Bristol officially launches plans to pedestrianise centre | Bristol

A scheme to turn Bristol’s historic centre into a pedestrian-only zone has been officially launched as part of moves to get the city back on its feet following the shock of the coronavirus pandemic.

A chunk of the Old City, which includes restaurants, cafes, independent shops and some civic buildings, has been cleared of traffic.

Many businesses within the zone, especially bars and cafes, have welcomed the initiative, believing it can help them by drawing more people into an attractive vehicle-free area and allow them to expand on to pavements to make up for reduced capacity inside.

“It’s great for us,” said Joe Edgerley, who runs Brozen Bar (purveyors of frozen cocktails and ice-cream) with his twin brother Ben. “The whole perception of the area is changing. It feels more relaxed, more comfortable. The air quality will improve, the place will feel greener.”

Physical distancing meant that inside the bar, almost half their seats had been lost. By placing chairs and tables outside they are able to almost make up most of the lost capacity. “That makes a huge difference for a business like ours,” said Ben. The lack of cars also makes it easier for them to walk their labradoodle, Welly.

Lilly Drakoulakou, who owns The Playground coffee house, said the scheme was saving her business. People used to share large communal tables at her cafe. Now she is down to just five tables suitably spaced out. “Being able to move outside is fantastic,” she said.

Owners of the Brozen Bar, Joe (left) and Ben Edgerley, in Corn Street, Bristol
Owners of the Brozen Bar, Joe (left) and Ben Edgerley, in Corn Street, Bristol. Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian

The disruption caused by the UK-wide lockdown was seized upon as an opportunity by Bristol to push forward more quickly pedestrianisation plans that were already on the table.

It has gradually introduced closures but from next week four key streets, St Stephen Street, St Nicholas Street, Clare Street and Corn Street, will be shut all day, with the exception of a morning loading window.

The closures are initially being implemented on a temporary basis but the intention is to make the changes permanent in early 2021. The council is monitoring the impact on the area and city centre as a whole and there will be public consultation before any final change.

Other tweaks include the closure of Bristol Bridge – one of the main routes into the city – to traffic apart from public transport, taxis, bicycles, motorcycles and pedestrians. Pavements and cycle ways have been widened and improved.

Bristol’s mayor, Marvin Rees, said the idea was to build on the few good things that the coronavirus crisis created, such as the joy of walking around a car-free city and the improvement in air quality.

Rees said: “By giving less space to traffic and more space to the businesses, visitors and shoppers in this historic area, we look forward to seeing increased footfall to give the traders a boost amid the tough times we are all facing. We are committed to putting people, sustainability and environment at the heart of post-coronavirus recovery.”

Marvin Rees, the Mayor of Bristol
Marvin Rees, the mayor of Bristol. Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/The Guardian

Ambitious plans to overhaul the city’s public transport system are under way, including an idea to build an underground system.

Not all are pleased. Some business owners on the edge of the zone say more traffic is being pushed their way. Others believe the closure of the bridge has led to a loss of passing trade.

Green party councillor Jerome Thomas gave a cautious welcome to the scheme but pointed out that air quality, which had improved dramatically during lockdown, was declining again.

He said: “Greens welcome the city centre changes as a step in the right direction; we want to see streets for everyone, not just cars, and we think we can go further than this project, with changes across the city to support local shopping areas and create more liveable neighbourhoods.”

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