Lendal Bridge will be closed to traffic – other than buses, taxis and bicycles – for six months from August. STEPHEN LEWIS looks at why, and gauges reaction to this controversial measure

WHEN transport bosses in York announced that they were planning to close Lendal Bridge to cars and motorbikes for six months, the response was quick and predictable. Hundreds of comments were posted on The Press website, and a deluge of letters followed.

Most, though not all, were highly critical. “Now the world knows the lunatics really are running the asylum,” wrote one correspondent on this newspaper’s letters page.

“Why don’t you go the whole hog and close Ouse and Skeldergate bridges, too?” asked another. “Tourists won’t see the gridlock in the outskirts, so it doesn’t matter.”

Coun Dave Merrett, the authority’s Cabinet member for transport, has a ready answer for those quick to jump to judgement: “Read the report. It is available online.”

The report in question is Agenda Item 10 of the May 7 report to Cabinet. You can find it at york.gov.uk. And if you have time to plough through 50-odd pages, it is worth doing so, because it makes clear why the Labour-controlled authority is so keen to ban the bulk of traffic over this bridge.

You may or may not agree with the council’s reasons. But at least you’ll see how the proposal fits in with the authority’s wider plans for the city.

Up to now, the proposals have been described as part of “plans to cut congestion and speed up public transport”.

But that is only part of the story. The authority admits it actually has no idea whether banning cars and motorbikes from using Lendal Bridge during daylight hours will lead to any overall reduction in traffic at all. It hopes it will.

“We know from research around the world that there is likely to be a net traffic reduction of about 11 per cent,” Coun Merrett says.

But the council won’t know for sure until it closes the bridge and counts the number of cars coming into the city centre.

What it does know – thanks to computer modelling – is that closing the bridge will have a huge impact on where traffic in the city centre goes.

The computer models show that some cars diverted from Lendal Bridge will cross the river on the outer ring road instead – either on the A1237 in the north, or on the A64 in the south. Others will go to Clifton, Ouse or Skeldergate bridges (see panel).

The result will be to create a relatively traffic-free corridor running from Holgate past the railway station, across Lendal Bridge, and up Museum Street, St Leonard’s Place and Gillygate all the way to Clarence Street and beyond.

And that, says Coun Merrett, will make it possible to improve the “public realm” in and around the railway station, the Museum Gardens and the Minster – York’s “Cultural Quarter”.

There are already major improvements planned or under way for this area of York.

York Art Gallery is undergoing an £8 million refurbishment; the Theatre Royal has plans for a £4 million refurb; the city council has vacated its St Leonard’s Place offices, which it is hoped will be transformed into an upmarket hotel; Library Square has been improved; and under the Reinvigorate York programme, signs and clutter have been removed, new lights and seating installed.

There are further ambitious plans under Reinvigorate York – a revamp of King’s Square, of Exhibition Square and of the Duncombe Place/St Leonard’s Place junctions among them.

The Lendal Bridge traffic ban would tie into all of this.

The route from the railway station along Station Road, Lendal Bridge and Museum Street is the key walking route into town for visitors arriving at York Station, as well as for commuters coming into York by train from the west. It is part of what urban design expert Prof Alan Simpson described as the “Great Street” in his York: New City Beautiful report a couple of years ago. The 2011 York Visitor Survey indicated that what visitors most enjoy about coming to York is simply “strolling about”. But at the moment, at rush hour, the route from the station into the city centre – many visitors’ first impression of York – is clogged with traffic.

“A quarter of visitors to York come by train and arrive at the railway station,” Coun Merrett says.

“A significant proportion of people who work in the city are coming from West Yorkshire, and come by train every day. But this is really not a particularly attractive route into the city. Pedestrians have to fight with traffic from the moment they step out of the station.”

Banning cars and motorbikes – which make up 80 per cent of peak-time traffic across Lendal Bridge – would make it possible to change all that.

Pavements could be widened; pedestrians could be given more priority; and buses coming into York from the north would no longer need to park or turn in Exhibition Square because the reduction in traffic would mean they could cross Lendal Bridge more easily to park on the other side of the river.

“There is the potential for it to be so much nicer for pedestrians,” Coun Merrett says. Which would be good for tourism, for business, and for York as a whole, he says.

This would all come at a cost.

