We have all been asked to give our opinion about an improvement scheme ‘A Plan for Prestwich High Street’. People have been vocal about the scheme: the more vocal expressing resistance to change. In this article we explore why Prestwich needs some form of intervention in order to create a vibrant and accessible High Street. The opportunity to regenerate the High Street using £2 million of local funding should be seized by the community. This is a ‘one-shot’ chance to transform our living space. This article explores some of the major problems of Option Zero – that is ‘doing nothing’.
Dropping through the letterbox, a flyer shouts out ‘Stop the Road Closures!’. This is the only response from a Liberal Democrats ‘focus’ group to a proposal that could transform Prestwich. In the flyer, there is no mention of how the proposal might regenerate a High Street which to date has been overwhelmed by the demands of traffic. Instead, the slogan sounds reminiscent of ‘Stop the Pit Closures’ or ‘Stop the Factory Closures’. But I think the people of Prestwich do have a vision and this vision sees past the soundbites. It’s not a vision about getting to work five minutes earlier. Instead, it’s a vision of a vibrant community.
It is sometimes tempting to polarise arguments: the car driver versus the pedestrian or cyclist versus buses. In reality, we as stakeholders have an interest in each of these. And yes, perhaps we would be more inclined to get out of our cars and enjoy the local surroundings if it could be made more attractive: this might involve making a few trade-offs.
What is certain is that ‘doing nothing’ is not an option. The pedestrian experience of Bury New Road is unattractive, unsafe and inaccessible. As a result, local businesses and shops fail to flourish and attract passers-by. Below are some of the consequences of a ‘no action’ approach which seems to be advocated by the ‘no change’ lobbyists.
Proposal Zero: No Action
Below are itemised just some of the implications of continuing along the ‘No Action’ pathway. I believe it is necessary to highlight how dysfunctional the current situation is and how increasing pressures are likely to jeopardise the public realm and amenity In Prestwich.
1. Risks to cyclists arising from uncontrolled lane manoeuvres by car owners
2. Traffic congestion caused by a discontinuous two-lane system (the two-lane system is clearly only a single lane system at present made worse by the necessity to manoeuvre past parked vehicles)
3. The hazard presented by too many pedestrian crossings. This appears to be causing a significant number of ‘red light jumpers’ particularly at the crossing between Chester Road and Clifton Road. This happens several times per hour and I personally have observed several ‘near miss’ incidents involving cars. It appears to be caused by the siting of the crossing, which follows soon after the Warwick Street crossing. Drivers appear to be cognitively overwhelmed by the frequency of crossings. Reducing the number of crossings would appear to increase the safety of the remaining crossings for pedestrians.
4. Proliferation of unauthorised street furniture by shop owners on pavements. This presents a hazard for mobility impaired and visually impaired people. Obstructions include plant pots, motorcycles,A-signs, and chairs for coffee shops. These obstructions are more evident on the westward side and are particularly problematic given the small width of the pavement.
5. The absence of a ‘drop curb’ on the Eastward side, adjacent to the White Horse which prevents wheelchair users such as myself from accessing the parade of shops North of the White Horse.
6. The ongoing problem of ‘pooling’ on the roads after heavy rainfall. Efforts have been made to remedy this at pedestrian crossings, but pedestrians are still being drenched by passing cars. Widening of the pavements would undoubtedly reduce this problem.
7. The narrowness of Clifton Road at the junction of Bury New Road is a particular danger to pedestrians, particularly those with young children and buggies. Cars exiting from Clifton Road frequently mount the curb when cutting the corner, endangering pedestrians who are unable to see the cars approaching.
8. Pavement parking rather than double yellow line parking is the key problem for pedestrians who are often blocked by inconsiderate drivers. This is a problem on the exit to Clifton Road. Some drivers appear to be under the impression that by parking on the pavement itself, it diminishes the seriousness of parking on a double yellow line.
9. Landlords of shops in the vicinity of the Clifton Road junction are neglecting the upkeep of gutters. This means that pedestrians are forced to walk under leaky guttering, particularly when pavement parking occurs or when bins are left out.
10. Pedestrian ‘kettling’ occurs at pedestrian crossings, particularly at busy times. The narrowness of pavements causes a risk of overflow onto the roads and prevents other people passing.
Regarding the ‘baseline’ option of NO ACTION, the situation is untenable for pedestrians and any modifications would result in improvements.
The Way Ahead: Proposal One
Proposal One would significantly increase the appeal of Prestwich and would serve the interests of all stakeholders. The wider pavements would reduce the problem identified in 4) above provided that enforcement is carried out to prevent ad hoc ‘creep’of street furniture and parked cars on the new pavement areas. Beautification by the addition of trees and landscaping would be particularly welcome. Raised flower beds would also add to the appeal.
(Potential limitations of this proposal relates to point 1) above. The cycle lane may cause a false sense of security for cyclists. The lane marginalises cyclists relegating them to the side of the road and may in fact increase risks arising from static vehicles moving in and out of permanent parking bays. The ‘visibility’ of a cycle lane depends upon its continuity further along Bury New Road.)
Let’s embrace this opportunity with open arms! It’s a one-shot opportunity. Undoubtedly from this one splash there will be many ripples that will be created. Yes, there are tweaks that need to be made, but shouldn’t we be celebrating this funding success and thinking about how we could use it wisely? In the words of George Bernard Shaw ‘Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.’
“PRESTWICH will be centred on a lively high street, full of independent retailers, where traffic adds to the vitality of the town centre and the street scene rather than dominating the environment.”