Skip to content
Header banner full
Header banner
“The most liveable cities are those which are sweet to their people. You can never find a UK city in any of the lists.” [1]

Jan Gehl

The Theatre Royal and Grey’s monument on Grey Street

Grey Street is at the centre of a battleground between urban designers, planners and the public; this blog interrogates its suitability for pedestrianisation, imagining a vision of Grey Street 2065.

The insightful lecture given by Alan Wann on sustainable transport systems highlighted the renovation of John Dobson Street. A £1.1m council-backed investment [2] created a bike highway running the length of the street.

This proposal arose in the wake of Newcastle University’s ‘Newcastle City Futures 2065’ exhibition [3], which featured an ‘interactive city feedback’ installation. Residents were asked for their opinion of the city, and the issue repeatedly raised was that of pedestrian movement around Newcastle.

Being a pedestrian in Newcastle is frustrating to say the least. The numerous one-way systems, seemingly infinite pedestrian crossings, bus lanes, cycle routes, taxi ranks and skywalks [4] give a plethora of different messages to the user. It is surely the moment to reconsider pedestrian navigation in the city.

Pedestrianising Grey Street

One of the world’s leading Urban Designers, Jan Gehl, is an advocate for walkable cities. His book, “Cities for People” explains walking as an “occasion for many other activities” and city space as a “forum for social activities” [5].

The ‘City Futures’ Exhibition attendees recognised this and were overwhelmingly in favour of pedestrianising Grey Street. Newcastle Labour Councillor Nick Forbes has recently echoed these sentiments, revealing plans to re-imagine the UK’s “most beautiful car park” [6].

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Left: Top of Grey Street by Theatre Royal; Right: Intersection with The Side at the Bottom of Grey Street . Author’s photo’s)

The Opposition to Pedestrianisation

However, there are still several factors that need resolution. Those primarily impacted by pedestrianisation schemes are bus drives, and those who rely on their service.

Also, looking at the two images above, we can see that Grey Street’s topography is a significant barrier for pedestrians. At around 500m long, Grey Street has an average incline of about 10%. Giving people no option but to walk this would not be, as Gehl might say, very ‘sweet to the people’.

In Support of Tired Legs

There is a disconnect in both physical and human geography between the City Centre and the Quayside.

The city centre has become the significant shopping area in Newcastle. Yet the Quayside remains the centre for food and drink spots as the views of the numerous bridges are highly desirable.

A potential solution to these issues would be a public transport intervention. The Tyne & Wear Metro doesn’t connect the two, so an over-ground tram line could fit the bill.

The tram could be directed down Grey Street, starting at the Theatre Royal, and finishing at the bottom of Dean Street as it meets The Side. It could be imagined as part of the Metro ticketing system, or even as a ‘hop-on-hop-off’ shuttle system. However it is managed, the principle of connecting the Quayside to the Metro infrastructure is a key benefit.

A tram would also give those who have difficulty walking the opportunity to enjoy the newly pedestrianised street. This leaves Mosley Street as the only bus route affected by the pedestrianisation.

Mosley Street: Another Newcastle Bridge?

Author drawn graphic showing Mosley Street vehicle bridge.

Let us consider a vehicular bridge across Moseley Street.

Running perpendicular to Grey Street, the road crossing would be one of the key design elements to resolve as it forms a serious barrier to pedestrian movement. However, the road is a key traffic route between the train station and motorway into Newcastle, so cannot be removed.

Its intersection with Grey Street is at the bottom of a 6m dip. Creating a bridge over this dip allows the tram and pedestrians to pass underneath, whilst not interrupting the flow of traffic. The space under this bridge could also help create more commercial opportunities, and let’s be honest, Newcastle absolutely loves bridges.

Grey Street 2065

As the pedestrian link between the two, the development of Grey Street holds the key to the expansion and connectedness of the city centre.

If nothing else, this blog has highlighted that pedestrianisation must consider more than simply banning cars. It requires a holistic design approach that considers all factors. In developing walkable cities, we certainly must think about tired legs.

