Work has started on Newcastle's first cycle superhighway, and the city's biggest cycling project to date, a 0.5km two-way separated cycle track along a busy city centre road previously described as a "strangling motorway".
The John Dobson Street cycle route, paid for by the government's Cycle City Ambition Fund, will run 0.5km along a busy city centre street from St Mary's Place to Market Street, eventually connecting with other proposed cycle routes in Newcastle.
Plans show what the council describes as a boulevard-style layout, with trees and widened pavements, and one end of the route banned to private motor cars. However, local cycle campaign, Newcycling, has raised concerns about how cyclists will get about while work is taking place, as well as some design details.
Cllr Ged Bell, Cabinet Member for Investment and Development from Newcastle City Council said: “This is a key development for the city centre, which has received strong support from residents, cycling groups, bus operators and businesses in the area. We received great feedback during the consultation phase and we’ve incorporated many of these ideas into the final design – such as the painting of the Bewick Court columns.
“The improvements will also see John Dobson Street become our flagship cycle highway, connecting the city centre with all of the proposed strategic cycling routes across the city. It will also form a section of the Great North Cycleway, a regional route from Blyth to Darlington – making cycling a real and safe option for residents and visitors.”
John Dobson Street, looking South from St Mary's Place
Work is scheduled into four phases, starting with the North end, at the junction of St Mary's Place (pictured, above), which is due to last until Autumn. Cllr Bell says works have been carefully planned to minimise disruption.
Once complete the entire road, which houses a library, the city hall, university and college buildings, and the Laing Art Gallery, will be narrowed from two traffic lanes in each direction to just one, with a large central reservation removed. The work is being paid for out of a £5.7m Cycle City Ambition Fund pot awarded Newcastle in 2013.
Newcycling says it welcomes the planned transformation of the street but has voiced concerns about whether routes for cyclists will be kept open during works, and about how the route connects with surrounding roads, including some apparent use of shared space designs which, they say, could lead to conflict with pedestrians.
In a statement it said: "We again congratulate the council planning to reallocate space to walking and cycling along the length of John Dobson Street. Reducing its strangling motorway appearance and improving its sense of place will be an asset to the public environment and to people using it."
Newcycling's Katja Leyendecker told road.cc: "My most immediate thought lies with road safety during construction, retaining a sensible level of health and safety. We really do want to send a massive plea to the council to improve on previous recent construction works. This must include keeping cycle (and walking) access open at all times."
Leyendecker says that while the plans for John Dobson Street, which forms a short section of National Cycle Route NCN725, aka the Great North Cycleway, appear to meet standards to allow a sensible 12-year-old child to cycle safely, other parts of the NCN route do not and, she said, need to be brought up to standard.