More time for pedestrians to cross at traffic lights, more encouragement for children to walk to school (once schools do finally re-open), a bus interchange, better-connected cycle lanes - and a crackdown on vans parking on pavements.

These are just some of the measures suggested by an influential transport forum made up of ordinary York people which they hope would enable the city to 'regain the benefits of reduced traffic, noise and pollution' which we saw during the first lockdown.

Members of the York Citizens Transport Forum met online in December to discuss the lessons of lockdown and look at York's future transport needs.

Their report, published yesterday, makes a number of suggestions - and urges City of York Council to consider these when drawing up a new version of its Local Transport Plan.

Here are some of the key issues the transport forum's report raises...

City centre streets should be 'places where people live'

During the first lockdown, there was a big reduction in traffic, noise and pollution in York city centre, the Forum says - making the city centre a much more pleasant place to visit and to walk around.

However, using the city council's own data, the transport forum's report warns that, since the first lockdown ended, "roads appear to have become less safe as vehicles move faster, cycling has been discouraged as a result, the use of vans and the prevalence of vans parking on pavements have increased, buses have become more unreliable again, disabled people have faced increased difficulties in gaining access (and) pedestrians have experienced more delays in crossing roads."

York Press:

Traffic lights should give pedestrians more time to cross roads, says Prof Tony May of the Citizens Transport Forum

Unless action is taken to reverse these trends, the report says, the 'most serious transport problems in York will continue to be congestion, air pollution and impacts on climate change'.

The Forum says that the increase in home-working and the rise in online shopping offer real opportunities to reduce congestion and pollution in the city centre. It welcomes measures taken during lockdown, such as the extension of York's footstreets and restrictions on traffic in The Groves (although it points out there were problems with the way these were introduced - see below). But it says more needs to be done to ensure that, in future, city centre streets are 'treated first and foremost as places where people live.'

It's recommendations include:

  • Walking: placing more emphasis in a revised Local Transport Plan on walking. "We would like to see more time provided for pedestrians when crossing roads, by installing additional pedestrian phases, enabling pedestrians to cross diagonally, and providing countdown signals," the report says. It also wants more priority to be given to pavement maintenance. Other measures to support walking should include 'stopping vehicles parking on pavements...and encouraging more children to walk safely to school'
  • Cycling: Cycling routes need to be coordinated, continuous and properly separated from busy traffic, the report says. "Safe cycling routes to school are particularly important in providing an alternative to the school run," it notes. Proper maintenance of cycle paths and cycle lanes is crucial, the report adds. "Many (Forum) members indicated that this was their greatest barrier to cycling more." There should also be greater provision for e-bikes and e-scooters, the report says.

York Press:

There should be greater provision form e-scooters, says the Forum's report

  • Reducing car use. More should be done to encourage the 'smarter' use of cars, the report says - for example through car clubs and encouraging a move to electric cars that cause less city-centre pollution. Parking policies should be reviewed, new car-free developments promoted, 20mph zones extended and 'sustainable communities' designed with local centres which reduce the need for people to use their cars so much or travel long distances.
  • Buses: York needs an 'affordable, comprehensive and coordinated bus network' to attract people back to public transport, the report says. "A central bus interchange at the station with sufficient capacity to allow all routes to serve it is crucial to this. The fare structure needs to be simplified and use contactless payment to avoid delays." The council should also reallocate more road capacity to buses so that they can be more punctual, the report says.

York Press:

A central bus interchange would help, says the Transport Forum

  • Deliveries: the council must do more to encourage the 'transhipment' of city centre deliveries from large delivery lorries which clog up streets to smaller electric vans and even cargo bikes, the report says. This would reduce the number of delivery lorries in the city centre and mean that footstreet hours could begin earlier.

Welcoming the report, York's transport and highways boss Cllr Andy D'Agorne, who will meet with transport forum representatives on Friday next week, said: "The experience of lockdown has shown what it could be like to walk and cycle in York and to hear the birds in your neighbourhood."

The council must do better on consultation

Transport Forum members said they welcomed the speed at which the council had responded to lockdown by extending footstreets and introducing traffic restrictions in The Groves. But they pointed out that some disabled drivers had been disadvantaged by the changes. "More effort is needed to provide realistic alternatives for them," the report said.

Other schemes, particularly the short-lived one-way system in Bishopthorpe Road, had been poorly designed and only encouraged rat-running, the report said. And even where schemes did work well, problems with the way they were consulted on and implemented 'generated antagonism', it warned.

Suggesting a 'new approach to public engagement' on transport, the Forum's report says the council should consult people early on while alternatives are being considered rather than present changes as a done deal. Schemes should then be introduced experimentally, and monitored and evaluated. "This should allow the council to communicate more effectively the reasons for a particular scheme, correct any weaknesses as they emerge, and ensure that misunderstandings ...are rebutted."

Cllr D'Agorne conceded that the 'My York Central' approach to consultation, in which local people were invited to have a say before concrete proposals were put forward, was in many ways better. "People then don't feel you are putting forward pre-conceived plans," he said. But he stressed that such approaches were more time-consuming and labour-intensive. "It is a challenge to staff resources."

The need to update the Local Transport Plan

Prof Tony May, a leading member of the Citizens Transport Forum and the chair of York Civic Trust’s Transport Advisory Group, said it was vital that York's out-of-date Local Transport Plan (LTP) was updated before possible local government reorganisation in 2022.

Cllr D'Agorne agreed that the LTP was out of date. The nature of city centres had changed since it was last updated 10 years a ago, he said- with fewer big stores and more online and out-of-town shopping. The message of those changes, he said, was that 'we don't always have to do things in the way we have done them in the past'.

What is the York Citizens Transport Forum?

The Forum was set up by York Civic Trust, York Bus Forum and York Environment Forum early last year. Members are volunteers and are entirely independent of the city council.

The Forum’s membership was drawn from 1,388 people who responded to a survey of residents’ travel needs conducted in September 2019. It produced an initial report in March last year following a series of workshop meetings attended by 100 people from a wide range of backgrounds. A second meeting was held on Zoom in December, attended by 40 Forum members, to look at the lessons which could be learned from lockdown. The report of that second meeting can be read here

What next?

Key Forum members, including Prof May, will meet council reresentatives, including cllr D'Agorne, next Friday (January 15) to discuss the report.