2024 community share offer
2024 community share offer

COMMENT TRANSPORT & MOBILITY

Streets are for people, not cars

Cars adversely affect economic output, air quality and wellbeing, take up valuable space when parked and discourage people from walking and cycling when driven. Reducing their use would enhance Exeter's retail and leisure offer, improve public health and attract needed workers to the city.

Air quality Congestion Public transport Public health Public realm

Designing towns and cities around private car use was a major error in post-war urban development. What once enabled personal mobility now traps many in traffic going nowhere fast for significant amounts of time.

Economic output, air quality, health and wellbeing all suffer, while many streets are filled with vehicles that either take up valuable space when parked or discourage people from walking and cycling when driven.

Exeter’s large and expanding Travel to Work Area, rapid suburban and satellite housing development and unusually non-concentric topology, among other factors, greatly exacerbate the problems caused by car dependency across the region.

It is now well-established that building more roads delivers neither congestion relief nor local economic benefits. Instead, reducing road capacity is the most effective way to relieve congestion, recognising the definitive limits imposed on a network by its most restricted, often central, nodes.

Temporary road closures can help demonstrate what such counter-intuitive change looks like in practice, easing the way to more permanent transformation.

An established approach is to restrict city centre traffic initially only on Sundays, first in selected streets and then more widely, when there is least network pressure and anxiety about adverse economic impacts.

Transforming Exeter’s streetscape from the centre outwards would not only enhance the city’s retail and leisure offer and improve public health, it would also transform its ability to attract highly-skilled knowledge economy workers, for whom high quality human-scale urban environments are a strong pull.

This approach would also acknowledge that replacing vehicle combustion engines with electric motors solves neither congestion nor pollution problems, whether data-based drivers sit behind the wheel or not.

Repurposing road space is not just about restricting vehicle movement. Plentiful car parking spaces encourage visitors and workers to drive into city centres, often obstructing carriageway use for more efficient mobility modes, or preventing more creative use of scarce city centre space.

Substantial research shows that the income car parks provide to pay for necessary public services is readily replaced with the economic growth that results from such changes.

Historic Exeter quay car parking Exeter city centre space used for car parking. Photo: @ZsoltSchuller.

Other routes to changing street use are exemplified by projects such as Playing Out, which helps parents reclaim roads for children’s play, Living Streets, which champions everyday walking, and Pop-up Parks, which playfully reinvents underused urban space. More than 500 UK streets in 45 local authority areas have been closed this way in the past few years, with multiple educational and health benefits.

When urban space is reclaimed for non-motorised use, both planned and spontaneous social, economic and cultural activities can take place more freely with all their attendant, often serendipitous, benefits. As Jan Gehl, chief architect of Copenhagen’s mobility transformation says, places designed for people to stay, rather than go, make urban space lively, healthy, sustainable and safe.

There is a growing movement for change in the way urban space is used across the world. Janette Sadik-Khan is acclaimed for creating 60 new plazas in just six years in New York as City Transportation Commissioner: 180 acres of road space were reclaimed for cycling and pedestrian use, and a further 44 converted to bus-only. Even parts of Broadway have been closed to motor vehicles, with spectacular success.

Many European cities have embraced rapid change in the same spirit, in conjunction with progressive mobility-centred policies that reach far out into the suburbs.

In the UK, despite government transport policy still strongly supporting private car use, some of Exeter’s competitors are taking bold steps towards car-free futures. Rather than simply trying to catch up, Exeter should seek to overtake them, taking advantage of its compact footprint to rapidly create a powerful differentiating significator of the city’s sustainability leadership ambitions.

The economic development strategy that Exeter shares with its neighbouring district councils already makes much of just such an approach and an ongoing EU-funded local planning project will crucially focus on mobility, rather than transport, which should enable much wider adoption of progressive priorities and innovative strategies to deliver them, given political will.

Historic Exe Bridge traffic Historic Exe Bridge. Photo: @ExeterCycling.

Exeter used to be a nationally notorious traffic bottleneck in the 1950s and 60s, before the M5 was extended, when every vehicle bound further South West still had to cross the river at Exe Bridge (before it was plural).

