Piccadilly Proposals

In early July plans were revealed for the redesign of Piccadilly as part of the Castle Gateway masterplan. The Campaign were dismayed that despite various conversations during the public engagement process space has been found for any segregated cycle lanes leading into the city centre linking from the Ouse riverside paths via the new cycle bridge announced last year. Instead road safety measures are reliant on a 20mph speed limit and ‘meandering’ design which the Campaign don’t believe provide the best approach possible in providing safe cycling for everyone wanting to reach the city centre. We’ve previously covered this in our blog post Will the new Piccadilly be safe for a 12 year old cyclist? from June 2016.

When the plans were revealed we emailed the council asking why specific infrastructure for one of the city centre’s widest roads can’t be provided for, in line with the current national visions for active travel. Below is the response we recieved from the council.

The Castle Gateway masterplan was approved by Executive in April 2018. This masterplan set out a very high level spatial plan for the Castle Gateway. At the heart of that masterplan are the very many active travel benefits, including a new pedestrian/cycle bridge over the Foss, a priority crossing point over the inner ring road and a new cycle route through St George’s Field. These will create important new radial and cross city cycle routes. As we have entered the delivery stage of the masterplan there have been some challenges where these routes are constrained by other pressures which have been discussed through the My Castle Gateway public engagement previously, but on the whole it is a significant improvement for pedestrians and cyclists over vehicles.

In terms of Piccadilly, the high level masterplan proposed that it would become a city living neighbourhood, transforming it from a neglected run down street dominated by on street and off street car parks to an environment that benefited people who live in the area. It should however be noted that any intervention in this area was in phase four of the masterplan – the focus was on the delivery of the first two phases that would enable Castle Car Park to close and become new world class public realm.

Crucially, the majority of the development sites on Piccadilly are owned by private developers, and in the case of 46-50 Piccadilly (Hampton by Hilton site) this was first given planning permission in December 2017 (pre-masterplan), and Ryedale House had permitted development rights and planning permission in September 2018 for the addition of commercial units at ground level. When a development is given planning permission there is an opportunity for the local authority to secure some limited improvements to the highway outside a development through a Section 278 agreement. The planning permission itself will set out the high level elements such as where the kerbline would be and is approved by planning committee on the recommendation of planning and highways officers, and the detailed design is then delegated to highways officers. This is the formal approval required and is not the responsibility of the Executive or Executive Members. The decision making body is planning committee and it does not require an Equalities Impact Assessment. To also reiterate this does not fall under the regeneration team or my remit – we can make comments on planning application but we are just a voice in the process. It should also be noted that Castle Gateway masterplan has been approved by the Executive but is not a planning document.

Ordinarily Piccadilly would have proceeded in this manner, with each individual application having its own planning permission and then highways officers negotiating and agreeing the detail with the developers. However, through the Castle Gateway masterplan and the number of new private sector developments taking place on Piccadilly we saw an opportunity to coordinate the design, capture a greater level of quality from the private developers, and bring forward the Piccadilly improvements from phase four. Consequently we convened a meeting of developers, highways officers and planning officers in 2019 and reached an agreement that the regeneration team would, through our architects BDP and transport consultants WSP, produce an over-arching design shaped through public engagement under the My Castle Gateway project. The detail of this design would then be agreed between highways officers and individual developers. Latter phases of any missing parts of the design that was not connected to a development site would then be completed by the council with future funding asks to the Executive.

In agreeing this approach with the various parties there were a number of factors required – the design would need to work with existing planning permissions, would need to be technically achievable, and be affordable within what can be reasonably sought from a developer through planning obligations.  Planning obligations can only be imposed on developers when they are necessary to make the development acceptable in planning terms, and directly related to the development, and as both 46-50 Piccadilly and Ryedale House had existing permission’s in place we had to work to those permissions. In these cases, both schemes planners and highways officers had historically secured public realm improvements which involved widening of the public footpath to improve the setting each development and to facilitate a more vibrant street.   

