Monday, 18 March 2013

A38 high streets part 3: Gloucester Road shows "car parking" is a cargo cult solution

Parts 1 and 2 of the A38 tour, must have depressed everyone looking at the sights.

Filton Road: a shopping area reduced to a mini roundabout, some pig-pen barriers to keep pedestrians from crossing the road, and a row of run down shops -despite the free parking outside and in the car park.

Bedminster: a pedestrian precinct with nothing but a closed down booze express, check cashers, a low grade bakery and a motaman car parts shop.

Bleak. Yet what else does the A38 have to offer?

The best high street in Bristol. 

One the BBC Today program visited when they wanted to see what a thriving high street still looked like in the UK

A street with trees, cafes outdoors, bike parking that has bikes in, rather than two bent racks that look unwelcome by the shop forced to to put them in. The breadstore, below, always has a queue of people waiting to buy bread on a saturday
A street with five star reviews on Yelp.  A street recommended as a place to visit in Bristol tourist guides.

See that? Not "a place to drive through on your way to an out of town supermarket". Not "somewhere to take out a payday loan" (there is one of those shops, and a booze express, but they are discreet, not shops that are struggling to survive themselves)

Look at the difference with the other two. Independent shops. That's key. Less of the same chainstores you get that make every street in Britain the same. They are there: a sainsbury's lite, a boots, but they are only one or two of many.

What you do see is people walking around. Again, this looks like a Sunday, but some of the shops are open -and people are walking, or pushing a bicycle from shop to shop.
The road here is no parking at any time on one side, showcase bus and bike route on weekdays.
Between 8 am and 9:30 am, and from 4:30 PM to 5pm, any parking in the bus lane gets a ticket issued by way of the CCTV cameras mounted on lampposts.

No doubt those are exactly the tickets that Pickles was ranting about, the ones destroying the high street,the ones Mary Portas was implying are killing high street.


Well, here's some evidence neither of them know what they are talking about.

Instead of vans outside shops, you see people sitting outside having coffee. Next to them a traditional greengrocers. Go there on a Saturday and the butchers will be selling hamburgers, or whatever else they are cooking on the street, the fishmongers the same with fresh fish.

The independent retailers have made this a destination, the people come.

It's not about car parking. Saying "we need car car parking" is a mistake. It is looking at out of town malls, saying "they have car parking and are successful -if we add car parking, we will be successful".


They need to copy the high streets that are doing well. In Bristol, that is
  • Gloucester Road
  • St Mark's Road, Easton
  • Southville (adjacent to Bedminster)
 What are their secrets? At a glance
  • Interesting shops, making walking along the streets something to do for pleasure, to make the extra time doing that versus pushing a trolley round a supermarket a pleasant time. 
  • Cafes if you want to have some food or coffee. Not just chain coffee shops, but a variety of options.
  • Useful shops: greengrocers, ironmongers, butchers, fishmongers. A post-office.
  • Small supermarkets, not an ASDA "street-killer" class facility
  • A pavement that is pleasant to walk on, not somewhere for cars to park.
If you look at what Bedminster are trying to do, they realise this. They are trying to join up with Southville, trying to make it better. But with all that car parking, its a walking wasteland.

The very features that encourage driving: wide roads, roundabouts and parking lots, make walking so uninspiring and cycling so dangerous, that people don't walk there. They don't walk around. All you get are fat lazy bastards like Pickles himself, nipping in for a packet of cigarettes and some cheap beer.
If you hear anyone saying "parking is needed", or "10 minute parking outside shops should be encouraged", point them at Filton Road, Gloucester Road and Bedminster North street (they are all on Street view) and say "which of these streets would you like to shop at". Then say "which of these streets has the least parking facilities. Then ask them whether they realise they don't have a fucking clue and should shut up until they have something fucking sensible to say.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the interesting insight. It just so happens that I also purchased a very good book titled "The Street" by Vikas Mehta. It basically agrees with your points and goes into a lot more detail while also providing some international perspective.
    I am currently doing an MSc in Transportation Planning and Engineering, and while I feel it is a very good course, my interest in design and environment is also prompting me to investigate these aspects of Urban Design. I don't quite see why Urban Design/Planning and Transport Planning seem to be (to some extent) in their own little spheres (well, as far as I can tell in my limited time learning about this subject). It seems that any professional worth their weight should be conversant in both areas. Heck, and as for government officials...

    On a slightly unrelated note, I found a comment by one of my classmates (who works for a city council) quite enlightening: they pointed out that while there are many talented people who work for the council, they are often rendered useless, as so much gets outsourced to private consultants, who have no long-term interest in the area. Thus, much talent is wasted, not to mention taxpayer money. What a ridiculous country we live in...