Daily tailbacks stretched several miles along the A30 in one direction and the A38 in the other, with the High Street choked by drivers trying to avoid the by-pass.

Sound familiar? Similar congestion often still brings Exeter to a standstill. The city is at risk of reclaiming its status as a congestion nightmare to be avoided at all costs, even without the frequent accidents and congestion that strangle the M5, A30, A38 and other arterials nearby.

With 40,000 new residents expected by 2026, adding 14,000 car journeys a day if current travel modes continue, is it not time to reclaim the city’s streets for people instead?



Recent stories
Exeter Science Park main building

SPECIAL REPORTS  ⁄  ECONOMY & ENTERPRISE

Council sinks additional £1.25m into struggling Exeter Science Park as company unable to repay £7m debts

Serial scrutiny failures continue as emergency meeting held to increase city council exposure to joint venture to more than £2 million on top of £450,000 project costs plus £950,000 guarantee but rescue plan risks repeating earlier strategic mistakes.

Illustrative view of development beside Gabriel's Wharf

ANALYSIS  ⁄  PLANNING & PLACE

Revised Water Lane redevelopment plans submitted for outline approval

Application for up to 980 dwellings and up to 320 student bedspaces with 40,000m2 of other uses on ex-industrial site between railway embankment and Exeter Ship Canal obfuscates numerous key issues.

Exeter City Council 2023-24 unaudited statement of accounts cover image

NEWS  ⁄  DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

Annual inspection period begins as unaudited 2023-24 city council accounts published

Special information access rights enabling residents to examine records apply until 12 July as two preceding years' accounts still not signed off and auditor's inquiry into council governance and financial and performance management continues.

Exeter St Thomas station access

NEWS  ⁄  TRANSPORT & MOBILITY

Exeter St Thomas improvement bid rejected as Devon denied step-free access funding for five years

Two-thirds of Access for All money to go to Conservative seats as low-key Department for Transport announcement finds its way into constituency-level news stories and political PR across the country.

Howell Road garage student block illustrative elevation

NEWS  ⁄  PLANNING & PLACE

Howell Road garage for sale a week after student block redevelopment plans granted at appeal

Developer denied he would 'spin in and spin out and take my profit' at planning committee that approved 'backstop' plans for nine flats on site, saying student block was 'what we want to build'.

Howell Road garage

NEWS  ⁄  PLANNING & PLACE

26-bed Howell Road garage site student accommodation block allowed at appeal

St James Neighbourhood Plan community balance aims discounted and council policy and evidence deemed insufficient in inspector's decision to overturn planning committee refusal.

On Our Radar
More stories
Exeter Academy English language school in Sylvan Road, Pennsylvania

ANALYSIS  ⁄  TRANSPORT & MOBILITY

Plan to convert language school to nursery to test credibility of city council active travel policy

Exeter Academy sits near top of steep hill 250 feet above city, far from accessible bus and rail routes, but developer claims local plan compliance in 'demonstrably sustainable location' which is 'conducive to sustainable modes of travel'.

Corner of Fore Street and West Street with St Mary Steps church in the background

NEWS  ⁄  PLANNING & PLACE

Developers claim council planning committee refusal was 'if not malevolent, certainly misguided'

Appeal against decision to deny fifth additional storey in build-to-rent scheme above Crankhouse Coffee accuses councillors of seeking to 'appease the weight of objectors' orchestrated opinion' against amendments to eleven year-old consent.

Exeter City Council ballot share by ward 2016 to 2024 line graph

ANALYSIS  ⁄  DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

Exeter bucks national trend as Labour support falls 6% and party loses vote share in all but one ward

Independent group, Greens and LibDems all take seats and Conservatives increase share in four wards as Labour stays in control of council after close call in Mincinglake & Whipton, holds in key battlegrounds and third Topsham win.

, updated

Exeter City Council 2024 local elections results party seat distribution

BRIEFINGS  ⁄  DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

Exeter City Council 2024 local elections results

The votes cast for each candidate with vote share and vote share change by party in each ward, plus turnout and the distribution of seats.

, updated

2024 Exeter local elections guide graphic showing current council seat distribution

ANALYSIS  ⁄  DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

2024 Exeter local elections guide

City council elections take place on Thursday 2 May. Our comprehensive guide covers who's standing where, wards to watch and the backdrop to this year's ballot, which promises to be the most unpredictable contest in years.

