Newcastle's cycle-friendly scheme explained


Newcastle City Council wants to change how people travel for the long term. With ambitious targets to meet regarding road safety, health and sustainability within the next ten years, it launched 'Newcastle Fit for Cycling' - a scheme designed to encourage local people to ditch the car in favour of a bike.
It's not a city known for being especially cycle-friendly but having successfully applied for funds from the Department for Transport, the £5.7 million 'holistic programme' commenced in 2011 with the intention of getting Newcastle 'cycle-fit'.   
For many years, cyclists have campaigned for Newcastle to improve its infrastructure to allow for easier and safer cycling - and it appears that their efforts have paid off. Investment into the area will lead to the creation of new cycle lanes, categorised into several Strategic Cycle Routes (SCRs) with all linking eventually to the City Centre. SCR1 connects the neighbourhoods between Newburn and Benwell with the city, while SCR4 encompasses Gosforth Park and SCR7 covers Byker and out towards North Shields.
The work will also include road resurfacing, installation of new and/or improved bus shelters, traffic calming road humps and better pedestrian crossings, not to mention the enhancement of roundabouts and junctions - all of which should serve to make travel through the city a more enjoyable experience for everyone, whether on two wheels or not.
Perceived disadvantages
As with any huge project, there are advantages and disadvantages. One of the latter focuses on parking restrictions. In order to operate the cycle paths and traffic calming measures as planned, the council will need to create some new no-parking zones. These will be subject to strict traffic regulation but are currently being discussed in public consultations.
Naturally the road works will cause some disruption to motorists. Recently, drivers have been warned of diversions and delays along the Great North Road in Gosforth at the Forsyth Road junction while a new set of traffic lights are installed and improvements made to a pedestrian crossing. However, these works are expected to last for no more than 12 weeks and the resulting improvements will far out-weigh the temporary inconveniences.
Definite advantages
The council wouldn't be making such drastic changes unless they promised benefits to the local community. The chief intention behind the scheme is to improve local people's well-being - be it from a health, road safety or air quality perspective. It is hoped that the improved cycling experience will swell the number of cyclists on Newcastle's roads, six-fold.
Any form of physical exercise is good for health, but studies have found that cycling in particular can boost immunity to illness - those that cycle to work take 18 per cent less sickness absence than their non-biking equivalents. The council wants at least a fifth of all trips fewer than five miles to be made by bike within the next decade, to promote health, increase productivity and lower stress levels. 
Safety is a priority and with that in mind, the council also plans to launch campaigns across the media, in workplaces and in schools to highlight cycle awareness, putting measures in place on busier roads to improve safety.
The accompanying road works will also bring benefits. Those mentioned above, for example, should help traffic flow and shorten journey times as the lights will be coordinated down to the Blue House roundabout allowing for what council principle engineer, Peter White explains as "a continuous red or green phase down the road". 
Also, a few School Safety Zones will be introduced - notably a 20mph speed limit between Delaval Road and Rushie Avenue. The new Zebra crossings will be built at the same level as the pavement to ensure that those with pushchairs and wheelchairs can use them without issue.
'Newcastle Fit for Cycling' has a long way to go - to 2022, in fact - but progress is looking good so far.