So on to the design. First and foremost I must push back completely on the notion that the public engagement was in anyway a sham. Through the My Castle Gateway model we have completely changed the way in which we engage with people in an open and transparent way. We also very clearly acknowledge that there may be challenges in delivering any project and different people’s aspirations, and we work through these in an open and collaborative way.

The design for Piccadilly is very much a response to the open brief that was produced for the street by My Future York and was formed through extensive public engagement events and social media. The open brief can be found here https://mycastlegateway.org/2019/03/12/piccadilly-my-castle-gateway-draft-open-brief/ but to note the first key ask that emerged was to narrow the road width to the minimum allowable and creatively deploy the additional space for a variety of pedestrian uses and spaces create spaces to encourage different public uses, supported by trees, planting and benches (or other street furniture).

The designers worked to this brief in producing the design.

These designs were shared extensively with cycling groups and through a number of events that York Cycle Campaign attended. One cycling focused event at Cycle Heaven on the 9 May 2019 that I attended lasted 3 hours in considering the design, had requests from some for segregated cycle lanes, and explored the challenges in achieving that. At that meeting it was agreed that I would share fully the design challenges and the options. These were subsequently shared on the My Castle Gateway website and shared directly with you by My Future York. These can be found on the My Castle Gateway blog.

The key point that was discussed during the design is that as Piccadilly narrows to the top end the only way to accommodate the safe passing distance for buses requested by highways – and ensuring that buses don’t have to enter cycle lanes – would be for the pavement width to be reduced further from what is already a narrow existing arrangement for pedestrians. It should also be noted that this is a major walking route in to the city centre, pedestrians are the predominant user of the street, and are at the top of our transport hierarchy.

An alternative to achieve this could be for segregated cycle route if the road was to be reduced down to a one way route. However, at that stage highways officers felt that the impact of redirecting the one way traffic on to the much narrower Walmagate area would have a disproportionate impact on that street. This option of alternative one way routes could still be considered in principle, and crucially still be achieved working with the section of Piccadilly that has already now been put in place at the Hampton by Hilton – noting as above that this already had an existing permission which the design had to work to. However, any one way route will need a full consideration of the impact on other areas, air quality, and also the bus network which is a key mode of public transport in reducing car use. If bus journey times are increased this could reduce use and encourage more vehicles on to the road.

Given the above decisions at that time and that reducing footpath widths further was not an option, the design instead focused on ensuring the best achievable option was created for cyclists. The first aim was to reduce traffic speeds, resulting in the introduction of speed tables and a proposed 20mph speed limit. The second was to remove all on street parking to reduce the risk of car doors opening in to the carriageway and the obstacle of manoeuvring traffic. The third was to take all loading and waiting taxis out of the carriageway and on to multi-use areas within the pavement so that cyclists do not have to negotiate parked vehicles in the carriageway. All of the above was based on Sustrans best practice guidance for when cycle lanes aren’t possible. It should also be noted that the aspirations for Piccadilly are for it not to be a busy or fast road for which cycle lanes are often proposed through the wider interventions set out above

On a final point it is important to note that loading bays and space for outdoor seating were not prioritised over segregated cycle lanes in shaping the over-arching design. The two way bus route; a desire not to reduce the width of busy footpaths; meeting the open brief aspirations for the street produced through public engagement; and needing to work with existing permissions were the context that influenced the design. The focus was how best to create a safe environment for cyclists given these constraints.

In terms of next steps the design will now be considered by the Executive Member for Transport. To be clear that is not because any of the design that has been achieved through the planning system requires his formal sign off – these decisions were formally delegated to highway officers through planning committee. However, in light of the concerns raised he would like transport officers to consider whether there are any further improvements for cyclists to the design working with the approvals that have been given through planning and the space constraints that are set out above.

I hope this provides some clarity and answers the points you have raised. I would reiterate that whilst I appreciate the outcomes of the engagement did not reflect your preferences, the process was extensive and thoroughly open as to why we were not able to reach the cycle campaign’s aspirations for a segregated cycle lane at that point.

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