An open letter to Newcastle City Council about the 'Ghost Street' road safety campaign

I’m writing with regard to your Ghost Street road safety campaign website, specifically the pages about pedestrians and cycling.

My question is how are we supposed to encourage more people to cycle or walk if campaigns like this scare them away from it? A safer environment for cyclists and pedestrians is one in which fewer people commute by car, and more people choose to cycle or walk instead. The problem is that people choose not to cycle or walk BECAUSE of the dangers presented by the number of cars on the road and lack of adequate infrastructure (especially for cyclists who often have to share the road with motorists). This is a vicious circle that won’t be broken by this sort of ill-conceived campaign that only perpetuates the idea that cycling (or being a pedestrian) is a dangerous activity.

Furthermore, this is a classic case of a campaign addressing the symptom and not the cause. A recent study in Australia has shown that in the majority of accidents involving cyclists and motorists, it is the driver who is at fault. In the scenarios depicted in your campaign, the onus is on the young people to protect themselves from cars, rather than on the motorist to drive with due care and attention for other road users (whether that is cyclists, or pedestrians crossing the road).

Also, I recognise that the use of shock tactics works in getting people to change their behaviour, for example, drink-driving campaigns have been successful in making drinking and driving a socially unacceptable activity, but with this campaign it seems out of place and only serves to discourage people from cycling or walking.

I’m concerned about the negative effect this campaign may have on other campaigns that are trying encourage people to cycle or walk. Surely public money would be better spent on improving Newcastle’s cycling infrastructure and on campaigns that emphasise the positive benefits of cycling and walking.

Matt Jones

Update: Thanks to Tom for providing me with a link the council’s press release about the campaign.

32 thoughts on “An open letter to Newcastle City Council about the 'Ghost Street' road safety campaign”

  1. I fully support this open letter to Newcastle City Council, and completely agree with its sentiment.

    To attract a “notable” number of people into cycling and walking (leaving their cars at home) we need to address the fear factor.

    Hundreds of local cyclists have told Newcastle City Council that they would cycle more if cycle routes would be safer. These are people who already cycle. There is a large number not even touching a bicycle out of safety concerns.

    Let’s say this “notable number” is 20% of journeys. I am referring to Sustrans’ call for 20% by 2020: In Newcastle cycle trips currently probably account for 2% or less.

    So. We need to increase cycling numbers ten-fold in fewer than 10 years. How? Newcastle City Council, how? The more, the safer. “Safety in numbers” to quote the CTC.

    We need to create that positive feedback loop.

    And we need to start now. We therefore call on Newcastle City Council to discontinue the counter-productive GhostStreet initiative.

    Chair Newcastle Cycling Campaign

  2. Thank you for your feedback on Ghost Street. I can assure you that when this film is shown in schools it is shown in a road safety context with support from Road Safety teams. The film is not used in schools in Newcastle as a stand alone product it is part of a wider Road Safety Programme which focuses particularly on promoting walking and cycling. In addition the Council are investing significantly in infrastructure and training to encourage safer cycling. As a result of this work there has been an increase over the last few years in the number of pupils travelling to school on bikes and new funding grants have been achieved to help deliver advanced training.

  3. Many thanks for your reply and giving some details of the context in which the Ghost Street site is used. While this makes things a bit more clear to me, perhaps it would be better to include some info about rest of the programme on the site, so that visitors who aren’t necessarily the target audience can get a sense of the wider context.

    I’d be interested to see the figures you have for the amount being spent on infrastructure, and any data that shows an increase in the number of pupils cycling to school.

  4. Yes, please. Newcastle Cycling Campaign would really like to see figures on infrastructure expenditure and increase in school children walking and cycling, too. Matt, thanks for asking!

    A recent example of road safety taking a back seat (pardon pun) is the re-developed Tankerville Terrace site (East end). Where a dangerous blind corner is retained and so results in a tangle of vertical segregation structures (bollards and railings) – “pedestrian herding”. No provision for safe cycling was made as part of the re-development.

    Vertical safety structures are usually a clear sign that cars are somewhat favoured over active travel (walking and cycling) – is this really an acceptable approach for a safe route to school? Especially in times when active travel should be boldy encouraged because childhood obesity is on the increase

    Preference appears to have been given to vehicle traffic flows which subsequently results in compromising walking and cycling school children. From personal experience I can confirm that it’s not pleasant to walk or cycle on Tankerville Terrace during school run hours. Better public realm proportioning and sympathetic people-friendly design would have been an answer. You could check with Manual for Streets for some ideas.

    You ALMOST cannot blame parents when they express the counter-productive and somewhat short-sighted “It’s not safe – there are too may cars – I will drive you to school”. Almost.

