Banning private cars from York’s historic centre could see levels of cycling in the city rise three-fold according to local campaigners who point to Ghent in Belgium as an example of what might be possible given support from local government.
Last week, York City Council voted to ban most private cars from the area of the city contained within its medieval walls although there are some exceptions, such as for disabled and elderly residents who rely on their cars to get around.
The Liberal Democrat and Green Party-controlled council will now draw up detailed proposals which will then be put out to consultation, with the ban scheduled to take effect in 2023.
The move has been described as a “bold vision” by York Cycle Campaign in a post on York Mix, with the group’s co-chair Robyn Jankel saying: “We’re delighted that the council recently supported the motion to restrict non-essential car journeys within York’s city centre by 2023.
“And we think that looking for inspiration from other cities that have successfully implemented congestion controls is the best way for York to achieve this ambitious target whilst ensuring our city continues to thrive.”
One city singled out as a successful example of getting more people cycling is Ghent, which as the campaign group points out “shares many parallels with York,” being “a winding medieval city with two rivers, heavily dependant on tourism and with a similar sized population.”
The post on York Mix included this video from Street Films explaining how the city, the capital of East Flanders, had managed to increase the percentage of residents cycling from 22 per cent to 35 per cent in the two years from 2017-19.
York Cycle Campaign believes that there is similar scope to increase the number of people riding in its own city, which ranks third among English cities behind Cambridge and Oxford, with 12 per cent of residents cycling regularly.
“Right now people are too frightened to cycle in York,” said Kate Ravilious, co-chair of the York Cycle Campaign. “It is impossible to cycle far without having to join a dangerous road.
“But with something like the Ghent plan in place, tailored to suit York, you’d be able to get from one side of York to the other without having to join busy roads, making it safe for people of all ages and abilities to enjoy the freedom offered by cycling.”
The ban on private cars in York city centre was put forward by Labour councillor Johnny Crawshaw, who said last month: “People's first response might be to be a bit anxious about what we're proposing.
“That doesn't mean it's not the right thing to do. The public mood is changing, particularly in relation to climate change.”
He said the measure was aimed at reducing congestion and tackling pollution, and that it would also make the city centre safer for people cycling as well as making public transport quicker and more reliable.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.