The Car and the Pedestrian

Two extracts from the Society's newsletters.

[Sept 1991]

The Bird Street pedestrianisation is almost complete. Hurrah for that. We wonder how effective the control will be in preventing maverick car drivers from driving through without legitimate reason. Tail-backs of cars from the Bore Street / Bird Street traffic lights to Tamworth Street have been frequent in recent weeks. Throbbing engines, noxious fumes and generally shard loud music from stationary cars must surely have driven tourists away and caused residents much distress. We all know how to solve this problem.

[December 2000]

Almost ten years on these thoughts and opinions remain little changed. It would be wrong to say that no progress has been made - restrictions on vehicles within the City centre were imposed under a the Traffic Order of 1997. This progress however has taken almost ten years since the principle of pedestrianisation [in Bird Street] was accepted by the Council and the public. Today we have a traffic order that, by and large, appears to work satisfactorily - statistics show that vehicular movements within the area of the Order have decreased by 75%. Of course this figure could be improved considerably by stronger enforcement - it is quite apparent that a section of the community choose not to accept their responsibility to the rest by ignoring the Order. The pedestrian has, by virtue of the Order, reclaimed some of his/her rights that have been slowly eroded by the gradual but unchecked dominance of the motor vehicle.

However the pedestrian does not yet enjoy an environment in which the pedestrian priority status is clearly evident - visually the City is still a 'roadscape' no different from the day the Order came into being. So here we come back to progress and time spans and, needless to say, funding.

Progress, in as much as a report has been prepared, is taking place at District Council level to consider the implementation of the part of the Order dealing with environmental enhancement; i.e. that section of the work to remove the 'roadscape' appearance and create a dominant pedestrian environment.

The Civic Society, represented by Mary Lister, Ivor Mitchell and Myself, attended a meeting with the District Council at which draft proposals were presented and to which the Society was invited to comment. The committee considered these proposals in early November and our views were subsequently forwarded to the Council.

The report, prepared by the Head of Planning services for the Council's Development Committee, provides a broad outline view of the principles on which the design will be based:

  1. The acceptance of pedestrian priority status.
  2. The intended use of traditional materials with the specific avoidance of block paving.
  3. The importance of maintaining the traditional and historic relationship between building, footpath and carriageway.
  4. The acceptance of the possible need to phase the works, owing to budget restrictions, in order to ensure that the best scheme is adopted and the correct materials are used.

This design philosophy is strongly supported by the Society.

The draft plan contained within the report correctly identifies the necessary pedestrian crossing points and the need to establish a visually strong point of entry into the pedestrian zone.

As with most reports not all is good. There is still, despite what the report states, an apparent willingness by the Council to accede to placate drivers and not to take what may be an unpopular decision to a minority but would be in the interest of the majority. The report states that the Market Place is "the focal point of the City Centre and requires special treatment to recognise the pedestrian dominant activity". Fine words - but then why retain the existing parking in Market Street and add five more parking spaces in Conduit Street? I am aware that these are spaces for the disabled - both the committee and I support the Council's policy on the matter - but surely a reassessment of this particular provision, at least, is called for? Traffic and the 'pedestrian focal point of the City' are in my opinion a contradiction in terms.

I referred above to funding. The sections of the report dealing with funding are not encouraging and phasing of the work appears to be a fact accepted by the Council. The report indicates that the overall guiding policy is to ensure that the design is ultimately correct, the chosen materials are correct and the quality of the scheme is high. If to achieve these objectives the Council has to wait until funds are available then so be it. This is a policy that the Society supports.

Progress to completion of the overall plan, we must accept, is likely to be slow - indeed it may be the newsletter of September 2010 that reports "The Market Place pedestrianisation is almost complete".

David Duffy