Physical Distancing

In our last blog we shared how city transport planners are responding to COVID-19. In this blog we look at how people in Gosforth are using streets differently because of the pandemic and what Newcastle City Council could implement quickly in the short term to support that.

Although our own movements are as restricted as everyone else, we have been able to use the on-line traffic cameras from the Urban Observatory to see how people are using streets in certain locations.

Any intervention by the Council needs assessing against other priorities, of which there are many. For that reason our suggestions have been chosen specifically for being cheap and easy to implement.

Gosforth High Street

In our blog from January 2016 “Everything wrong with our High Street starts here” we described how we had done a ‘blind walk’ with the help of local Guide Dogs and RNIB groups. This showed very clearly how sections of Gosforth High Street are narrow and cluttered, proving a challenge to those with visual impairments.

Substantially nothing has changed, all the challenges remain the same, except that the lack of space now impacts on all of us.

On Gosforth High Street it’s easy to find examples of people now walking in the road to ‘physically distance’ themselves from others.

Traffic camera picture of Gosforth High Street with someone walking in the road.

This is actually one of the wider bits of the High Street but passing another person, or two people still requires you to walk on the road.

Traffic camera picture of Gosforth High Street with someone walking in the road.

Cashpoints where people are waiting also seem to lead to people walking on or waiting on the road.

Traffic camera picture of Gosforth High Street with people waiting in the road for the cashpoint.

We’re not making a judgement of whether what people are doing is right or not, or if they could have been doing something else. It might be possible to place markers for people to queue along the High Street but that will only work up to a point and people will still have to walk on the road to get past the queue.

We should also remember these photographs are just snapshots in time so we cannot judge how long people were in the road, only that they were for a short period.

Lack of safe space to physically distance is an issue all along Gosforth High Street. The section highlighted below is one of the narrowest and in more normal times is busy with people waiting for buses.

Traffic camera picture of Gosforth High Street with someone walking in the road.

On the other side of the road this is just as much of an issue.

Traffic camera picture of Gosforth High Street with someone running in the road.

Reallocating space for people to walk outside the former McColls shop would not even require a change to the road layout as it is already hashed out.

The same is true the other side of the bus stop.

Traffic camera picture of Gosforth High Street with someone with a pram walking in the road.

The pictures also back up Council data that shows a substantial drop in traffic levels on Gosforth High Street. We have always argued that the High Street should be one vehicle lane in each direction to give more space for people walking, cycling and shopping. Now we have the additional need to give people more space for physical distancing.

Lower traffic levels combined with a very wide road is also leading to people driving too quickly, putting those using the road to ‘physical distance’ at risk of harm. Those walking on the road themselves are not causing anyone else any harm, and arguably are being responsible citizens by following government guidance.

As well as walking along the road, people also seem to be taking advantage of the reduced traffic levels to cross where they want to, rather than walking to a formal crossing, as seen in the examples below.

Traffic camera picture of Gosforth High Street with someone crossing the road.

Traffic camera picture of Gosforth High Street with someone crossing the road.

Traffic camera picture of Gosforth High Street with someone crossing the road.

A simple arrangement with a few cones, similar to those shown below from roadworks to replace the crossing lights in April 2017, would quickly and easily add space where people could ‘physical distance’ and could also be used by people cycling.

Picture of roadworks by Little Moor with cones and someone cycling inside the cones.

Because the traffic lanes are narrower it would also be easier for people to cross the road. Narrower lanes have been shown as well to lead to a reduction in speeding traffic making the High Street safer for everyone and reducing the risk of collisions or injuries. Implementing the Council’s existing proposals for reduced speed limits on Gosforth High Street and the Great North Road would also help.

Enabling people to cycle safely, doesn’t only help key workers travel to work, but also to keeps pavements clear for people walking. There might be less traffic but the High Street still feels dangerous, not least because of the large number of buses and heavy vehicles.

Traffic camera picture of Gosforth High Street with someone cycling on the pavement.

The picture below from Leicester shows just how quick and easy it is to create a ‘Keyworker’s Corridor’ pop-up bike lane.

In our previous blog How are city transport planners responding to COVID-19? we gave examples of what cities around the world are doing in response to COVID-19, to make it easier to walk and cycle to enable key workers to travel safely and create additional options for exercise, which is essential to keep us all fit and healthy.

Regent Centre

By the Regent Centre there are a number of pinch points. The pavement on the east side of the road is both narrow and hemmed in by railings, so even if people did want to use the road to ‘physical distance’ they would not be able to do so.

Traffic camera view near Regent Centre.

The central island is too small to allow people to ‘physical distance’. This could be fixed simply if the traffic lights were reset to allow people to cross the road in one movement. It would also help to make the sequence automatic so people don’t need to touch the push buttons and to increase the crossing time to allow people to keep their distance while crossing.

Traffic camera view near Regent Centre.

By Marks and Spencers, the combination of a queue for the shop, a bus stop and a busy pavement means people are frequently walking into the road, while traffic levels are still relatively high because Salters Bridge remains open to through traffic.

Traffic camera view near M&S.

Just as on Gosforth High Street, we’ve also seen people wanting to cross the road where it is convenient to them rather than walking a longer distance to a location determined to be convenient for people driving.

Traffic camera view near Regent Centre.

In both pictures, above and below, the railings have created a risk because it is not possible to walk from the road onto the pavement.

Traffic camera view near Regent Centre.

Haddricks Mill

At Haddricks Mill, the junction is only partly built but is being used by people walking to and from work and on their daily exercise.

