The Confederation of St Andrews Residents’ Associations (CSARA) and a number of other organisations were invited to offer suggestions to allow St Andrews to become a safer environment when the present Covid -19 lock-down arrangements are eased.
CSARA polled constituent members and the collated responses provided a set of suggestions, which was forwarded to Fife Council for their consideration. The Council is to compete with other authorities to get a share of the £30,000,000 to be distributed between 32 local authorities by Sustrans on behalf of the Scottish Government.
CSARA has been influenced in its suggestions by the arrangements implemented in Milan and other cities, which have used the experience of coping with the Covid-19 virus to initiate infrastructure changes which not only deal with the present and continuing impacts of the virus, but provide a more permanent response to climate change by emphasising and improving facilities for green methods of travel, such as walking and cycling.
There is a consensus among most CSARA members about the suggestions to be made to the Council. Not surprisingly although there was abroad agreement on objectives, not all of the detailed suggestions commanded unanimous support. CSARA’s recommendations were based on providing more space for pedestrians in order to enable physical distancing in the busier town centre streets. Market Street tends to be one of the most crowded shopping the town.
Many of the pavements in Market Street would not accommodate physical distancing if two people were walking side by side. CSARA recommended that the whole Street from Bell Street to Union Street should be closed to vehicles – other than delivery vehicles at specified times, – for the duration of the Covid emergency.
This would provide more space for those on foot, and would also allow cafes and restaurants to expand onto the pavements and avoid the need, during the summer, for patrons to enter the premises.
The need for cyclist to remain on their bikes in the pedestrianised Market Street proved more controversial. Cycling would be difficult to accommodate safely and could disturb physical distancing as cyclists navigated through slow moving pedestrians. The cobbled surface was in any case a poor one for cycling and special provision could be made to accommodate cycles on the periphery. By avoiding unnecessary through cycle trips in Market Street and providing convenient alternative bike racks, this should not discourage cycling that has become more popular during the current crisis. Bicycles permanently left on city centre cycle racks should be routinely removed to facilitate their proper use.
Another view was that there was no reason to restrict cycling in this area, as there was sufficient space for both those on foot and cyclists.
Suggestions for improving cycling facilities included allocating spaces in the St Mary’s Local Office Car Park as cycle bays. Similar arrangements – and increased car parking spaces – could be established in the grounds of Madras College during the period the school is closed.
Pedestrianisation would obviously entail re-routing of some bus services. Car staff parking places at rear of the St Mary Street Local Office could be used during closure of this office to compensate for lost parking places in Market Street. Disabled Parking should still be permissible and encouraged to take place during less busy hours.
South Street is clearly unsuitable for pedestrianisation. However, the pavements are generally more adaptable for physical distancing if a one-way pedestrian system was introduced. While this would need good signage and management, it should ensure greater compliance with physical distancing measures.
Traffic wardens and Community Wardens could be deployed to advise pedestrians. If separation of pedestrians in both directions proved difficult on some pavements, the North and South pavements could be designated for travel in each direction, with pedestrians encouraged to cross at the present pedestrian crossings. ‘A’ boards and other footway obstacles would have to be removed.
Bell Street and Church Street pose particular difficulties. The narrow pavements here would cause pedestrians to move onto the roadway to achieve physical distancing and this would be dangerous if vehicles were to continue to use these routes. Fortunately, the roundabout at Madras College would enable cars to turn and exit South Street by using Abbey Walk or North Street. HGV’s would be more difficult to accommodate but a three-point turn, supervised by traffic wardens at the entrance to Madras College is a possibility. Parking should not be permitted in Bell Street, but underutilised parking spaces at Madras College, when not in use by the school could compensate for this loss. A serendipity effect of this arrangement would be that Bell Street, one of the most polluted streets in St Andrews and those using it, would benefit from greatly increased air quality.
Queens Gardens, a popular pedestrian route to the town centre, also has narrow pavements which would not meet the required space for physical distancing and this too is a candidate for closure to through vehicular traffic.
Fife Council in acknowledging CSARA’s suggestions has advised that over a hundred ideas have been received from all over Fife. These will be assessed against essential travel criteria, for example, journey’s to health service providers, trips to get basic necessities, such as food supplies, or for exercise. The best options will then be prioritised and submitted to SUSTRANs (the voluntary organisation which administers government funds for promoting green modes of travel) under its “Spaces for People” programme.
There is a view that the government’s criteria for funding is too restrictive. It is inevitable that in getting back to (a new) normality will involve people shopping and combining this with coffee breaks etc., St Andrews, being a holiday town with over 70 cafes and restaurants depends on visitors for its economic survival. Consequently it is important that it is able to attract and cater safely for these visitors during what would normally be the busy tourist season. Aberdeen has already attracted government funding for the closure of Union Street – its main thoroughfare – to traffic, giving it over to pedestrians. In Aberdeen, the rerouting of traffic was a much more complex challenge than it would be in St Andrews.
In extraordinary times, there is a need for innovative thinking and dispensing with orthodoxy. There is an opportunity in St Andrews to demonstrate an effective response to easing the lockdown and at the same time demonstrating how the quality of the urban environment, including air quality, can be immensely improved by simple, but well thought out measures, which do not involve immense expense.
Click here to see St Andrews Space for Cycling’s (SASC) suggestions for traffic modifications for Covid-19 easing.