Anyone who has experienced the joy of the Mill Road Winter Fair will know what can happen when people ‘reclaim the streets’ from motor vehicles. It’s one of the highlights of the city’s calendar.
In July, a small sinkhole in Mill Road required it to be closed for a few days. With through motor traffic removed, it unquestionably became a more delightful place to be.
Re-prioritising roads around people is not without practical difficulties. Emergency services, buses and delivery vehicles still need access, and most residents and shoppers need to use a car at least occasionally. Even with reduced motor traffic, there is limited scope for reshaping a narrow street like Mill Road. But Camcycle have had a go, publishing a very attractive vision for the road, including wider pavements, improved streetscape with parklets, more and quicker bus services, and more cycle parking. (They published a similar proposal exactly a decade ago: are people – and councillors – more receptive now?)
Blocking through traffic will inevitably displace some to other roads. In the case of Mill Road, that means Coldham’s Lane, Cherry Hinton Road and Hills Road – a key bus and cycle route which is already severely congested at peak times. However, there is also evidence that when routes are restricted, motor traffic ‘evaporates’ as people adjust how, when and where they travel.
Traders might worry that, without cars, there will be fewer customers. Experience suggests those fears to be unfounded, certainly for occasional days. Witness the crowds drawn to the Mill Road Winter Fair. Cardiff’s Car Free Day in May was a resounding success, with 28% more people in the city centre. Indeed, the popularity of car-free events has been growing since the 1970s, with the 22nd of September now established as World Car Free Day.
Earlier in the year, Cambridge Commons started a petition for Cambridge to have its own event, to show how much more pleasant and healthy the city could be without motor vehicles. With enough support and volunteers, it could happen next year. Check out carfreecambridge.wordpress.com and let the organisers know if you’re up for helping.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 29 August 2018.