Exeter Labour 2024 campaign leaflet

COMMENT  ⁄  DEMOCRACY & GOVERNANCE

Council raids community fund for £6 million to pay for eight year-old food waste collection promise

Emergency decision to finance materials reclamation facility investment taken less than a week before 2024 local elections campaign officially began.

Spotlight
Spring 2024 community share offer

Exeter Observer celebrates five years of local public interest news publishing

Invest in our Spring 2024 community share offer to help us deliver all the independent journalism Exeter needs and make it five more.

All topics

ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY   ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY   AIR QUALITY AIR QUALITY AIR QUALITY   COP26 COP26 COP26   COVID-19 COVID-19 COVID-19   CITYPOINT CITYPOINT CITYPOINT   CLIFTON HILL SPORTS CENTRE CLIFTON HILL SPORTS CENTRE CLIFTON HILL SPORTS CENTRE   CLIMATE CRISIS CLIMATE CRISIS CLIMATE CRISIS   CO-LIVING CO-LIVING CO-LIVING   COMMUNITY INFRASTRUCTURE LEVY COMMUNITY INFRASTRUCTURE LEVY COMMUNITY INFRASTRUCTURE LEVY   CONGESTION CONGESTION CONGESTION   COUNCIL TAX COUNCIL TAX COUNCIL TAX   CROWN ESTATE CROWN ESTATE CROWN ESTATE   CYCLING & WALKING CYCLING & WALKING CYCLING & WALKING   DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT DEMOCRATIC DEFICIT   DEVON & CORNWALL POLICE DEVON & CORNWALL POLICE DEVON & CORNWALL POLICE   DEVON CARBON PLAN DEVON CARBON PLAN DEVON CARBON PLAN   DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL DEVON COUNTY COUNCIL   DEVON PENSION FUND DEVON PENSION FUND DEVON PENSION FUND   EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL EAST DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL   EXETER AIRPORT EXETER AIRPORT EXETER AIRPORT   EXETER CANAL & QUAY TRUST EXETER CANAL & QUAY TRUST EXETER CANAL & QUAY TRUST   EXETER CATHEDRAL EXETER CATHEDRAL EXETER CATHEDRAL   EXETER CHIEFS EXETER CHIEFS EXETER CHIEFS   EXETER CITY COUNCIL EXETER CITY COUNCIL EXETER CITY COUNCIL   EXETER CITY FUTURES EXETER CITY FUTURES EXETER CITY FUTURES   EXETER CITY LIVING EXETER CITY LIVING EXETER CITY LIVING   EXETER CLIMATE ACTION HUB EXETER CLIMATE ACTION HUB EXETER CLIMATE ACTION HUB   EXETER COLLEGE EXETER COLLEGE EXETER COLLEGE   EXETER CULTURE EXETER CULTURE EXETER CULTURE   EXETER DEVELOPMENT FUND EXETER DEVELOPMENT FUND EXETER DEVELOPMENT FUND   EXETER LIVE BETTER EXETER LIVE BETTER EXETER LIVE BETTER   EXETER LOCAL PLAN EXETER LOCAL PLAN EXETER LOCAL PLAN   EXETER PHOENIX EXETER PHOENIX EXETER PHOENIX   EXETER PRIDE EXETER PRIDE EXETER PRIDE   EXETER SCIENCE PARK EXETER SCIENCE PARK EXETER SCIENCE PARK   EXETER ST DAVID'S EXETER ST DAVID'S EXETER ST DAVID'S   EXETER CITY CENTRE EXETER CITY CENTRE EXETER CITY CENTRE   EXTINCTION REBELLION EXETER EXTINCTION REBELLION EXETER EXTINCTION REBELLION EXETER   FREEDOM OF INFORMATION FREEDOM OF INFORMATION FREEDOM OF