I welcome the action taken by the City Council under the Experimental Traffic Regulation Orders to close several bridges, and in particular, Dene Bridge, Castle Farm Road, near to where I live and which I walk or cycle over moist days, and drove over before the closure.
Posted by rlangley on 8th Feb 2021 at 11:43AM
I think that it is a step in the right direction of realising the ambition you set out for safer, cleaner and greener neighbourhoods. I am. very aware that closing the bridges has proved hugely inconvenient for many people. We also have to take the slightly longer route to Matthew Bank, but so far this has never felt to take more than a couple of minutes at the most, not least because of the huge improvements to traffic flow at the Haddricks Mill junction. I hope however that the disputes about individual bridges does do distract from the wider vision.
The issue of the bridges does encapsulate the three aspects of the ambition, and illustrates the need for an integrated strategy which includes: how we better enable movement of people across the city; health and wellbeing; environment.
The understandable protest against the bridges' closure is obviously because each one provides part of someone's route in their journey across the city when alternatives are not as suitable, more congested or more time-consuming. As the number and size of cars, and vans, increase, the unsuitability of a road system built for a different era becomes ever more apparent. Castle Farm Road is an obvious example. Until the closure, for a couple of hours in the morning and late afternoon it was already at capacity. The road traffic statistics for Newcastle show a rise in miles travelled per annum by all vehicles from 1.12 billion miles in 2016 to 1,209 in 2019, and for cars an increase from 931 million to 1.01 billion. A Department of Transport Report suggests that car traffic could rise by between 11% an 43% from 2015 to 2050, and that LGV traffic has the potential to double in the same period. An increase of cars and commercial vehicles on this scale on some of the roads like Castle Farm through a residential area with a narrow one carriageway bridge is clearly not sustainable. What is needed is the provision of viable alternatives to the singe person use of the car, better public transport, and more attractive walking and cycling facilities.
During the closure of Dene Bridge the number of people walking and cycling has increased greatly, people walking to and from work, presumably at the Freeman or the Ministry; parents and children walking or cycling to school; runners of various ages; families, often with children on bikes, coming down the road or up from the entrance to the Dene by the bridge. It has brought about a change in the feel of the environment. Some passing by have spoken of how pleasant it is to have that walk after work. The bridge and its surroundings have in a sense been brought back into being part of the Dene, one of the jewels in our city, and there is now also easy access from the bridge, largely traffic free, into Paddy Freeman's Park.
Walking and cycling is I know one of the things the City Council want to encourage. Both contribute not just the physical health, but to a greater sense of wellbeing. Before the closure neither were pleasant or safe, especially on the bridge, with its narrow path for pedestrians, and a one directional flow system frequently ignored by vehicle drivers when cyclists were attempting to cross.
Those of us who live nearby, and the increasing number of people who cycle or walk past, have been the beneficiaries of cleaner, better quality air, and less noise during the closure. Air pollution can be an abstract concept until you experience it more directly. Not infrequently we have woken in the morning to the smell of fumes from either stationary or very slowing moving cars as they queue to cross the bridge. That concentration of poor air quality will have been present on the bridge, if less obvious.
Closing a few bridges is not going to do much on its own to realise the ambition of increasing the safety, cleanliness and greenness of the neighbourhoods in which people live, unless it is accompanied by a focused effort on transport across the city, including the use of green energy; an attention to air quality and an encouragement to healthy living, exercise and eating well; and on ensuring good access to the natural environment.