The key issue here is the size of the ‘sheep pens’ where people are forced to wait for opposing traffic flows in a space where physical distancing isn’t easily possible. These were bad for walking and for cycling under normal circumstances, and even worse now.

Traffic camera view of Haddricks Mill.

Traffic camera view of Haddricks Mill.

Just like on the High Street and Regent Centre, people will cross where it is convenient for them to do so. In this case also to maintain a distance from the other people crossing.

Traffic camera view of Haddricks Mill.

Given the World Health Organisation advice is now, when people need to travel to walk or cycle wherever possible, we hope the Council will take advantage of this pause in work to reconsider its proposal for Haddricks Mill. We have set out our observations and suggestions in two previous blogs: Horrible Haddricks and Horrible Haddricks – part 2.

Elsewhere in Gosforth 

Traffic cameras are only present on designated key routes for motor traffic but the same is happening all over Gosforth, both on main roads and on local streets. More people are walking and cycling for work or for exercise.

Hollywood Avenue is almost certainly the worst of the local streets for still having high volumes of speeding traffic conflicting with people, including children, who need to be out on foot or travelling to the Freeman. The Council have a ready made, cheap and proven solution to this problem.

Without taking steps to create more safe space, busy routes will be come difficult to use and existing safe routes like the Town Moor and the bridleway east of Melton Park risk being overcrowded.

The Town Moor, as well as being used for leisure, is a main route for people walking and cycling to the RVI. Creating some alternative safe routes, such as via Grandstand Road, would help.

Local residential streets are currently relatively quiet, but this may not last once restrictions ease if the Council does not intervene, especially if government guidance remains to avoid public transport. We set out an example of what might be possible for the streets east of Gosforth High Street in our blog East Gosforth – Streets for People.

If you have any other examples of streets in or around Gosforth that could be made better or safer for people to maintain physical distancing, please let us know via the comments below.


8 thoughts on “Physical Distancing

  1. Katey Rusk

    I have an idea which might help with social distancing on Gosforth High Street. And also potentially as a long term solution to air pollution.

    Extend the pavements to make it single lane only in both directions. Laybys could be available for buses or delivery vehicles to allow traffic to move freely on the single lanes.

    To do this we would need to substantially reduce traffic… so my idea is as follows;
    – Block the north bound exit off blue house roundabout for cars. It would remain open for buses and bikes only.
    – Cars traveling north could be routed left up Grandstand Road, onto Kenton Road, then rejoin Great North Road from Regent Farm Road or Broadway west

  2. Mac

    There is currently hardly any vehicle traffic on Gosforth High Street, conversely on Kenton Road leading to the Grandstand Road junction the traffic is busier than ever. Space for Gosforth does not seem able to take a more holistic view of traffic throughout the area and continues to be obsessed with the High Street. Time to move on and see what is the current situation I believe.

    1. SPACE for Gosforth Post author

      Hi Mac, I use both streets regularly and my observation is that traffic is substantially down on both.

      For this article we would have loved to have included more locations but were limited to where the traffic cameras are placed, which is pretty much the Great North Road and Haddricks Mill.

      What this article does do is highlight where people might have difficulty physical distancing. E.g. where people are queuing for shops, cashpoints or bus stops, narrow pavements next to busy roads or staged crossings. These observations can be applied more generally to other streets.

      The most obvious location that does get busy with people walking on Kenton Road is next to the junction with Grandstand Road, especially on the west side where the pavement isn’t as wide. If you think there is somewhere else along Kenton Road that might benefit from an intervention please say though.

  3. Mac

    You are corrrect that the busiest place on Kenton Road is the junction with Grandstand Road. However at certain time the whole road is busy with pedestrians, cyclists and cars. When the road isn’t so busy with cars, speeding is an issue. Often there are cars coming off the roundabout at Elmfield Road and also from the traffic lights at Grandstand Road – seeing a clear road ahead and simply putting their foot on the accelerator and trying to go as fast as they can before braking for the junction. This needs to be addressed .

  4. Michael Gordon

    On Hollywood Avenue, I have driven and walked in the area a fair bit recently and I haven’t noticed any vehicles speeding.
    I know there are some residents who want the road closed but it is a historic road and in my experience most people are using the road and the bridge sensibly.
    Closure will of course mean traffic being displaced and Haddricks Mill is a very crowded junction.

    1. SPACE for Gosforth Post author

      Hi Michael, It’s good you have had a good experience. We do each experience roads differently depending on how we are travelling, and what levels of risk we are prepared to tolerate or have become accustomed to.

      For Hollywood Avenue, we do know there is lots of speeding. We have Council data to show this and the experience of many people who live there.

      Even with both Killingworth Road closed and Salters Bridge open only to foot and cycle traffic, there wasn’t a substantial difference to traffic levels on Station Road. Haddricks Mill is of course being designed for high traffic levels so is a much better place for traffic than a residential street. This blog has some details on observed traffic volumes.

      Measured Air Quality on Station Road actually improved when Killingworth Road was closed.

  5. Stewart Falconer

    Pavement widening has started – cones in place – northbound traffic queuing back to the town moor at 11.00 pm -increasing the pollution dramatically
    Soon there will be lots of rat runs in the side streets
    Death of the high street shops and businesses
    Why use the high street ?
    Cyclist heaven for the 1% who cycle

    1. SPACE for Gosforth Post author

      Hi Stewart, I think the cones are road works in preparation for the change rather than the change itself. Almost certainly there will be a bit of disruption as things bed in. Let’s see what it’s like and judge it once it’s in.
      The change itself is mostly wider pavements so not a lot to help people cycle.
      PS. Our survey of Gosforth suggested it was about 40% who cycled.

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