A people friendly Sheffield needs people friendly streets

On the 19th and 20th of October, from 10am to 4pm, Division Street will be closed to cars and open to people. This will be a great opportunity to see, in the flesh, what positive changes could happen in our city to make it more people friendly. More open, accessible, healthy, and fun. CycleSheffield and people who cycle across the city will be rubbing their hands with glee, but it’s not just good for us lot, this is good for everyone. It’s good for…

People who need a bit more accessibility…

Imagine the road as a flaming chasm. Imagine pedestrian crossings as a bridge over the chasm. Now imagine the pavement as… well, still a pavement I guess. In this scenario, you could be forgiven for feeling a little terrified, but also for feeling a little cramped. Add into this scenario a throng of shoppers and commuters. You would have to be a pretty mobile individual to avoid falling into the metaphor.

Expanding this space, removing the chasm, and making the whole area calmer and quieter opens up opportunity to make places that are accessible for more people, with varying levels of mobility/fear of chasm’s. More space for mobility scoters and aids, seating to take a rest, no worries of busy crossings, fewer obstructions from parked cars and street furniture. All of this leads to a more equitable use of space that represents the needs of a broader range of people, and becomes more inviting.

Andrew from Disability Sheffield supports the trial. He said “Disability Sheffield are delighted with plans to pedestrianise Division Street. We very much look forward to the experiment and will encourage our supporters to come and have a wander around town in their leisure”. Commenting on the possibility of future permanent changes, Andrew said “A pedestrianised street without pavements and curbs would be fantastic and it would follow a natural path from Fargate and City Hall area”.

People who sell stuff and buy stuff…

Although it isn’t one of the most exciting positives, it is often cited (wrongly) as one of the main negatives. “If you remove the chasm how will people be able to paddle along the fiery river to do their shopping?”. Whenever removing cars from streets is mentioned, falling trade is mentioned. The opposite is true. Footfall increasing drastically, people stay longer, and cafes and bars start to bring their fanciest table out in the summer. With careful planning, loading bays and delivery routes can still be included too. This is a great opportunity for businesses on Division Street, because you don’t stop for a coffee when you are balancing on the edge of a precipice. Living Street’s Pedestrian Pound is a great resource for economically minded fact seekers.

Investments in the public realm and walkability make economic sense. The evidence we have – from the UK and internationally – demonstrates increased footfall and trading.

The Economic Benefits of Sustainable Streets, NYC DoT, 2016

Children…

Take note of this trial. Along with other trials across Sheffield, such as the school streets movement, they will show what streets might look like if they were designed by kids. Not only would it be fun to see young children wearing suits and attending travel planning meetings at Sheffield City Council (ha, the suits are too big for them!), it would be fun to experience what they create. Tim Gill (Author of No Fear: Growing up in a risk averse society) says child friendly cities enable ‘everyday freedoms’ for kids. For example, playgrounds are kid friendly spaces, but if they are surrounding by roads (or chasms – is that metaphor still going?) then you need a responsible adult to give you safe passage. You, the child in the oversized suit, can’t exercise your freedoms and do it yourself. Therefore, our city is not child friendly, its child mean. And who wants to be mean to kids?

I’m not suggesting kids will flock to play in the city centre after Division Street has been pedestrianized, but I’m saying it will show you an example of the freedom and fun that could be enjoyed by young people if more streets did the same.

Wellbeing fans…

So far, in this vision of the chasm-less future, we’ve got more people being able to access our streets, thriving businesses and doughnut crafters, children with more freedom to be children, but we mustn’t forget, your friend and mine, health and wellbeing. The list of benefits to car free streets is about as long as the queue of stationary traffic on the ring road at 5pm. Reduced air pollution, reduced noise pollution, safer streets, more physical activity, improved mental wellbeing, stress alleviation, to name but a few. Expand this approach to other streets and similar benefits will follow.

What next?

It will be important for CycleSheffield to have more conversations around the above topics on the trial closure day in the coming weeks. It is also important for supporters to have similar conversations about the benefits that people friendly cities bring. As a lot of alarming and challenging issues are becoming bigger parts of daily life, it’s crucial we make the most of opportunities like the Division Street closure. Both to show what positive change we can active on the day, but also to show what broader benefits a scaled up approach could bring to the city and its residents. Come along on the 19th and 20th of October, invite your pals, and show your support.

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