We can imagine that a tram would go some way towards facilitating movement around Newcastle, but what is undeniable is that the development of public transport is key in improving the City Centre-Quayside pedestrian connections.

The pedestrianisation of Grey Street looks set to happen. With council backing, it is surely only a matter of time, and I believe it will be to Newcastle’s benefit. Jan Gehl laments how cities are no longer the “primarily the province of the pedestrians”[11] and decries being “pushed up along building facades”[12] by cars. In pedestrianising Grey Street, we are taking a piece of Newcastle back from the automobile and putting it back in the hands, or under the feet, of pedestrians.


References:

[1] Urban Design with Jan Gehl

[2] Gosforth, S. for, 2016. John Dobson Street: a Safe Pedestrian And Cycling Environment. SPACE Gosforth. URL http://spaceforgosforth.com/john-dobson-street/ (accessed 1.11.20).

[3] Tewdwr-Jones, M., Goddard, J., Cowie, P., 2015. Newcastle City Futures 2065: Anchoring Universities in Urban Regions through City Foresight.

[4] Newcastle’s skywalks were an ambitious proposal from the mid-20th century in response to the emergence and popularity of automobile traffic. The idea was to completely separate pedestrians from automobiles by creating a network of elevated paths that would connect the city. A person would be able to walk from one side of Newcastle to the other without crossing a single road.

(Doc, 2016. Newcastle’s Skywalks. Met. DUST. URL https://metalanddust.org/2016/07/03/newcastles-skywalks/ (accessed 1.11.20).)

 

[5] Gehl, J., 2010. Cities for People. Island Press, Washington D.C.

[6] Holland, D., 2019. Cars could be banned from Grey Street in new vision [WWW Document]. nechronicle. URL https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/grey-street-car-ban-forbes-17027170 (accessed 1.11.20).

[7] Gehl, 2010

[8] Ibid

2 responses to “THE PEDESTRIANISATION OF GREY STREET”

  1. Thank you, Nick, for such an interesting read. I am fascinated with your ideas with pedestrianisation alongside looking at the world-leading Urban Designer Jan Gehl’s views on this topic. I think your proposal for Mosely Street is a very valid idea and as you mentioned what harm would another bridge do in a city such as Newcastle.

    The idea of pedestrianisation is a movement that all cities within the UK should take on seriously, something that has not really happened as of yet. I think with many cities in Europe taking this initiative many years ago such as Barcelona and Copenhagen and carrying it out very successfully as written by Beatley (2003), creating more sustainable, attractive and friendlier places to live in is something UK cities should really look to achieve, also being the key ideas behind Jan Gehl’s recommendations for the city (Gehl, 2013).

    However, bringing such a sudden change may create backlash as John Dobson Street has shown in Knights (2016) article, saying “It’s outrageous. Four flowing lanes of free moving traffic reduced down to two lanes of shared traffic, for what?? A hundred yards of bike lanes, lanes twice the width necessary for the short stretch and usage? Madness.” “It’s a nightmare already. How to kill a town centre – stop traffic.” This is due to the ideas that the British follow, not being able to move forward with key ideas of sustainability – pedestrianisation. The primary mode of transport, 62% of trips are still being made by cars, and a mere 2% by bicycles in 2016 (Department for Transport, 2017). You would think this has improved in 2018, but it is, in fact, the same (Department for Transport, 2019). Things need to change swiftly in UK cities.

    Your proposal, definitely interests me growing up in Newcastle, understanding the connections between the two streets, the pedestrianisation of Grey Street and Dean Street, and the bridge across Mosely Street, in my opinion, would work wonders. Though it would be noteworthy to understand how this bridge would begin at the Swan House roundabout then leading towards Central Station as this would be key to understand the flow of people and traffic within such key areas of the town. The additional tram network I agree is needed due to the long walk as mentioned within the blog, and would be key to connect the town in places that are so to say difficult to walk, and why not as we see the success with tram networks around the world, even in cities within the UK like Manchester or Edinburgh, almost being the connective tissues of the city, keeping the city running (Kobie, 2018). I hope to see this proposal become reality.