INFORMATION   FRIDAYS FOR FUTURE EXETER FRIDAYS FOR FUTURE EXETER FRIDAYS FOR FUTURE EXETER   GENERAL ELECTIONS GENERAL ELECTIONS GENERAL ELECTIONS   GUILDHALL GUILDHALL GUILDHALL   HARLEQUINS HARLEQUINS HARLEQUINS   HEART OF THE SOUTH WEST LEP HEART OF THE SOUTH WEST LEP HEART OF THE SOUTH WEST LEP   HOUSING CRISIS HOUSING CRISIS HOUSING CRISIS   LGBTQIA+ LGBTQIA+ LGBTQIA+   LIBRARIES UNLIMITED LIBRARIES UNLIMITED LIBRARIES UNLIMITED   LIVEABLE EXETER PLACE BOARD LIVEABLE EXETER PLACE BOARD LIVEABLE EXETER PLACE BOARD   LIVEABLE EXETER LIVEABLE EXETER LIVEABLE EXETER   LOCAL INDUSTRIAL STRATEGY LOCAL INDUSTRIAL STRATEGY LOCAL INDUSTRIAL STRATEGY   LOCAL ELECTIONS LOCAL ELECTIONS LOCAL ELECTIONS   MAKETANK MAKETANK MAKETANK   MARSH BARTON MARSH BARTON MARSH BARTON   MET OFFICE MET OFFICE MET OFFICE   MID DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL MID DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL MID DEVON DISTRICT COUNCIL   NET ZERO EXETER NET ZERO EXETER NET ZERO EXETER   NORTHERNHAY GARDENS NORTHERNHAY GARDENS NORTHERNHAY GARDENS   OXYGEN HOUSE OXYGEN HOUSE OXYGEN HOUSE   PARIS STREET PARIS STREET PARIS STREET   PARKING PARKING PARKING   PENINSULA TRANSPORT PENINSULA TRANSPORT PENINSULA TRANSPORT   PLANNING POLICY PLANNING POLICY PLANNING POLICY   PRINCESSHAY PRINCESSHAY PRINCESSHAY   PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT PROPERTY DEVELOPMENT   PUBLIC CONSULTATION PUBLIC CONSULTATION PUBLIC CONSULTATION   PUBLIC HEALTH PUBLIC HEALTH PUBLIC HEALTH   PUBLIC PARKS PUBLIC PARKS PUBLIC PARKS   PUBLIC REALM PUBLIC REALM PUBLIC REALM   PUBLIC TRANSPORT PUBLIC TRANSPORT PUBLIC TRANSPORT   RAMM RAMM RAMM   REFUSE & RECYCLING REFUSE & RECYCLING REFUSE & RECYCLING   RETROFIT RETROFIT RETROFIT   ROYAL DEVON NHS TRUST ROYAL DEVON NHS TRUST ROYAL DEVON NHS TRUST   SIDWELL STREET SIDWELL STREET SIDWELL STREET   SOUTH WEST EXETER EXTENSION SOUTH WEST EXETER EXTENSION SOUTH WEST EXETER EXTENSION   SOUTH WEST WATER SOUTH WEST WATER SOUTH WEST WATER   SOUTHERNHAY SOUTHERNHAY SOUTHERNHAY   SPORT ENGLAND LOCAL DELIVERY PILOT SPORT ENGLAND LOCAL DELIVERY PILOT SPORT ENGLAND LOCAL DELIVERY PILOT   ST JAMES NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN ST JAMES NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN ST JAMES NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN   ST SIDWELL'S COMMUNITY CENTRE ST SIDWELL'S COMMUNITY CENTRE ST SIDWELL'S COMMUNITY CENTRE   ST SIDWELL'S POINT ST SIDWELL'S POINT ST SIDWELL'S POINT   STAGECOACH SOUTH WEST STAGECOACH SOUTH WEST STAGECOACH SOUTH WEST   STUDENT ACCOMMODATION STUDENT ACCOMMODATION STUDENT ACCOMMODATION   TEIGNBRIDGE DISTRICT COUNCIL TEIGNBRIDGE DISTRICT COUNCIL TEIGNBRIDGE DISTRICT COUNCIL   TRANSPORT POLICY TRANSPORT POLICY TRANSPORT POLICY   UNIVERSITY OF EXETER UNIVERSITY OF EXETER UNIVERSITY OF EXETER   WATER LANE WATER LANE WATER LANE  

More stories