John Dobson Street: a Safe Pedestrian And Cycling Environment


In this post we want to look at the new street layout on John Dobson Street, and whether it has improved the experience of those who use this street.  The improvements are a flagship project for Newcastle upon Tyne City Council, with a new traffic-free cycle lane that links Newcastle Civic Centre at St. Mary’s Place and the Blue Carpet in front of the Laing Art Gallery and the Journey (Newcastle’s healthy travel centre) on New Bridge Street West.

1. Walking

John Dobson Street 2015

Google Streetview – click to view

The new cycle lane has led to an improvement in the street for pedestrians.  This photograph from Google Streetview (right) shows the limited space pedestrians previously had on this street – space that was further reduced as it was also the waiting area for bus passengers, and was a shared use pedestrian and cycle way.

The new street layout provides much more space for pedestrians as they now have a wider pavement which they do not have to share with people queuing for a bus or with cyclists.  The bus stops have been relocated to the other side of the cycle lane, and again those waiting on that side have substantial space.

img_8079Pedestrian crossings are also clear.  There is a signalised crossing on the road and zebra style crossings on the cycle way, which clearly indicate where pedestrians have right of way.  Tactile pavements (the pink bumpy slabs behind the yellow sign) have been placed next to the crossings to signal to pedestrians with visual impairments where the crossings begin and end.

It will also be a much more pleasant environment for pedestrians – they are now much further from the noise and exhaust fumes produced by motorised traffic.  John Dobson Street has been further enhanced by planting trees, which have been linked to improving people’s physical and psychological health and can even cut air pollution.  This is important because John Dobson Street is within the City Centre Air Quality Management Area.

img_8372lo2. Cycling

The improvements for cycling are dramatic.  Among the things we like about the new cycle lane are:

  1. It is separated from the road and from the pavement by a kerb – this is a type of infrastructure that recent research found was suitable for cycling with children and less confident cyclists.
  2. It is sufficiently wide to allow two people to ride alongside each other and to allow overtaking.  This is particularly important because the lane will be used by both young children (whom parents will want to ride alongside) and by more confident cyclists (who will want to travel faster, particularly if they are on their way to work).
  3. The street has clear zones for different types of travellers: pedestrians on the pavement, cyclists in the cycle lane and cars and other motor vehicles on the road.  This fits with the principle of Homogeneity, which is one of the 5 principles of the Dutch policy of Sustainable Safety (one of the policies that makes Dutch roads so safe).  Homogeneity aims to eliminate large differences between speed and mass of vehicles in the same space.  This happens in John Dobson Street now.  Motor vehicles, which are travelling the fastest and are the heaviest, are separated from cyclists and pedestrians (who are both much more vulnerable) as the vehicles are in the road.  Then cyclists (slightly heavier than pedestrians but able to travel faster) are separated from pedestrians in the cycle lane.
  4. The zebra style crossings make it clear to cyclists that pedestrians will be crossing at these points.  They also make it clear to pedestrians (in combination with the different level of the lane) that cyclists have priority elsewhere in the cycle lane.
  5. The cycle lane will reduce overall journey time for cyclists, which will make cycling a more attractive mode of travel.  Previously cyclists had two options. They could either have cycled in the road, which can be slow due to congestion at peak times and where they are vulnerable to traffic.  Or they could have used the shared space with pedestrians on the pavement – slow and unpleasant for both cyclists and pedestrians because there was insufficient space.  This is important because speed of travel is one of the reasons why cycling is so popular in the Netherlands, and with Newcastle’s air pollution problem, the city needs an increase in cycling to help clean up its air.

john-dobson-street-mapThe cycle lane also means that Gosforth residents now have a near continuous cycle route from Broadway roundabout to the heart of the city. This route is not perfect, and there are a number of issues that may make it unsuitable for cyclists, particularly for less confident cyclists or for families  cycling with children.  These issues include:

  • junction design: for example the vehicle left turn at ASDA (next to Hollywood Avenue in Gosforth) allows cars to cut across the cycle lane at speed
  • lack of protection for cycle lanes (for example at the Regent Centre there is no kerb or other protection for the cycle lane and vehicles do encroach into the cycle lane – see section 8 in this link)
  • some on road sections are still fairly busy streets (for example Christon Road and Moor Road – see section 3 in this link)
  • there is also varying quality of park routes / shared space.  The route across the Little Moor (see section 4 in this link) functions well, however the section next to the Robinson Library is narrow for the number of people using it.

