Friday, 26 June 2009

Car Free Sundays

The idea of occasional car-free Sundays when areas of the city centre are temporarily closed to motor traffic has been tried and tested in many major cities around the world but has as yet not been taken up in Britain in any more than a tokenistic way. But it now seems as if the time might be right to push for Bristol to be the first UK city to institute regular car free Sundays affecting a substantial area of the city centre.

Swiftly following on the heals of Jon Rogers' proposal for more car-free Sundays on the Portway has come a proposal by a leading Conservative Councillor, Peter Abraham, to instead make street closures in the city centre in the manner of our twin city Bordeaux. The Portway closure proposal got a rather mixed reaction, even from the anti-car lobby, since it's a bit remote from the heart of the city and is not normally frequented by those, cyclists and pedestrians, who might benefit the most.

The city centre however is becoming a more popular place to go on Sundays, partly due to the popularity of Sunday shopping but also due to increasing tourism and a more cosmopolitan approach to life. Even without a special event plenty of people would be around to enjoy a traffic free environment in the centre although there is obviously plenty of scope to encourage the integration of festivities and entertainments with car-free Sundays.

View Car free centre in a larger map

The extent of any such closure remains to be determined, but my guess is that it might be based on the limits shown on my entirely speculative map above. This would create a traffic free Park Street, College Green, Centre, Old City, Queen Square and Broadmead while allowing car access to Cabot Circus and almost all the other major car parks. Traffic by-passing the centre to the west would use Park Row, Jacobs Wells Road, Hotwell Road, Cumberland Road and Coronation Road.

If we want to see this idea progressed we must make clear our support and enthusiasm. Write to the Executive Member for Transport,, and comment on local web sites like that of the Evening Post. That's the way we demonstrate public support and overcome the moaning of the reactionaries of the pro-car lobby.

Here's some links to inspire you (thanks to TonyD from comments below) from New York and Vancouver.


TonyD said...

Summer Streets New York

Car Free Day Vancouver

As well as closing off city centre streets to motorised traffic, Vancouver also encouraged communities to set up street parties.

Anonymous said...

I think Peter Abrahams idea is better than Jon Rogers.


Chris Hutt said...

Hi Charlie, I think you're right. But I suspect the Portway idea came from John Grimshaw who Jon Rogers met on Sunday on the ride.

John G has long favoured the regular closure of the Portway and has this really persuasive and authorative way of speaking so that it's hard not to be infected with his enthusiasm. Many's the time that I've found myself agreeing something totally bonkers with him.

Anonymous said...

recently been in quito, ecuador and bogotá, colombia and both capital cities have had care free sundays on major roads for some years...

and no, not on the outskirts of the city where no-one is likely to cycle anyway, but on the major city centre roads and intersections going north to south...

come on bristol...

James Barlow said...

You'd probably need to tweak the Eastern edge of the zone a bit to allow access to the car parks around the Galleries and the harbour - perhaps by leaving Welsh Back and Wine Street out of the zone.

Looks worth a go, though.

Chris Hutt said...

Good point James.

The Galleries car park is one of the biggest with 959 spaces and there's the Nelson Street one with 259 spaces, Queen Charlotte Street with 282 spaces, Prince Street with 311 spaces, Queen Square and The Grove with 272 spaces between them, so a total of over 2,000 spaces cut-off by a cordon as drawn.

However the number of spaces still accessible is around 7,000 (depending on what area you consider accessible from the centre) so, given that we're talking about Sundays, should be more than adequate.

Of course the cordon as I've drawn it is no more than a suggestion but is designed to achieve a reasonable compromise. I'd have liked to include Queens Road in front of the university tower and museum in the traffic free zone but that would block the Park Row - Jacobs Wells Road avoiding route.

Harry M said...

I like the idea of closing the centre to traffic on Sundays and it would indeed fit in nicely with summer festivals like the harbourside festival. I think the nice thing about closing the Portway to traffic is it shows off the wonderful natural entrance of the gorge, With regards to closing Ladies Mile - yes, absolutely - I'd make it permanent. Problem is car drivers are increasingly parking on the downs themselves (there were hundreds of cars on the grass during the 10k run) and even driving over the downs (I saw 3 cars drive straight across the grass from near sea walls to the water tower because they couldn't be bothered waiting in a queue of traffic)

Noel said...