Gillygate, Bootham Bar, Exhibition Square, Lendal Bridge itself, and Station Road would all be much less congested.

But sections of the south side of the inner ring road – especially the Clifford’s Tower roundabout, Walmgate Bar and Foss Islands Road – would see “significant increases’ in traffic, as would Water End at Clifton Bridge (see panel).

It won’t be possible to “fully mitigate” the increased traffic there, Coun Merrett admits – though changing the way traffic signals work should help.

But York has to do something about its traffic, he insists. There has been a constant increase in traffic in the city centre in recent years – and congestion will only increase further if nothing is done.

The Lendal Bridge traffic ban will initially be a six-month trial to see what happens: whether there is, as hoped, a reduction in the number of car users; where diverted cars go; whether higher levels of congestion at Clifton Bridge, Walmgate Bar and Skeldergate Bridge will be manageable.

That initial trial will start in August during the school holidays, and will ban cars and motorcycles between 10.30am and 5pm; it will be accompanied by a public consultation, to see how people like the changes.

If it succeeds, it will be followed by a second six-month trial, during which traffic will be banned between 7am and 7pm.

And what then? Will the ban become permanent?

“If it is a complete disaster we will reconsider,” Coun Merrett says. “But we don’t have a lot of options.”

Short of congestion charging, that is: which would cause even more howls of protest than closing Lendal Bridge.


Where will all those cars finish up?

ABOUT 12,400 vehicles (not counting buses) cross York’s six bridges every hour in the morning rush hour. About eight per cent, or roughly 1,000 vehicles per hour, cross at Lendal Bridge.

If the bridge was closed, these would have to go elsewhere.

The city council’s computer modelling suggests that:

• an extra 200 cars an hour would go to the northern outer ring road bridge on the A1237

• 226 would go to Clifton Bridge

• 110 would go to Ouse Bridge

• 216 would go to Skeldergate Bridge

• 168 would go to the A64.

These figures are “worst case scenarios”, which assume the same amount of traffic will come into York when the bridge is closed as before. The council hopes some people might leave their cars at home instead – or else avoid York altogether. Over 40 per cent of traffic using the inner ring road neither starts nor ends its journey in York, Coun Merrett points out.

The council’s computer models do not predict how much of a reduction in overall traffic York could expect. But research looking at 70 road closing schemes in 11 countries suggests “significant reductions in overall traffic can occur”, the report says – on average about 11 per cent. The report does not make clear what kind of other road closing schemes were studied, or how they compare to closing Lendal Bridge. A number of other options were considered.

These included:

• closing Ouse Bridge

• closing both Lendal and Ouse bridges

• closing Lendal Bridge to northbound traffic only

The Lendal Bridge closure “gives far higher benefits under most criteria”, the report says.

The cost of the six-month trial is put at £170,000. It will start in August, during the summer holidays, when traffic will be lower and initial disruption less. Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras will be used to enforce the ban.


‘It won’t be welcoming for serious business’

WHAT they say:

Businessman Adam Sinclair, boss of Mulberry Hall: “I think it will have a negative effect for the economy of the city centre. If you want to come and lick an ice cream in York, or go on a hen night, fine.

“But I’m concerned that this will not be good for business, because York will not be perceived to be welcoming the serious shopper or serious businessman. And perception is often more important than reality.

“This has to be seen in the context of a series of steps which are damaging the economy of York city centre. The local plan has no city centre first priority, so any new retail development will happen outside the city centre; and parking charges have gone up.”

Peter Brown, director of York Civic Trust: Traffic levels in York are increasing relentlessly, Mr Brown said. Added to that, the route into the city centre and on to the Minster from the railway station, which is the first glimpse of York that many people get, is run down. “It is a poor welcome to the city.

“Keeping that in mind, and keeping in mind that 80 per cent of traffic is private cars, of which half is using the bridge as a through route, and keeping in mind that experience shows that increasing pedestrianisation leads to growth of retail sales, then York Civic Trust welcomes a trial closure, providing the trial is clearly and fully evaluated. Let it go ahead and let’s see what happens.”

Gillian Cruddas, chief executive of Visit York: “We are keen to support the wider use of Park and Ride services and higher usage of our public transport and to enable those who need to use a car to access the city more easily. We’re also keen to listen to the views of local businesses and residents. We hope this trial will enable the council to review improvements for city centre access.”