    Here’s a light-hearted take on the regular Tankerville Terrace jam:

    Cheryl, happy to talk you through things in person.


  5. Matt,

    Just seen this. This website verges on snuff and is one of the worst examples of fear mongering that I’ve ever seen. We should be pushing to get this withdrawn.

    The project seems designed to scare children off their streets and into cars, thereby creating a more dangerous street environment. Exactly the opposite of what it purports to be.

  6. The snuff website you are referring to is the council’s “” website I presume.

    I too am thinking the council’s initiative is old school. I am awaiting some background info from RoSPA about the effectiveness of the “fear factor”. Will share once I receive it.

  7. I have just been on the ghoststreet website and I’m in shock. Highly disappointing campaign – to be polite, which completely misses the point. and I would agree with Tom that we should push for this video and other promotional materials to be withdrawn.

    Maybe the Council should read the excellent article “safety factored” from the CTC cycle magazine Feb/March 2011:

    I understand that some young people were involved in designing the campaign – but what about cyclists and cycling organisations?

    Have a look at the 10: 10 video on climate change

    It did get withdrawn – so should Ghost streets

  8. This is a pretty bad attempt at promoting road safety and is entirely counterproductive. The way to improve cycle safety is to get more people cycling, as shown by every country with high levels of cycling, not to scare people off with the result that teenagers will be even keener to learn to drive.

    It is also particularly disappointing to see the lack of emphasis on the site of the source of danger being the problem. Why is ‘speed kills’ not highlighted on the front page, rather than being relegated to the fourth menu item after the cyclist/walking blame culture pages? Where is the reference to drunk driving and all kinds of other driver safety issues?

    This campaign strongly reminds me of the DfT’s dreadful attempt to ‘promote’ road safety with a website called ‘CycleSense’ that associated cycling with images of skulls in a pathetic attempt to promote helmet wearing and which was withdrawn after protests from the CTC, Cambridge Cycling Campaign and others that its effect will merely be to give a misleading impression that cycling is a dangerous activity when it is not:

  9. Its interesting that we don’t see car adverts made this way. I mean, obviously when trying to sell the joys of motoring car manufacturers concentrate on the freedom you obtain by having a car; the open road, no traffic, no risk.

    Yet repeatedly local authorities (who are apparently trying to promote cycling and walking) keep banging on about the risks, about how nasty it is, about how its all up to the cyclist or the pedestrian to remain safe.

    The problem with this approach is that it just reinforces the negative perception people have of cycling; wherever studied, the massively overwhelming majority of road accidents are caused by motorists, and what do we do? Blame the victims. It matters when any public body reinforces this failing culture of victim blame. It isn’t making anyone safer, because it doesn’t address the cause of accidents, and it doesn’t encourage anyone out of their cars either, it just tells them they’re safer where they are.

    Newcastle City Council need to feel ashamed of this ghoulish, offensive website. Withdraw it and retain what little dignity you have left.

  10. Advise from RoSPA officer: “although I can’t comment on whether their [fear appeals’] use is appropriate in specific campaigns”…”In general we would try and encourage road safety practitioners to not use fear appeals, as there are concerns over their effectiveness and whether they are the ‘right’ approach.”

  11. With all the information and precedent available worldwide on how to conduct positive campaigns to encourage walking and cycling (and stay safe), this is horrible, unsophisticated, and ultimately counterproductive. I would add my voice to others asking for this to be withdrawn at the very least and hopefully re-thought.

  12. It is tempting to say what a waste of money and time but it is far worse than that.

    If you want to use fear then target the parents who drive short distances to school and those who park illegally. Get them to hear the stories of parents who have killed their own children with their cars (sadly there are a number of these).

    Stop blaming the victims, spend your money on making life safer for cyclists and educating drivers. Drivers are the ones who kill.

  13. Newcastle Council, FOR SHAME.

    You are driving children into cars, for good. There they will maim and kill others and themselves, whilst being driven by their parents and then as adults themselves. They will not grow up seeing walking/cycling as viable, safe alternatives to car use.

    You must stop this campaign now. It will only lead to more deaths from obesity, increased car use and many other unintended consequences.

    And nowhere have cycle helmets been proved to save any lives at all. You provide no source for your claim, because there is none. You are lying to the public who pay your wages.

    Pull the campaign and hang your heads in shame.


  14. I agree. To improve safety on the streets of Newcastle, start implementing Dutch style transport infrastructure instead.

  15. I agree with the sentiments of this letter.

    Creating an artificial culture of fear hurts cycling and walking. People terrified of these activities will instead retreat into their cars, with their false sense of safety and all their detrimental effects on the urban landscape.

    This brutish campaign places the responsibility of safety on the most vulnerable road users, rather than users with heavy lethal vehicles such as cars and lorries.

