By Andy Kerr, Head of Regeneration Programmes and Castle Gateway Project-lead, City of York Council
The first section of the new layout for Piccadilly has now completed, and I thought it was important to reflect on how we got to this point.
The first point to note is that Piccadilly is changing – for the better. At the start of the Castle Gateway project Piccadilly was a very run down part of the city. The road was wide to accommodate on street car parking and the pavements were narrow. Many old rundown buildings were being left to decay and the street felt tired and neglected.
The council own two sites on Piccadilly, Castle Mills and 17-21 Piccadilly. The latter has been home to Spark:York for the last 3 years and has brought new life and vibrancy to the street. Castle Mills now has planning permission to create new shops and commercial spaces at ground floor level with new apartments above, and providing a new pedestrian cycle bridge over the Foss. That development is due to start on site in early 2021.
In addition to the council owned sites the vast majority of Piccadilly is owned by private developers and we have seen a number of planning applications for those sites over the past four years. The first two of these are now completing at Ryedale House and the new Hampton by Hilton, with further developments to come.
When private developments are taking place the council has an opportunity to require the developer to make some limited improvements to the road outside their building through the planning system. The planning permission usually contains a planning condition that allows council highways officers to agree those improvements through a Section 278 legal agreement.
At Piccadilly, due to the Castle Gateway regeneration scheme and the amount of development that was planned, the council were able to draw all of the developers together and to agree that they would work to a single design rather than negotiating improvements on a site by site basis. This meant that whilst the design would only be put in to place in stages through those planning conditions we could capture a greater level of improvements and work to a coordinated plan that was shaped through public engagement.
Extensive public engagement was carried out to help us get to where we are now. A total of 9 different public events took place in 2019, aimed at residents and businesses and including specific events looking at cycling and other aspects of movement. These events explored all the opportunities and challenges, and produced an open brief that has shaped the final design.
The final designs will transform Piccadilly, and go significantly further than what can normally be achieved through planning gain through new private developments. That is because the council have led on the design, with each developer responsible for implementing this design on the area outside of their site.
The design will help create a city living neighbourhood feel, with the removal of on street car parking creating more space for pedestrians, planting and outdoor seating, while reduced speed limits and the removal of obstacles such as deliveries in to loading bays instead of the road will make the street safer for cyclists.
Managing compromises on the open brief
The open brief from the public engagement set out a number of ambitions from participants on what the future space at Piccadilly could look like.
Whilst the final design will result in significant improvements for all users of the space, there were some challenges and dilemmas. Specifically:-
- Meander the road to slow the traffic
The open brief set out proposals to control vehicle speed and change the feel of the space by meandering the road within its existing kerblines. Advice from the council’s highways engineers was that to meander the road significantly, there would need to be a full reconstruction of the whole road. Their advice was that this would be extremely costly and it would also cause problems for the many buses that use this popular route.
Whilst the final design does not fully reconstruct the road, the flow of the pavements will be used to create a gentle meander and there is a proposed 20mph speed limit on Piccadilly once the scheme is complete. This will mean that traffic can better co-exist with different public uses.
- Segregated cycle lanes
Engagement with York Cycle Campaign showed a desire for segregated cycle lanes to feature in the redesign of Piccadilly.
Even though Piccadilly is a wide road it narrows significantly on approach to the city centre, and advice we received was that any bus route has to have a minimum width along its entire length. The design work, which was shared openly with the public and cycling groups through a number of meetings, highlighted that this, and the additional space for pedestrians, made it impossible to create segregated cycle lanes in the space available. We invited all groups to propose solutions and provided the detail but none were identified.
The issue of available space was discussed in depth during earlier stages of the public engagement process and a blog of this can be found here.
Instead the design follows the Sustrans best practice guidance for creating safe conditions for cyclists where there is not enough highway space for segregated cycle lanes. This includes a proposed speed limit of 20mph, meaning traffic can better co-exist with both cyclists and street activities such as sitting out, lingering and informal pedestrian movement.
In addition space that can be used for deliveries and taxis will be placed in the pavement areas meaning they are away from the road removing significant obstructions for cyclists from the road. The additional loading space and extended pavement will largely be formed by removing on street car parking in the area, again giving more space for people instead of vehicles.
Beyond Piccadilly, proposed investment will see a new cycle route from the south of the city over the new bridge on to Piccadilly and a new controlled crossing point over the inner-ring road. The new bridge will offer a key movement route but also responds to wishes for spending time near the Foss and socialising.
Meeting the needs of all users of the space
The final design will result in significant improvements for all users of the space.
New mini-public spaces will be created. Pavement areas will be extended to help create a much safer environment for pedestrians, allowing street planting and seating, and outdoor spaces for pavement café licences which bring life to the street and were set out as an ambition in the open brief.
With developments ongoing at Piccadilly, the look and feel of this area will change as each development moves forward. This is a long term project, as it relies on each developer to implement the changes outside of their site, with the council completing any gaps to complete the final design.
We also remain committed to keeping plans under review and should new solutions emerge designs can always flex as required.