Footstreets: The reasons

The footstreet issue has dominated our activity for the last 17 months and, as we’ve had the same conversations repeatedly, we thought it’d be good to set out clearly the reasons the council has put forward for making the changes permanent. And our thoughts about each of the reasons.

Social distancing

Initially, social distancing was the main reason for making the streets vehicle free during certain hours. This may have helped people stick to the 2 metre rule and provided a level of comfort and sense of safety for visually impaired people who are unable to judge how far away others were.

However, social distancing guidance has now been withdrawn.

Pavement cafes and the local economy

Whilst the footstreets were closed, the reasoning expanded to include the need for pavement cafes in order to support the local economy and allow cafes to trade. The permits for these cafes are being extended till September 2022. The appeal of pavement cafes must surely decrease as businesses are capable of hosting people indoors, and as the colder and wetter weather increases.

Note: Pavement cafes (and the street closed signage) have now created a jungle of street furniture that make getting around the city difficult for people who have limited mobility or use a mobility aid, or who are visually impaired. As well as creating navigation difficulties, many of the pavement cafes themselves are not especially suited for anyone using a mobility aid to visit.

In terms of supporting the local economy, it would seem preferntial treatment is being given to businesses who have pavement cafes. The many businesses that disabled people visit and spend money in will be missing out.

Increased safety

The need to increase the safety of pedestrians in the city centre has two key parts; to reduce conflict between vehicles and pedestrians and to reduce the risk of a vehicle being used as a weapon in a terror attack.

In terms of conflict between vehicles and pedestrians, we have not seen evidence about the number of incidents between vehicles and pedestrians. If we knew how severe this problem was, we could engage in a discussion about how to reduce the problem, for example a very low speed limit.

When it comes to the terrorism arguement, there are a variety of barriers which would provide the appropriate level of security whilst also allowing certain vehicles access. Whatever barrier solution is chosen, will have to be moveable as the footstreets only apply during certain hours of the day and they would surely have to allow emergency service vehicles to access the city centre. Further, the council has continually said they are committed to allowing Dial & Ride access to St Sampson’s Centre. This means whatever barrier solution is chosen has to be able to respond to particular vehicles during the footstreets hours. Extending this to include Blue Badge holders would allow for access whilst preventing terror attacks.

Air pollution and climate change

Clearly it’s important to reduce pollution levels and support the reduction in carbon emissions. However, making the city centre car free will not achieve this. There is a big, important difference between having a city centre that is car free and a city centre that is only accessible for essential vehicles, with Blue Badge holders included within the essential vehicle users.

For some Blue Badge holders, public transport is simply not an option and nor are walking or cycling. We’ve also recently blogged about why Shopmobility and Dial & Ride don’t work for everyone. There are many reasons why we need to be close to our destination(s) and have our vehicles nearby, so parking on the outskirts of the footstreets area or in a car park outside the city centre aren’t options for everyone.

We have heard from lots of Blue Badge holders that are now having to shop out of town, either going to places like Monks Cross or even to other local towns, because of the current changes to the footstreets. Travelling to other towns increases pollution and has a greater impact on the climate than parking in the city centre where we live.

The other option that is often raised is online services, but they’re only an option if you are digitally connected (and disabled people are more likely to not have internet access). Online shopping also tends to mean products are shipped from depots that are further away, possibly overseas, and aren’t supporting local businesses. Online shopping can incur additional costs such as delivery charges, and don’t offer the same benefits as face to face shopping, such as increased choice, being able to see what you’re buying and the social interaction that’s involved. Face to face shopping can also include going for a coffee and of course many leisure activities such as meeting friends or going to the cinema can’t be done online.

It is important to understand that low car, not no car, can be a way to reduce pollution and carbon emissions whilst also ensuring disabled people can access the city centre. 

(Helen wrote about this in York Press back in June.)

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