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Opinion still divided on first day of Lendal Bridge closure
OPINION was split as one of the most controversial traffic policies in York’s history came into force.
Lendal Bridge was shut to cars, vans and motorbikes between 10.30am and 5pm yesterday for the first time as a six-month trial closure began.
City of York Council says the closure will cut pollution and speed up bus services, but opponents claim congestion will rise and city-centre businesses will be harmed.
Almost 300 car and van drivers used the bridge during two hours of yesterday’s restrictions monitored by The Press, potentially leading to more than £17,000 in fines.
York’s transport boss, Coun Dave Merrett, said the opening day was “an important first step”, but opposition parties said signs were inadequate and confusing and one councillor branded the trial “a predictable farce”. Others said its impact would be fully tested next week when the school holidays end.
A survey by The Press last Tuesday, a week before the trial began, found 708 vehicles crossed Lendal Bridge between 10.30am and 11.30am and 775 used it between 4pm and 5pm. Stewards were stationed near the bridge to guide drivers yesterday.
Hundreds ignored the restrictions and face £60 fines while others had to make U-turns, but city-centre traffic mainly flowed well. The council has yet to provide full figures for how many drivers breached the rules yesterday.
Coun Merrett, cabinet member for transport, said: “Through the trial we hope to improve the environment at the north end of the city centre by reducing congestion, as well as improving the reliability and timekeeping of bus services between Blossom Street, Bootham and Gillygate, and Stonebow and Piccadilly.
“This is only day one, and it will take a number of weeks until we can get meaningful data which will provide a real picture of the trial as it progresses.”
Ian Gillies, the council’s Conservative group leader, said “restricted access” signs were “meaningless” without detail and said others were obstructed. He said: “The whole process of signage and information has been a shambles.”
Fellow Tory councillor Chris Steward said: “Our big fear is that, as word spreads, people won’t change how they go to York, they will change whether they go to York as the city centre looks increasingly unwelcoming to business.”
Liberal Democrat group leader Keith Aspden said he saw “significant problems” with signs and confused drivers, caused by lack of consultation.
Susie Cawood, head of York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “Next week, when many workers and schools are back to normal, will give a fairer indication of the level of disruption which will be caused.”
But Green Party group leader Andy D’Agorne said the closure’s opponents had not suggested alternatives, saying: “We must have the confidence to try a different approach as we have to address city-centre air quality.”
A First York spokesman said bus services ran smoothly yesterday, and said: “The restrictions are an initiative we fully support, as we believe they will improve reliability and make bus travel more attractive, reducing the pressure of traffic on York’s road network.”
Station Taxis director Keith Hatfield said the closure might help taxi drivers but could cause “chaos” and Ouse Bridge should have been closed instead.
David Brooks, general manager of the Dean Court Hotel, in Duncombe Place, said: “If the end result is what has been promised, I’m in favour of it, but if it’s a total and utter failure and the criteria for success are not met, the council will have to think again.”
Mostly quiet during motoring mission
D-DAY for the Lendal Bridge closure experiment. My mission? To find out how motorists would be affected.
I decided to approach the bridge by car from both directions.
First, from the railway station side. I drove in from Acomb, aiming to reach Station Road at 11am.
I expected long tailbacks, but traffic was flowing normally. The first sign I saw warning of restrictions came on Blossom Street: “Lendal Bridge, restricted access, 10.30am-5pm.” There was another sign as I approached the station, and a third just after.
Several cars turned left down Leeman Road, but I stayed in the lane heading towards the bridge. A big sign beside the city wall warned: “Lendal Bridge CLOSED 10.30-5pm: Traffic Enforcement Cameras.”
There was a queue to get under the wall, but then all the traffic except buses and taxis headed down Rougier Street.
Here we go, I thought, expecting big queues as I approached Ouse Bridge. But in fact, the bridge was clear.
I did a circuit of the inner ring road to approach Lendal Bridge from the Gillygate side.
Traffic on Lord Mayor’s Walk was flowing smoothly – and Gillygate was surprisingly clear.
I reached the Bootham traffic lights, where there was a prominent “Lendal Bridge CLOSED” sign, at 11.15am, and turned down St Leonard’s Place. Here, traffic was almost at a standstill.
There was another sign warning the bridge was closed outside the Theatre Royal, and beneath it, some men in yellow jackets – though they didn’t stop anyone turning into Museum Street.
I did so. Ahead of me, a weary-looking policeman was stopping cars as they approached the bridge. “What’s the problem?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s shut mate,” he said. “It’s shut to traffic. You’ll have to swing around here or it’ll be an £60 fine.”
I turned in front of the city library, and headed back up St Leonard’s Place and out along a still relatively quiet Gillygate.
Traffic ban is main talking point for walkers on the crossing
ONE thing you can say for certain about the start of the trial closure of Lendal Bridge is that it got people talking yesterday.
Strolling across the bridge – almost, but not completely, car-free – in the early stages of the new rules coming into force, virtually every third conversation I overheard was about what was happening, which roads you could use and where you should turn left.
Doomsday predictions about what would happen to city-centre traffic on the first day of the trial had been made but, at least at the start, they didn’t come to fruition.
Traffic heading into the centre of York from the west seemed to be lighter than usual, and – at least during the morning and towards lunchtime -–there were few snarl-ups seen at potential crunch-points such as Ouse Bridge and Gillygate, with buses and taxis moving freely across the bridge.
Not everybody got the message. More than 100 vehicles banned from using the bridge after 10.30am still drove across it in the first hour of the closure, while other drivers attempting to turn left onto the bridge at the Rougier Street/Station Rise junction hurriedly changed their minds and veered around a traffic island. Others tentatively passed through that junction and some had to perform U-turns outside the Museum Gardens.
As far as the council is concerned, it could have gone a lot worse. One day down, 184 to go. A key test for the Lendal Bridge trial may come next week when the schools are back and traffic increases.
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