Friday, 10 May 2013

What Mary Portas forgot to mention

Mark Treasure @AsEasyAsRiding writes a blog about what should be the simple act of riding a bike in London and about how fantastic it is in the Netherlands. 

A posting of May 10, 2013 recounts his presentation at a Town Centre Opportunities event in London; the theme of the conference was on revitalizing urban space and keeping ‘The High Street’ thriving. In this he rightly points out a flaw in the recommendations of the Mary Portas Review into improving the environment of town centres.

The Portas Review recommends a number of measures to redress the balance, including a presumption in favour of town centre, rather than out of town, development. But on the subject of access to towns, the Portas strategy is rather unimaginative – namely, to attempt to make high streets as cheap and easy to access by car as out of town centres. In essence, the Review calls for:

  • free car parking;
  • cheaper car parking generally;
  • car parking in more convenient locations (presumably closer to shops);
  • and a parking ‘league table’, showing which authorities are charging the most (doubtless in an attempt to encourage them to charge less).
There’s even an attractive illustration of someone happily shopping, thanks to free parking.
But there is a problem with this Portas vision. Make parking free, or cheap, and allow it close to where people actually want to go, and the end result is cluttered, congested and unpleasant streets. And, of course, more car parking in towns means more driving, which means streets are noisier, less pleasant, and less safe.

Accessibility versus amenity – how the bicycle can solve the dilemma

Bike Aid wholly concurs and hopes that one day all those cycling shoppers will be served by traders and town councils keen to make cycling as simple and natural and convenient as possible for them.

At least in Halesworth, Suffolk, the town's Portas Town Team identified that cycling should be at the core of its strategy though it remains to be seen if there is the political vision in local government to see it through against short-term thinking of the local traders. The scene above is easily found in many Suffolk towns where pedestrian areas are clogged with single occupant cars, many belonging to people living within a few miles.

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