    Beatley, T. (2003). “Planning for Sustainability in European Cities: A Review of Practice in Leading Cities”. In: R. LeGates and F. Stout, ed., The City Reader, 5th ed. New York: Routledge, pp.448 – 457.

    Department for Transport (2017) Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy, p4.

    Department for Transport (2019) National Travel Survey: England 2018.

    Gehl, Jan. Cities for People. Island Press, 2013.

    Knight, C. (2016). ‘It’s Newcastle, not Amsterdam’ – Readers react to new cycle lane on John Dobson Street. Chronicle Live. [online] Available at: https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/its-newcastle-not-amsterdam-readers-12196084 [Accessed 19 Jan. 2020].

    Kobie, N. (2018). Trams are great for city transport – why doesn’t the UK have more?. Wired. [online] Available at: https://www.wired.co.uk/article/trams-edinburgh-manchester-uk-transport-system [Accessed 19 Jan. 2020].

  2. Hi Nick, thanks for a great read. I can completely agree that parts of Newcastle are almost unwalkable! The city centre particularly is a hotbed for tourism, retail, restaurants, entertainment and nightlife, so it would surely benefit from some reclaimed public space.
    I think your idea to blend greener transportation on Grey Street with the creation of a public realm is a strong way to appease both the Newcastle public and hold true to Gehl’s recommendations of healthy cities.
    Proposals for pedestrianisation in Newcastle is proving quite a controversial topic. Blackett Street, joining Grey Street, Eldon Square and Northumberland Street, is another clear space in which pedestrianisation would be beneficial – the plans are arguably already partially realised given the two-way single road[1]. However, shockingly, there has been quite a loud local backlash against this via the Newcastle Independent group and online forums. Many are concerned about the disruption to bus services and reduced access for those with mobility issues, and a petition to ‘Save’ Blackett Street (from pedestrians?) has 1010 signatures[2].
    While I think the Blackett St. proposal will be hugely beneficial, as ‘pedestrianisation’ promotes ‘lively, safe, sustainable and healthy cities’[3], it is important to listen to the concerns. In ‘The City In History’, Lewis Mumford rightly attributes the growth of the city to the ‘dynamic component’ transportation, and stresses the importance of a balance between technology and nature. Although he believes the ‘metropolises of motordom’, like L.A, exhibit ‘all the urban evils’ ‘assaulting life and health’, he expands that historically ‘ the lack of transport’ within a city ‘was a threat to its growth, indeed to its very existence’. Well-considered transportation, such as the ‘electric rapid transit system’ Mumford experienced in Stockholm maintained the ‘human scale’ and ‘reintegration [of Stockholm] into a green matrix’[4].
    Your proposal for both a pedestrianised space and public transport route along Grey Street is great combination answering to the people-sweetening, space reclaiming ideas of Gehl, and the transportation worries of the Newcastle masses, and could provide a public place for people in the city, reduce congestion along Grey Street, reduce city pollution and provide that connectivity needed between Northumberland Street to the Quayside! Now all you have to do is send your drawings to City Council…

    [1] Holland, Daniel. “Multi-Million Pound Vision to Change the Face of Newcastle.” nechronicle, January 10, 2020. https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/blackett-street-city-centre-vision-17547535.

    [2] Change.org. “Sign the Petition.” Accessed January 13, 2020. https://www.change.org/p/newcastle-city-council-save-blackett-street.

    [3] Gehl, Jan. Cities for People. Island Press, 2013.

    [4] Mumford, Lewis. The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects. Harcourt, Brace & World, 1961.

Leave a Reply

School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

Tel: 0191 208 6509

Email: nicola.rutherford@ncl.ac.uk


Hit Counter provided by recruiting services