Despite these issues, Gosforth residents now have a reasonably fast cycle route into the city centre.  Google Maps estimates the journey by bicycle from Broadway roundabout to the city to be 19 minutes (see above map) – that is only 8 minutes slower than the fastest car route without congestion (see map below).  However at peak times, the cycle route is likely to be faster.  In addition, the calculation for the car does not include additional time required to park.


img_8378lo3. Buses, taxis and motorcycles

Access for buses, taxis and motorcycles is also improved, as only authorised vehicles are now permitted to use the northern stretch of John Dobson Street (between Ridley Place and St. Mary’s Place).  Authorised vehicles are public service buses, private hire and hackney taxis, emergency vehicles and motorcycles.  This will reduce overall traffic on this stretch and consequently reduce journey time for buses, taxis and motorcycles.

The changes may also make the rest of John Dobson Street less attractive as a through route for non-authorised vehicles, and this could further improve journey times for people using buses.

john-dobson-street-car4. Cars

Cars may appear to lose from this scheme, as they will no longer be able to drive through the northern stretch of John Dobson Street.   However, this overlooks that only three years after John Dobson Street was originally opened in 1970, the A167(M) the Central Motorway was opened as a through route for traffic to bypass Newcastle city centre.  As the map shows, the A167(M) provides quick access to destinations on John Dobson Street from both the north and the south.  Access routes from the east and west of the city also link to the A167(M).

jd-mapOne concern that was raised about the closure is that it could impede access to the Royal Victoria Infirmary and the Civic Centre.  However, as the map on the left shows, the A167(M) Central Motorway is a quicker and more natural access route for the RVI via the Claremont Road junction.  This junction could also provide access to the Civic Centre.  There is also good bus and metro access to these destinations and emergency vehicles will not be affected by these changes.

Another factor which must be considered with regard to car usage of John Dobson Street is that Newcastle City Council is legally required to reduce levels of nitrogen dioxide within the city centre as the city centre is one of Newcastle upon Tyne’s two Air Quality Management Areas (the other is the South Gosforth AQMA).  It is particularly welcome that Newcastle City Council is taking steps to address this issue in light of the recent High Court Judgement against the UK government with regard to air pollution.

A Street Worthy of John Dobson?  

One of the great ironies of Newcastle upon Tyne city centre is that John Dobson, architect of Grey’s Monument, Grey Street and other buildings of Grainger Town, was commemorated with one of the ugliest streets in the city, a product of the same wave of redevelopment that destroyed some of his own buildings, including the Royal Arcade.

John Dobson’s work in Grainger Town continues to form vibrant streets that remain the heart of the city, and it feels fitting that this new redevelopment has humanised the undistinguished street that otherwise does not deserve to bear his name.

12 thoughts on “John Dobson Street: a Safe Pedestrian And Cycling Environment

  1. John Griffiths

    1. N-S cycle route The bottom of Moor Road is in a shocking state – heavily potholed, and as it’s a downhill (if heading south) there is an invitation to approach at speed, and risk a nasty accident. Resurfacing could be done realtively quickly and cheaply for this short stretch.

    2. Cars. This ignores the fact that JDS was designed as part of an inner distributor ring. The CME is now the only way to get past the city centre to the east. The CME is often extremely busy; in heavy rain it floods; if there are floods or an accident the city centre will become gridlocked.

    1. H meers

      You were correct there are now massive delays on this street also accidents are up to pre road work levels

  2. Chris

    I think it’s a very positive development; but (sorry!), I wish that there were cameras or something that would stop cyclists from riding on the pavements the minute a bus or car gets in their way. I have so nearly been clipped by a selfish cyclist so many times lately that it’s not funny. They move from the road to the pavement and back again with total disregard for pedestrians, ringing bells etc to tell us to move out of their way.
    If that could be sorted out, I would be 100% in favour; but I do realise that the council can’t be held responsible for irresponsible cyclists.

  3. TT

    A complete waste of money. I see about TWO cyclists a day. However it is a haven for noisy skate boarders and of course the bus lane cameras are a nice little cash cow for the council. Buses and traffic have very limited space and its an accident waitimg to happen. Also once a bus stops then theres nowhere to go for emergency vehiclles. Not very well designed but hey look at the disaster that is the blue carpet.