Whenever I read the comments on the evening post website a little part of my faith in humanity dies.

Whats with the intollerance towards ideas meant to improve our lives? Its not like these 'people' have any constructive counter ideas, its all 'ban all those criminal cyclists and kick out the lentil munching liberals'.

This car free sunday is probably the best idea I've heard for Bristol in some time. I look forward to the days when its car free fridays or car free wednesdays and its every week of the year.

Actually to be honest there are a number of roads in Bristol that would not hurt anyone to be closed permanently. Not least of which is the horsefair.

Jon Rogers said...

I also like Peter's idea for a car-free city centre.

Definitely worth exploring.

We already have a strong tradition of street closures for street parties, we close the Portway and other city centre roads for the half marathon, the 10K and the Biggest Bike Ride and we have talked about closing roads on the Downs, especially Ladies Mile, for years.

What I want to see is a change in attitude across the City, with these ideas being seriously considered and where possible, trialled.

As Exec Member for Transport and Sustainability, I am certainly up for it, as are many of the council officers I have spoken to.

Bristol can lead the way in Britain with Sunday Streets - lets be innovative and try things out!


Jon Rogers said...

Charlie said, "I think Peter Abrahams idea is better than Jon Rogers." and Chris Hutt agreed.

Does that mean you are both against the suggestion to close the Portway on Sundays, or that you simply prefer closing the City Centre?

Chris suggests it is "bonkers". Are we really going to be arguing amongst ourselves about ideas for encouraging people out of cars and instead walking, cycling and enjoying our city?


Chris Hutt said...

Hi Jon, I'm very pleased to hear that you support the idea of Sunday closures in the centre.

As for the Portway, I didn't actually say it was bonkers, although I admit it was implied. I think Portway closures are justified when there is a sufficiently popular alternative use (cycling and running events, whatever) to justify it.

I can imagine that a couple more Sundays in the summer might be viable if associated with big events. But we must remember that Portway closures mean more traffic through Stoke Bishop and Clifton where a lot of people are adversely affected.

One thing seems clear - we can't close the Portway and the city centre on the same day, so to a large extent there's a choice, one or the other. Given a choice, I would favour the city centre because that's where most people will benefit and it's a much more accessible location for people on foot.

Besides we already have Portway closures on two Sundays but no extensive closure of the centre, so I would give priority to progressing the new initiative rather than replicating the old one.

To my mind the point of a city centre closure is to give people a chance to appreciate their city without the almost constant intrusion of traffic. Once people saw how much nicer the city was without traffic there would I believe be more support for permanent closures, as suggested for the Broadmead / Old city area.

McD said...

Rats - I've been beaten to it again! brilliant idea. So what about buses - can they still go through the centre? AND can we get a fare reduction on these days - or even free! And shuttle buses from outlying car parks maybe? And taxis? Allied with 20mph limit?

David Wilcox said...

How soon can this happen? How about when the Harbour Festival is say the 2nd of August?
That's when the maximum number of pedestrians are in the centre.

Chris Hutt said...

Good point about buses McD. Clearly the cordon as drawn would disrupt a lot of bus routes, although services are pretty minimal on Sundays (e.g. no P&R services).

I'd favour keeping buses out since they contribute a lot to the adverse impact of motor traffic, which would mean a lot of buses diverting down Park Row which would already be taking a lot of diverted traffic. Tricky.

A useful model might be the arrangements made for the Millenium new year celebrations on 1/01/2000 when the city centre was cordoned off and bus services terminated on the fringe of the traffic free area.

There are already city centre closures associated with the Harbour Festival so perhaps we ought to look at how bus services adapt to that. I don't think it need be a major problem providing people have fair warning of the changes.

Chris Hutt said...

David Wilcox, I think the Harbour Festival (31 July - 2 Aug) is too soon to change whatever arrangements are already proposed for that.

However World Carfree Day is September 22nd and so would give us 3 months to prepare and promote a large scale closure. That seems like a realistic aspiration. Perhaps we could focus our campaign on that.

elizabeth said...

I love the broad idea of road closure, and I would definitely include Queens Road - a natural piazza - and Old Market, as well as Park Street, all important parts of Bristol's grade 1 heritage which are being more and more degraded by the traffic and parking to which they have been abandoned. It seems so perverse to have built a concrete and glass theme park of a market place at Cabot Circus when we already had several fine examples of the real thing which only needed to be pedestrianised and policed.

