction of their traffic circulation plan. Currently around 12% of people cycle regularly in York, but York Cycle Campaign believe there is no reason that that figure shouldn’t rise to 35%, to match that of Ghent, if a similar traffic circulation plan was adopted.

“Right now people are too frightened to cycle in York. It is impossible to cycle far without having to join a dangerous road. But with something like the Ghent plan in place, tailored to suit York, you’d be able to get from one side of York to the other without having to join busy roads, making it safe for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy the freedom offered by cycling.”

Kate Ravilious, co-chair of York Cycle Campaign

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