  4. Michael Gordon

    The roadway has been narrowed too much. North and South cycle lanes could have been introduced within the previous road layout cheaper than the £1.1 million this has supposedly cost.
    Perfectly good paving has been ripped up and replaced. The paving outside the city library has been extended unnecessarily into the roadway and not finished off to the same standard. Too much black tarmac has been used. Because of the new cycle lanes the space for buses is very tight and I have been on buses that are having difficulty turning right from JDS to New Bridge Street. Cars turning right from JDS into Durant Road hold up buses going North so again very poor road design. Buses also have difficulty getting past anyone stopped at a bus stop.
    There’s also the matter of skateboarders now having a field day round here and cyclists conspicuous by their absence!
    Finally, the bus lane camera is a cash cow and the signage is sub-standard.
    Not a road which should bear John Dobson’s name!

  5. Josephine Ellis

    I understand that the cycle path already takes hundreds of trips per day. How popular it is now, however, isn’t the main point: the most important thing is how it fits into a citywide network. At the moment, user figures on JD Street are suppressed by the fact that people are scared to cycle in general because the roads don’t feel safe.
    It’s going to take a while to put that right through better onward links, particularly to the strategic cycle routes leading out of town, and that’s going to have to be a gradual, incremental process, but JDS is a start.
    In the meantime, the JDS route already feels like a potential lifesaver: I used to cycle down the street a few years ago when you had to cross two lanes of traffic, including buses, HGVs, etc. to get from the Civic Centre to the Monument, and it was horrible.

  6. Kieron

    Absolutely ridiculous. A waste of money, as I don’t see much money being spent on public services but I do see a lot of annoying roadworks that no one asked for throughout Newcastle all the time. I very rarely see a cyclist use it & yet this is the only group of people that dont completley lose out!This is just adding journey times for drivers. The new layout of the road means that it’s harder for buses to turn onto New Bridge Street. As a pedestrian in Newcastle City Centre I don’t like the look of it, it looks like a mess of a street, the old John Dobson Street looked more stylish & nicer. There was never a problem with traffic on this Street unless there were roadworks. The added speed bumps are another massive inconvienience. The council won’t be happy until every road in the City Centre is a bus lane which the majority of Newcastle hate!

    1. SPACE for Gosforth

      Hi Kieron, lots of points there.

      The public services point is down to Government funding which is allocated for specific purposes.

      Style is a matter of taste but I don’t recall anyone ever saying the old John Dobson Street was stylish. Compared to most of the city centre it’s very much the poor relation and still is to be honest although the new trees and additional pedestrian space should help.

      People do say they don’t see cyclists but I wonder if that is more because people on bikes are generally unobtrusive as in they don’t take up much space, they don’t make any noise and crucially for the city centre air quality management zone they don’t create any air quality issues. From a numbers perspective, the Strava heat map website shows John Dobson Street is already a fairly major cycling route.

      For pedestrians there is clearly more space and the pedestrian guardrails that used to hem people in on crossings and make you walk further have all gone. I’ve seen people crossing all over the place which suggests people feel safer there as that never used to happen. I’m sure there still could be issues though and we’re happy to take them up with the Council if you have any (other than style).

      Turning buses has been quoted as a problem a few times but when I’ve watched I’ve not seen any buses have any trouble so possibly this was just a teething issue? The tighter corners will stop cars and buses flying around the corners – it is supposed to – and that helps make the street safer for people on foot. The figures the Council quote on bus times are that having the bus gate has sped up journeys for buses which is by far the most common way for people to get into the city centre. Clearly there must have been something holding them up before otherwise this wouldn’t have happened?

      Drivers who are using the street to access the car park or other destination should now have a quicker journey for the same reason the buses do. Almost certainly anyone using it as a through route to somewhere else will be finding that it was better to stay on the Urban Motorway in the first place so I’m not convinced anyone’s journey will have been particularly effected unless travelling between destinations within the city but that’s not going to be that common.

      Not sure about the speed bumps – I don’t recall any on John Dobson Street but I might be wrong?

  7. Paul

    I use the cycle lane frequently but am totally unclear whether cyclists or pedestrians have right of way on the numerous “zebra style crossings”. Please can you advise?

    1. SPACE for Gosforth

      Hi Paul, I might be wrong but I don’t believe there is an official rule either way but I tend to treat them as if they were Zebras and give priority to people walking unless they wave me past. That seems to work fine.

  8. Kitty

    Appreciating the time and energy you put into your blog and detailed information you offer! I believe that more people should quit driving their cars and start riding bikes instead.

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