The Fife Council proposals now made public that are intended to assist social distancing in a post-lockdown St Andrews contain elements which the Confederation of St Andrews residents’ Associations (CSARA) did not propose. Our focus has always been on short term measures which would deal with the current Covid -19 emergency and make the town centre a safe place for residents and visitors by facilitating physical distancing.
We have not considered changes to the wider road network. Any changes to traffic there are likely to have unintentional consequences and would need a thorough transport assessment, bearing in mind that City Road and the two main roundabouts at Hope Park Church and West Port are already assessed as being at capacity. Such studies would take time and produce few answers in time to meet the current heath crisis. We have concentrated on projects which are relatively straightforward to implement.
We are aware that the town merchants have always opposed the pedestrianisation of Market Street and understand their concerns. A recent survey came out strongly against such a scheme. The main result of pedestrianisation would be the loss of about 72 car parking places, and the easy access of their occupants to nearby shops. A realistic fear is that this could impact upon footfall in some businesses. However, the post-lockdown issues radically change the way in which this should be seen.
There is evidence that the slow progress towards normality in retail shopping habits is significantly affected by people who have been confined or shielding for months wanting to avoid crowded places.
Narrow pavements on Bell Street and Church Street cannot accommodate both queuing people and other pedestrians, with the potential for a dangerous over-spill onto the roadway, especially if cafes and restaurants offer a take-away service. This makes a strong argument for making these pedestrian only streets if physical distancing is to be maintained and road accidents avoided.
Market Street has broader pavements but is also busier. It has larger shops (Tesco, Boots, H and M etc.,) where queues outside could be longer. It also has a number of cafes and pubs, which could find difficulty in operating and coping with the number of potential customers without expanding into outdoor space.
We believe that some compromises are necessary to achieve the best solution for residents and visitors alike. This is why we have suggested that there should be a temporary suspension of car use and parking (apart from disabled parking) in Market Street. We do not support this being a means to achieve permanent pedestrianisation, but the post-lockdown experience might demonstrate whether pedestrianisation would have a negative or positive effect, if and when a long term pedestrianised scheme was being considered.
Any short term measure would have to be accompanied by a free regular and frequent shuttle service to and from park and ride provision: for instance, a better version of the road train often seen under-utilised during the summer season. As it is “open-air”, it should not involve safety risks. Its essential purpose would be to compensate for the loss of 72 parking places in Market Street, but it could also increase footfall by being an attraction in itself.
A significant benefit of temporary pedestrianisation of Market Street would be the possibility for cafes and pubs to extend their seating further onto the pavements, when otherwise they might remain closed. Cafes are popular pit-stops for shoppers and would help to draw people back into the town and to the shops. A reduction in vehicle emissions would improve air quality and could be a selling point for a greener and healthier St Andrews. Special provision would need to be made for disabled drivers and shoppers.
Queen’s Gardens poses a different set of problems for physical distancing, being a major pedestrian route into the town centre from the South with a student residence located at its southern end. As of the 10th August, it will have only one pavement while major repairs are undertaken on the East side with lighting replacements on both sides of the street. Work is expected to take 2 months or more during which time pedestrian use with physical distancing would be all but impossible without use of the roadway.
In order to reduce more worries for town merchants who have already experienced a torrid spring and can only look forward to an uncertain summer, with both students and visitor numbers unknown, the positive projection of St Andrews as a town which has set up an infrastructure which makes it a safe place to visit will be a key image to project. The status quo will not do this, and measures to achieve a safer and more pleasant environment are vital if St Andrews is thrive.