Sweet change in chocolate city: Accident rates cut by York initiatives

Click to follow
The Independent Online
ROALD DAHL would have been at home in York. Riding past the chocolate factory, down Terry Avenue and alongside Rowntree Park, you half expect to be mobbed by a crowd of Smarties. Instead, James Harrison twists round in his saddle and suggests erecting a signpost. It should read, he says, Inverness 650 miles, Dover 350.

Sustrans, the company which builds long-distance greenways, has proposed a 1,000-mile bike route from Dover to Inverness, and Terry Avenue is part of it. A little further on, the city centre vanishes: free from traffic, you can ride along a purpose-built cycle route, 15 miles through fields and hedgerows to Selby.

Mr Harrison is York's cycling officer, a rarity in local government. York is also, according to New Cyclist magazine, Britain's best cycling city. When you first arrive, though, it is not easy to see why.

Two and a half million people visit York each year. Outside the pedestrianised centre, the narrow streets are acrid with exhaust fumes. In the mid-1980s a poll of residents showed their biggest concern was traffic. If growth continued, a report predicted, speeds would be cut by a third, the rush-hour would become an all-day phenomenon and much of the historic centre would be needed for car parking.

The changes in transport policies were initiated by the Labour administration which took over in 1986 and launched a Citizen's Charter several years before John Major. Along with a cycling strategy came Park-and- Ride, Dial-A-Bus - encouraging people to use public transport - and Footstreets, one of Europe's largest pedestrianisation schemes. The Groves, an estate blighted by traffic 'rat-running', became one of the first 20mph zones in Britain.

The Groves will be part of a new pounds 500,000 cycleway linking it with the countryside and with some big employers, such as Rowntree. Other experiments include junctions where the arrival of a cyclist triggers a green light, and advanced stop-lines at traffic lights so that cyclists can 'get their wobbling over with' before the cars catch up.

There are also contraflow cycle lanes to cut corners or ease entry into raging traffic systems; channels to wheel bikes up bridges and steps; holes in sleeping policemen for cycles; a bike- and-ride scheme. House-builders are urged to include cycle parking as a condition of planning permission.

York has 25 kilometres of cycleways but Mr Harrison believes this is less than a quarter of what is needed. The city's initiatives have cost pounds 500,000 - a hundredth of the cost of a mile of urban motorway. Accident rates among cyclists and pedestrians have dropped by one- third in six years.