But if we do emancipate our most
beautiful streets from traffic, let's get away from the American and UK practice of then filling the void with alternative noise and pollution - from amplifiers, loud speakers, and diesel generators. This is nearly always the result of street closures here, where the sad impulse to substitute other sorts of noise and pollution proves just as wearing as the original traffic. Moreover, the residential streets on the boundaries of the traffic free zone take a terrible pounding from the thoughtless parking of all those 4x4s and other vehicles which are driven in for the "event", and this needs seriously thinking about.

In continental city centres on the other hand, the sound of birdsong, human voices and footsteps, and the scent of the trees, are considered reward enough for getting rid of the traffic. I would cite Cracow's Town Square, the largest in Europe, as a fine example of how you don't need the frenetic noise and pollution of an "event" to enjoy yourself once you have overthrown the tyranny of motor traffic.

Chris Hutt said...

Excellent points Elizabeth. You're quite right that we seem to assume that traffic noise must be substituted by some other noise, so habituated are we to omnipresent noise.

Adam said...

Brilliant idea. I'd welcome it as often as possible. Adam

sued said...

Great idea - why not alternate the centre with the Portway? Or maybe close both on all sundays? I agree with Elizabeth about the need to keep the noise down so there is an aural benefit as well.
It would be like a different (and infinitely nicer) city. Instead of ploughing money into huge expensive schemes which have to be marketed at further expense to attract visitors, a scheme like this would attract people to the city and give them a proper opportunity to look at the city rather than the pelican crossings while walking around the place. It would mark Bristol out as genuinely innovative and doing something that benefitted its residents, not just business interests.

Anonymous said...

What would happen to the people who live in the car free zone and actually need to use their car?

I live in the car free zone and have to travel to Swindon (J16 of the M4) of which their is no way to do this on Sundays using public transport?

Chris Hutt said...

You could park your car outside the car free zone before it came into effect and likewise if you return before it finishes. Would that be such a big problem?

Anonymous said...

That's very generous of you to offer that Chris, but as I'm sure you are aware trying to find a parking space on Saturday evening anywhere around that area is pretty much impossible. It would only result in all the people living in the area (estimated 3000+?) you have suggested driving around Clifton/Hotwells and the surrounding area on a Saturdays night for 20+ minutes trying to find a space to leave the car. Not really the best for the environment compared to a standing still car.

Wouldn't a better suggestion be for all the people who live in the area you have suggested to have a sticker allowing them out of the area on Sundays but not back in (say before 18:00) with a maximum speed limit of 20mph during the time they are leaving?

Chris Hutt said...

Yes, that would be a better suggestion, although it would mean a certain minimum width would have to be kept clear for vehicles to leave, limiting what could be done with the space.

I was thinking that free parking just outside the zone would be designated exclusively for residents so it wouldn't be a matter of having to search for one. Perhaps I should have explained that.

I'm sure all those sorts of details could be worked out to most people's satisfaction given time and goodwill. Certainly those living within the proposed zone have legitimate access rights which must be respected.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris, yes that certainly makes much more sense.

The idea of allowing local residents to use local public car parks over the weekend certainly seems like a winner. I would actually be a bit more forceful than that and say that all cars must be off the public road by say 08:00am on the Sunday (allowing free car parking for residents in a public car park from Saturday) therefore allowing all roads to be completely car free come Sunday morning. There is pretty much a car park within 5 minutes of all houses and most wouldn’t mind too much about a 10 minute walk ;) Obviously some access must be allowed for the less able.

I just think that it would be much better to make this a special occasion rather than a regular occurrence. Events such as this always draw a much bigger crowd when they only occur a few times a year rather than every week and it creates a much more special/exciting atmosphere even bringing people in from around the South West.

I think as long as the local residents are accomodated for and some thought it put into the implementation you will not have too much objection to this idea.

Chris Hutt said...

Good ideas. I'm sure the Carfree Sundays idea would start off as a one-off and then increase in frequency according to its success and popularity. I'm also doubtful of it being viable for every Sunday, but who knows until we try it?

Sorry my first reply to you was rather flippant. One of may many character defects I'm afraid.

Harvey Bikebell said...

Bristol World Naked Bike Ride
Sunday June 13th 2010

This year Bristol WNBR seeks to promote the idea of Car Free Sundays in the City Centre