HANDS up if you regularly use the footbridge at Scarborough Bridge to walk or cycle across the Ouse?

It's not great, is it? There are those steep steps at each side, which mean cyclists have to dismount, anyone with suitcases has to struggle - and those in wheelchairs have to simply turn back.

Then there's the footpath itself. At just 1.3 metres wide, it is narrow. An estimated 3,200 people use this footbridge every day - 600 of them cyclists, the rest pedestrians. So at peak times in the morning and late afternoon it can be crowded, with cyclists and pedestrians struggling to get past in both directions, and occasionally even having to wait.

It can also be dangerous - the steps come down on the south, railway-station side of the bridge onto the cycle path running along beside the river. Cyclists can be going along the riverside path at quite a speed - and it's not easy to see them as you come down from the steps.

As if all that weren't enough, the bridge is effectively closed whenever the river floods. The floodgates at Marygate which give access to the bridge on the north side are closed when the water reaches a certain level, blocking the footbridge off.

York Press:

The footbridge at Scarborough Bridge today

The one thing that can be said for the footbridge is that it's probably better than what pedestrians had to put up with when the original railway bridge was built in 1845. There was a public footpath across the bridge then - but it ran along the middle of the bridge between two railway lines...

A footbridge was first attached to the side of the railway bridge in 1875 - and that's essentially the one we have today, although it was substantially refurbished in 1975. The footbridge closed to pedestrians for seven weeks in June and July that year, so that decaying timbers could be stripped away and a new steel deck put down.

Now the footbridge is set to be upgraded again - or, more precisely, to be taken down and a new one put up in its place.

City of York Council is proposing to replace the footbridge with a new one that is almost three times as wide, and which has ramps at both sides, as well as new, easier-to-use steps.

On the railway station side, the access ramp would link directly to the ramp which leads to the north side of the station itself.

York Press:

Artist's impression of how the new footbridge could look

The aim is to create a quick, easy-to-use walking and cycling route which allows people to get from the city centre and the north side of York right through to the railway station (and ultimately through to the York Central development) without having to use any roads at all, says the council's head of Transport, Tony Clarke.

Network Rail was asked to come up with an initial design proposal, and this was put out to consultation in July. A total of 142 people responded - and of those, 135 said they 'strongly supported' the scheme. "It was one of the most positive consultations, from a transport point of view, that we have ever had," says Mr Clarke.

There were, of course, a few naysayers. The bridge is expected to cost between £4.4 million and £4.9 million to build. Two people who replied to the consultation said that seemed 'excessively high'. Two more said the footbridge was fine as it was, and the money could be spent on something better.

Except that it couldn't, points out Mr Clarke.

If all goes to plan, almost £2 million would come from the West Yorkshire Combined Authority's 'city connect' programme to improve cycle networks across the region; and a further £1.5 million would come from the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership's local growth fund. Both those sources of funding are yet to be confirmed, though have been provisionally allocated.

If they are confirmed, the council would put up £972,000 from its own capital programme - money which can be used for capital projects only, not for funding services. The remaining £464,000 would be a 'contingency' fund which would be used to pay for any unforeseen costs. The proposal is that that would come from the council's local transport plan budget: the hope is that it would never be needed.

York Press:

Plan showing the proposed footbridge and ramps from the air

So yes, it is a lot of money, Mr Clarke accepts. But the Department of Transport rated it as 'good value'. The council would have to spend at most £1.4 million to get a £4.9 million bridge. And there could be huge benefits for the city and its transport network.

At the moment, Lendal Bridge is often clogged with cyclists and pedestrians. Many of them would be able to get into the city centre from the railway station via Museum Gardens and the new footbridge in future, Mr Clarke says. And if, as is anticipated, the new bridge encouraged more people from the north and east of the city to cycle to the railway station as part of their daily commute, that could reduce congestion across the city, and so reduce pollution too.

For others - mums with pushchairs; people in wheelchairs; those trundling heavy luggage behind them after arriving at the railway - the new footbridge would simply make it much easier to get into the city centre from the station on foot.

With hopes that one day the huge York Central site behind the railway station will be developed, a new footbridge at Scarborough Bridge has been a 'long held aspiration', Mr Clarke says.

So why didn't the council plan to replace the footbridge when the railway bridge was replaced early in 2015? Several people remarked at the time that the footbridge was too narrow and should have been replaced then.

The council just wasn't ready, admits Richard Holland, the authority's transport project manager. "We didn't have the resources in place at the time."

Hopefully, the council will do soon. Members of the authority's Executive will be asked to approve the proposals in principle next week. Then, assuming funding is confirmed, a detailed planning application will be submitted. All being well, the new bridge could be finished by January 2019. Watch this space.

New bridge in detail

  • The new footbridge would be 3.7 metres (12 feet) wide - almost three times the width of the existing footbridge (1.3 metres, or four and a quarter feet). It would be almost as wide as the Millennium Bridge (4 metres, or 13 feet).
  • The bridge would be surfaced in a non-slip polymer composite formed into planks.
  • There would be ramps and new steps at each side of the bridge. The ramp on the station side of the bridge would link up to the ramp leading to the station's north side, making for easy access direct to the station itself for cyclists and pedestrians alike.
  • The bridge would be shared-use for both pedestrians and cyclists. Cyclists would be allowed to ride across. There would be no designated cycle lane, however - cyclists and pedestrians will share the full width of the bridge. This sounds counterintuitive, but works at the Millennium Bridge, Tony Clarke points out. "When you segregate cyclists and pedestrians, cyclists tend to go faster."
  • The new, wider footbridge will be supported by a steel box beam, off which it will be cantilevered. Because of this, it is important that the bridge be as light as possible. The metal latticework at the river side of the footbridge will, therefore, have to go. It is just too heavy, says Mr Clarke.

York Press:

Section of the proposed new bridge from beneath, showing the cantilevered construction

  • Timescale: If members of the council executive give their blessing to the scheme in principle next week, funding confirmation is expected in October. A formal planning application will then be submitted in November and all being well, approval should be received by January or February of next year. A contract would then be awarded for construction, with work on the ramps beginning by next summer.
  • Construction of the actual footbridge itself should take between 1-2 months. There would be disruption to pedestrians and cyclists during that time, the council admits - but railway services across the bridge should not be affected. Individual pieces of the bridge are expected to be winched into place by cranes which run on rails on the bridge at night, when other rail services are not operating.
  • All being well, the bridge should be completed by January 2019.
  • The existing footbridge is owned and maintained by Network Rail. The new bridge would be owned and maintained by the city council, though Network Rail would retain freehold ownership of the land on which the new ramps are built.