    Not to mention that the science supporting helmet use is controversial at best, with university studies variously finding positive and negative net effects on safety. Along with the collective harm done to cycling in the handful of countries with mandatory helmet laws, helmets have been linked with a heightened risk of diffuse axonal injury – an extremely debilitating type of traumatic brain damage.

    The money used for this harmful campaign could have instead gone into a segregated cycle lane in some part of Newcastle, such as the best-practice examples in the Netherlands and Denmark. This would be a real safety measure, vindicated by the drastic drop in fatalities and sharp rise in cycling use in those countries.

  16. As a parent, as someone who loves to walk and cycle and thinks that more people should walk and cycle, and as a sociologist currently doing research across the UK as part of a big government-funded project called ‘Understanding Walking and Cycling’, I am absolutely appalled by Newcastle City Council’s ‘Ghost Streets’ Road Safety Camapaign, and agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments of this ‘open letter’. Put bluntly, the politics of ‘Ghost Streets’ is all wrong (in a decent society it would be ‘criminally wrong’): instead of focusing on and seeking to change the potentially lethal behaviours of the drivers of motorised vehicles, it puts responsibility on people walking and cycling. If we’re serious about getting more people walking and cycling, and about building liveable and sustainable cities, we need to move beyond this kind of stuff. Please, Newcastle City Council, withdraw this campaign and spend your energies on civilising the real danger – those unruly motorised vehicles which decivilise your city’s streets. And if you’re going to harness the imaginations and energies of young people, do it in a way which genuinely empowers them to see the streets as belonging to all, and not only those who speed through them in metal boxes. (Perhaps, for example, you should be encouraging them to take to the streets, and to put their vulnerable bodies in front of cars, in a bid to question the ‘right’ of those cars to tear our lives apart. Teach them that together we might reclaim our streets and end road carnage for good.)

  17. AUDITS

    I would also like to ask Newcastle City Council to carry out road safety audits on routes to school (I suppose these routes have been identified), and those route audits, past and present, be published for public comment.

    This should provide invaluable feedback on these ‘safe routes’ and unearth obstacles and barriers to walking and cycling with the help of community engagement. Improvements could then be addressed taking into account comments from the community and route users.


    Could our council please publish the identified ‘safe routes’ to schools, or tell the community where these can be accessed for online viewing, and comment.

  18. In response to Newcastle City Council statement (

    – – – –

    Hello David


    With the council’s recent statement

    and the controversy surrounding Ghost Street in mind, could you please send us the resource material you are referring to? This would enable us to carry out our own assessment. You can find the Newcastle Cycling Campaign address below.

    We would also like to add this for your consideration:

    The comments we have made were about the website as this is what is visible to the public. Your press release states the importance of appreciating the holistic view the initiative seeks to convey. You ask in the statement “Do you feel it is fair to condemn a film after watching 12 seconds of it?” – The clear answer is “Yes” – as these few seconds are the ones that were chosen to be put on the website for everyone to see.

    If a holisitic view is required to comprehend the Ghost Street initiative in its entirety, than the website does not currently achieve this and should be amended to reflect this.

    The Newcastle Cycling Campaign is a not-for-profit community group. If you could waive any fees associated with the request for Ghost Street material that’d be much appreciated.

    Katja (chair) & Claire (secretary)
    – –
    Newcastle Cycling Campaign

  19. Yet another unfortunate initiative despite, no doubt, the best of intentions.

    Council Officer Cheryl Ford’s less than convincing response to blog posts, so many of which enjoin the outcry against Ghost Streets, hints at how out of touch the Council is. I wonder whether the ‘advanced training’ they are delivering to schools is really in tune with the spirit of the National Cycling Standards.

    That youngsters have, apparently, been involved in the Ghost Streets hype is no excuse for its excesses: it’s an indication of brain washing.

    The real evidence is crystal clear. Cycling is no more dangerous than a host of other normal activities; in fact for 17 to 24 year old males it’s safer than driving; add on the health benefits and it’s ‘safer’ to cycle than not for nearly everyone.

    Nevertheless improvements are needed. But not e.g. heavy promotion of helmets: every time a helmets helps there’s another which contributes to a casualty – otherwise we wouldn’t have helmet take up’s zero net effect. Counterintuitive maybe: but range of reasons is robustly examined at (unlike the dodgy stats used in much pro helmet rhetoric)

    One proven way forward is safety in numbers: as cycling doubles casualty rates almost halve. But Ghost Streets will frighten people off, leading to worse casualty rates.

    Scare tactics divert attention, funds and effort from really worthwhile measures like area wide 20 mph speed limits. The Council refers to the marked decrease in serious injury or death to pedestrians and cyclists at 30 mph as against 40. How worryingly odd they miss out the more dramatic gain given by 20 mph. especailly as there are so many broader benefits, including for driving, as explained at

    Ghosts Streets must go: Newcastle needs People Streets.

