An Embassy Safari - Newcastle to Gosforth

The highlight of the Cycling Embassy's weekend in Newcastle - for me at least - was our ride due north out of the city to Gosforth. Our guide was Sustrans' Tom Bailey, who talked us through the proposal to construct a route, suitable for all types of cyclist - fast, slow, young, old - directly in and out of the city centre. The proposal is included in Newcastle's Cycle City Ambition bid - I hope they succeed. Much of the groundwork, and space, for an excellent route is already in place; what currently exists is substandard in many places, but there is huge potential for upgrading it to continental standards.

The route starts - or will start - in a symbolic location, the Tyne Bridge. This is us heading north from the bridge, around the large motorway intersection in the centre of the city.


The tarmac has been laid, but there has to be a smooth, easy and direct way of getting across the arms of the roundabout. At present, the crossing points - shared with pedestrians - simply aren't good enough. Cyclists have simply been permitted to cycle on infrastructure designed for pedestrians, rather than cycle-specific infrastructure being created alongside pedestrian space, and it shows.


The route then heads north on John Dobson Street, where there are proposals to rellocate some of this enormously wide, four-lane road to protected cycle tracks. 


There is - or seemed to be - very little private motor traffic running through here. Indeed, this seemed to be the pattern throughout much of the city centre, for reasons which I'm sure Newcastle Cycle Campaign can explain. Huge, over-designed roads, with very little traffic on them, beyond buses and taxis.

But despite the low traffic levels, not many people, beyond our group, appeared to be prepared to cycle on these roads - we certainly saw very few cyclists on our travels. It would make good sense to utilise some of this wasted tarmac for protected tracks and safe cycle routes. 

We then followed a 'shared use' route past Newcastle University. DSCN9746

Busy with students coming and going, this path is already congested, and would need to be seriously upgraded if it is to form a major arterial cycle route, alongside the pedestrian traffic to and from the university.

The route passes through the University, under a road (through a reasonably-sized underpass), before dropping, via a quiet residential street, onto the old A1, or Great North Road. The route, at present, is a wide, pavement that in places has a separate pedestrian path, and in others is simply shared with pedestrians. 


There's an enormous amount of space to play with here, and to upgrade this into an excellent two-way cycle track, with clear separation from pedestrians, and more separation from the road. In places it didn't feel especially pleasant, with fast traffic moving past quite closely. It can't be good for pedestrians either. The space could be used much more effectively. 


There are two serious obstacles along the route - firstly a signal-controlled intersection, the junction with Forsyth Road. 


At present you have to cycle (illegally, I think  - these aren't toucans) across three separate arms of the junction. Not much fun, and the traffic levels coming in and out of this road did not seem to justify the size of the junction. More over-engineering, I suspect, and a simpler solution would be a more direct toucan, with only one or two crossings.

The other obstacle I actually found a bit scary; namely, crossing the roundabout at the junction with Jesmond Dene Road. Here you have to cross three, fast lanes of traffic moving onto the roundabout, and wait, with very little protection at all, in the middle of the road.


Not suitable for anyone a bit nervous, nor for a group of more than about three cyclists.

We're then back onto shared-use pavement, into Gosforth. Again, there's plenty of space for a wide two-way track, alongside a pavement. Even just removing the pointless fence would create several extra feet of width.


The route through Gosforth itself - if I understood Tom correctly - is to be slightly two-tier. The main road, currently four lanes wide, is going to have bus lanes installed.


This is better, but far from ideal, for cycling, and so the proposal is to create a quiet parallel route on the residential street to the east. This could work, I think, provided that through traffic is kept out of these streets, either through one-way running for motor vehicles, or some filtered permeability. It's not that indirect either. 

North of Gosforth (after a well-deserved lunch) we continued on the Great North Road. To repeat, this used to be the old A1, which is now bypassing Gosforth, on a new route to the west. The old A1, however, remains a ridiculously huge road, given that it has effectively been duplicated by a new road.


It also has all the hallmarks of hostility to the people actually living, walking and cycling in the area that you would expect from a large trunk road; pedestrian barriers, cages and pens to force you to cross the road in certain places, warning signs, and so on.


This road simply should not look like this, and I hope the Cycle City Ambition bid succeeds in reallocating space to cycling in the form of protected tracks. A little further north, there's some infrastructure already in place in the form of a service road.


This only provides access to the properties on the left, so (as you can see) it's a safe and pleasant place to ride. It passes behind a bus stop, into a dead end.


But a dead end only for motor vehicles, with good permeability through for bicycles and pedestrians, onto the route out towards a large new development at Brunton, the Newcastle Great Park.

That development is another excellent reason for this route to be constructed to a high standard - it would serve as a wonderful link into the city for these new residents. The terrain is almost entirely flat, apart from close to the Tyne, and if the route is direct, safe and pleasant, I can see people cycling along it in huge numbers. Gosforth is just 3 miles from the Tyne Bridge; the new development, about 5 miles. These are eminently cyclable distances for almost anyone. Build it, and they'll come.


Another issue with Toucans and sharing crossings with pedestrians was that there just wasn't enough capacity through them for any more than a few bikes. A couple of times I noticed the group was split into people who had crossed, some stuck on the island and others waiting at the start for space on the island, and when the lights did change there was only time for a few to move.

It then went back to red and ten people had to wait over a minute while four cars went through.

Very inefficient.

No.1 Brandling Park

Brandling Park - the article calls it 'quiet residential street' and I am sure was at the time -  is actually a rat run for school traffic and is presenting horrific conditions to cyclists and pedestrians during these times, including, and in particular, the junction with Clayton Road. Brandling Park's current operation relies on conflict between cycle and car traffic due to traffic-calmed narrow street width (oh, don't we love the Highway Engineer's making the cyclist the mobile traffic-calming!) hence creating an environment that depends on motoring folks showing respect and being kind to others / cyclists / pedestrians. It ain't working too well.

Council have now put together plans with Cycle City Ambition monies and here's Newcycling view, as it's unfolding


No.2 Gosforth High Street bypass

The bypass is not a good idea, as this is now used as an excuse for the council to shy away from finding real people-environment solutions for Gosforth High Street and  putting cyclists on the backstreet also sends the message that "cyclists don't shop" or worse "we don't want cyclists to shop here". That shopping street badly requires a massive transformation and council plans are, again, very lacking, Newcycling reports here