Lendal Bridge traffic ban is a cynical move that will damage York

Lendal Bridge at night. Photograph: Carl Spencer on Flickr
21 Aug 2013 @ 10.41 am
| Opinion
Lendal Bridge traffic free. Photograph: Carl Spencer on Flickr
Lendal Bridge traffic free. Photograph: Carl Spencer on Flickr

nick-eggleton-headshotIn the first of two articles about the trial ban of private cars on Lendal Bridge, Nick Eggleton argues that it will harm business with no measurable benefits

The “trial” management of traffic across Lendal Bridge is built on the motives of a cabal of vested interests, a badly developed idea, with a little evidence it’s needed, no prior consultation, hidden in a fog of diversionary issues, to the benefit of non residents and with a cat in hell’s chance of being reversed.

This is a LabourYork project. One that is not something in their manifesto. There is no mandate for this. This is an example of LabourYork kowtowing to the hidden “fathers” of the city.

Let’s look for a moment at the people making this decision and supporting it for motive.

The real reason that Labour run City of York Council have decided to do this is to support the “cultural illuminati”. The people that produced a, predictably bonkers, plan called York New City Beautiful as part of their quest to Reinvigorate York on behalf of visitors and posterity, and supported by the kingmaker Cllr Merrett’s vendetta against motorists.

The “cultural illuminati” are the same crowd that years ago wanted to christen the area containing York Minster, the Art Gallery, the Theatre Royal and the Yorkshire Museum, as a “Cultural Quarter”.

The part of their vision to pave all of Exhibition Square requires a lot less traffic going through it. The solution they came up with was to divert the inner ring road along Gillygate and down Bootham and close Lendal Bridge.

The anti car, pro cycling, anti pollution brigade led by Cllr Merrett have been used to cover that vision, by claiming congestion will be eased and pollution improved. (If it was his choice he’d ban buses too as they are worse polluters than cars, but he can’t do that – yet).

Not about the footstreets

This “trial” is not about pedestrianisation and extension of footstreets as promoted in the very expensively produced leaflets. Even the mention of the closing of Deangate is a red herring.

The Minster was crumbling due to traffic vibration. So they closed it. Rightly. Lendal Bridge is not crumbling. Lendal Bridge is not being pedestrianised – it’s becoming a bus lane, as Coppergate is.

Pedestrians will have almost as busy a road between 10.30am and 5pm as at other times. Is Coppergate pedestrianised? No.

The council claim it will make buses more reliable is also nonsense. Buses in York are at most times quite punctual. The only “issue” we have in York is buses idling and spewing out fumes because they’re ahead of schedule.

When the trial begins and car traffic is diverted along Rougier Street the buses using that route will be snarled up even more. So any improvements in bus times that use Lendal Bridge will be balanced by worse reliability over Ouse Bridge.

Poor consultation

Where are the quotes from from people like York Retail Forum or the council led City Team?

Well they weren’t consulted or even aware of this “trial” until the decision had been made. So only messages of support were included by a cynically timed news piece. VisitYork’s chair was supportive, but then VisitYork is supported by the city council: Cllr Alexander and Cllr Crisp are on their board.

City Team York were informed during a meeting at 4pm on the day The Press were told. Being told they could not know earlier as “PR needed to be managed” and there were issues surrounding confidentiality.

Scandalous, patronising and staged. Even the normally supportive Chamber Of Commerce have been provoked to object to the trail.

Lendal Bridge at night. Photograph: Carl Spencer on Flickr
Lendal Bridge at night. Photograph: Carl Spencer on Flickr

What will happen?

Turning to the likely result of this hare-brained idea: Cllr Merrett informed us on Monday that: “Officers have been working with the independent Institute of Transport Studies at the University of Leeds on developing and finalising a set of monitoring criteria which will be used in assessing the Lendal Bridge trial.

“The report on this is due this week…” No benchmarking. Still to be delivered. The trial goes live on Tuesday! This is either incompetence or deliberately designed to bias a result.

What will not be measured is how businesses were affected. It is impossible for the council to measure the cost to business.

They may be able to measure decreased footfall but linking it to spend in the city centre retailers reliant on residents for sustaining jobs is not easy.

Most visitors to York spend very little in our traditional shops. Sure they spend in attractions, some cafés, restaurants and bars. But retailers rely on pounds spent by residents. Residents are being given another reason, on top of the ever increasing cost of car parking, to avoid the city centre.

What about the benefits of clean air? The environmental issue is also counter intuitive. Lendal Bridge is one of the most open clean air points in York. Ouse Bridge and Clifford Street where the traffic will be diverted too are closed in canyons and the air already dirty.

More jams

Diverting cars through “managed access” will just mean the already congested route over Ouse Bridge, past Clifford’s Tower, will add to the bottleneck where it meets traffic from Skeldergate. Madness.

The arterial road that is the eastern inner ring road and Lawrence Street will collapse into gridlock.

Any benefits to cleaner air around St Leonard’s will be wiped out by the worse air caused by increased traffic further south with congestion through Fulford or to the west where the Leeman Road area will become an even more polluted rat run as a tributary to the new inner ring road.

The already high pollution on Gillygate will be made worse by the increase in congestion.

This six month trial is a cynical use of Cabinet power by LabourYork. This project has no ‘objectives’ to measure success or failure as it is billed as part of a consultation. A trial is not a consultation. It may be semantics, but it’s actually very manipulative.

As there are no objectives, the trial cannot fail. So it will be heralded as a success and therefore will be a permanent fixture.

Ahead possibly is a further “trial” to extend the hours of managed access to 7am to 7pm to match those of Coppergate. All in order that visitors can sit in Exhibition Square, drink coffee and eat ice cream.