    John Mallows, policy director, Cyclenation

  20. The Ghost Street website is now password protected. You have to apply for login. Hm.

    Here is what it says:

    “Welcome to the award winning ‘Ghost Street’ schools road safety initiative.

    Local Authority Road Safety Officers and chools currently using the resource can obtain login details by contacting

    If you are not a Road Safety Officer or a school currently using the resource but would like further information please contact the Ghost Street Team at quoting your contact details and organisation.

    A member of the Team will contact you to discuss your individual requirements.”

  21. Agree with comments here that the Ghost Streets campaign is likely to terrify children away from walking & cycling, at detriment to their health & the overall health of the city.

    Noticed today that the website is now password protected. If the contents of the website isn’t seen to be fit for public view, why are its contents assumed fit for children in our schools?

  22. Agree wholeheartedly – Ghoststreet is at best, very badly thought out, at worst, completely gratuitous. It baffles me how this ill-conceived shock tactic was ever allowed into schools in the first place.

  23. Follow-up to info request, as nothing received.

    – – – –

    Dear David

    CC M Murphy, S Psallidas

    Could you please let us know when we can expect the Ghost Street study material we requested from you a fortnight ago?

    Although the Ghost Street website is now password protected and therefore not accessible to the public anymore, we are still very concerned about the apparent limited control over the way the road safety message is delivered to the target audience of 11-16 year-olds and the influence it may have over parents. The way road safety is managed has been counterintuitive to cycling and walking for quite some time.

    We are rather keen to evaluate the material.

    Thank you.

    Kind regards
    Katja & Claire

  24. Newcastle Cycling Campaign has received a reply to our study material request. Here it is:

    – – – – – – – – – – –

    Dear Katja and Claire

    With regard to your request for the Ghost Street material as the Ghost Street resource pack is available to purchase through the Ghost Street website ( We are not required to provide you this resource for free through the Freedom of Information Act should you consider making such a request. Section 21(1) of the Act states that information is exempt from disclosure if it is reasonably accessible to the applicant, and section 21(2)(a) of the Act states that information may be reasonably accessible even though it is accessible only on payment of a fee. We therefore consider that this is reasonably accessible to you, and we are not obliged to provide it to you in response to your request.

    In respect to your comments regarding your concerns about the way the road safety message is delivered I can assure you that the messages contained in Ghost Street are discussed in a forum with young people and their teachers in a way to encourage pupils to make sensible and safer choices over their own travel needs. It is imperative that young people are given the freedom to make their own decisions about how they travel and are presented with a balanced debate on all forms of transport. It is not in anyone’s best interest to present one sided information or force ideals on young people as this will only seek to alienate them rather it is more conducive to allow young people to make the right choice and come to their own conclusions. It is my experience that many young people do want to travel independently and most would choose walking or cycling as their preferred mode of transport and we will endeavour to help them achieve this where possible.

    It is also important to stress that Ghost Street is one element of Road Safety education provided in the City and is delivered as part of a package of resources. Promotion of sustainable forms of transport is key to the work of the Road Safety team and we deliver practical training in both walking and cycling initiatives. For young people it is essential to continue to promote both cycling and walking as modes of travel while encouraging independent travel and moving away from car dependency.

    I trust this response addresses your concerns. Should you have any constructive feedback this will of course be considered and used where appropriate to improve the service or resources provided by the Road Safety team.



    Cheryl Ford
    Road Safety Manager
    Newcastle City Council
    Technical Services
    Environment and Regeneration Directorate
    Room 909 Civic Centre
    Barras Bridge
    Newcastle upon Tyne
    NE1 8PD

    Office Tel: 0191 2115961
    Mobile Tel: 07854 011998
    Fax: 0191 2114843

  25. Dear Cheryl

    Thanks for your reply.

    We would love to give you our informed feedback; that’s why we requested the study material from you in the first place. And we would really appreciate it if you could send it to us free of charge as we don’t have the funds to pay for it. We know you are not required to do so but this is an opportunity to co-operate.

    We remain worried about how road safety is approached by the council. Especially now that the GhostStreet initiative has gone “underground” and any transparency and accountability with it.

    In closing: “Just because children demand sweets, you would not always give them sweets.” Call it tough love or leadership. In any case it is a necessary part of education and growing up.

    Looking forward to hearing from you and receiving the study material.

    Katja & Claire (twitter) (facebook)

  26. It really is time we stopped taking the Taliban approach to road safety ( and stopped blaming victims. Study after study has shown that over 90% of road “accidents” are caused by driver error, until we tackle this issue, the roads will never be safe for people.

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