Town Centres

As part of the Council’s walking and cycling consultation, routes are proposed within Whitley Bay and North Shields Town Centres.

Both have similar problems:

  • Too much on street parking – prioritising vehicles – and leaving insufficent space for pedestrians and green infrastructure.
  • Lots of one-way streets, unsuitable for everyday travel by bike, forcing cyclists onto busier roads and through complicated turns.
  • Busy, high traffic streets which bring congestion, noise and air quality problems, alongside real and perceived safety issues.

In Whitley Bay what’s proposed is an improved set of streets between the seafront promenade and the Metro Station. Connecting the seafront to the town is a common challenge for seaside towns and the beginnings of such active travel links across Whitley Bay are welcome.

Link to Metro, but what problems does this actually solve?

The plan proposes a two-way segregated cycleway up South Parade using space generated by removing motor traffic in one direction. It is good to see road space re-allocated to cycling, and space for walking. This (as well as other sections) should provide a safe and useful connection to the future permanent seafront cycleway.   However, at the top of South Parade, this provision stops and anyone on a cycle is expected to join the road and negotiate a busy set of traffic lights. This section of Whitley Road is a pinch point where several bus routes, as well as through/local traffic, meet. Either Victoria Terrace or Clifton Terrace are the proposed route to the Metro Station.

The Northern end of Victoria Terrace is made two way for cyclists on a section with poor visibility and this narrow residential street still carries a bus every 15 minutes.

It’s unclear who this is supposed to work for; the same people who need a segregated cycleway on the relatively quiet South Parade are now expected to negotiate a busy road junction, mix with buses and ride with traffic on narrow streets

Most importantly, is this the most desirable cycling route in and out of the metro station?

Probably not. Station Road, with shops and cafes/restaurants would offer a safer, people friendly route. The area outside the station and along Station Road would benefit from improvements for both pedestrians and cyclists by reallocating parking and road space. A walking/wheeling Station Road design may well attract people to some of the businesses there.

It’s clear that historically the design of Whitley Bay Station expected goods and public service vehicles to use Station Road and the large turning area at the top for access. Victoria Terrace might one day revert to a quiet (filtered) residential street.

Connecting Station Road to South Parade would mean addressing the section along Whitley Road which, overall, is crying out for attention and needs to be tackled as part of the wider town centre regeneration plan.

Either way, it is difficult to envisage a cycling link which works for all (and in particular those who wish to cycle but find mixing with traffic too scary ) without a complete rethink of Whitley Road and a more people friendly public realm in the town centre. 

In North Shields, some very positive things are happening off the back of the recent masterplan including removing motor traffic from Howard Street.

The Council’s plan which starts to look like a network

There are lots of positive things about what is proposed but the big thing missing is dealing with the one-way streets before trying to optimise routes for cycling. Rather than fixing West Percy Street, the plan seems to try and divert around it, which makes little sense given that there are shops there. West Percy Street is also the most direct route from Meadow Well to the town centre, linking up with the planned Preston Road and Tynemouth Road routes. Expecting cyclists to divert away from and back to West Percy Street is a fine way of ensuring they don’t use the intended route. The other one-way streets in North Shields are too numerous to mention, but all could easily accommodate two-way cycling.

One other tricky section is around Northumberland Square and past the library. Instead of continuing the planned cycle route along West Percy St and anti-clockwise round Northumberland Square, cyclists are directed along a busy bit of pavement, right past the library – a spot always busy with pedestrians, including often parents with buggies and disabled people with mobility scooters. Presumably the intention is to link up with the top of pedestrianised Howard Street, but it’s not the best of solutions.

Overall there are things to welcome in both Town Centre proposals but in both cases there has been a failure to tackle key problem streets and reflect how people actually move around in a town centre. There is a lot more work to do.

Living Streets appreciate that any move to reduce the problem of on-street parking needs to be done in stages. The council needs to pick the locations where thinning parking will deliver greatest benefits to active travel.

Whitley Bay has an Environmental Masterplan developed several years ago which included ideas for Station Road. Maybe it’s time to look at those again?

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