One knock-on effect of the fire in Cathedral Yard has been to make Exeter High Street a bus-free zone – and some people are already calling for it to stay that way.
With part of the street cordoned off during the major incident and subsequent demolition work, bus routes have been rerouted via Sidwell Street, Cheeke Street and Fore Street.
The emergency diversions mean the High Street has moved a step closer to full pedestrianisation, at least in the short term.
Apart from the occasional delivery or emergency vehicle, cyclists and pedestrians have had the street largely to themselves.
Queen Street reopened on Friday morning, allowing Stagecoach’s D and H buses to return to their normal routes. All other diversions remained in place.
We asked people on Twitter what they thought of this week’s impromptu pedestrianisation pilot scheme.
Sue Taylor said: “Fantastic! Much better – keep it that way!”
Exeter-based chartered surveyors Assinder Turnham suggested it could be the future, adding: “So much nicer (and safer) without the buses.”
Nigel Wilkinson, owner of WNW Digital, said: “It’s great crossing the road without dodging buses. #everycloud”
Matthew Conridge suggested making the High Street vehicle free could be good for retailers.
“Should have happened permanently years ago,” he said. “Only way to save High Streets long term.”
While the temporary respite from buses has sparked debate, there are no current plans to make the change permanent. Devon County Council has already suggested it would be impractical and have a negative impact on the local economy.
However, councillors could be forced to debate the idea if it gained enough support through a public petition, which can be started online via the council’s website.
Bus operator Stagecoach has indicated it would be opposed to any such proposal, suggesting it would be bad for city centre retailers and passengers, including those with impaired mobility, the elderly and parents with young children.
But others have suggested alternative uses for the space which could help to attract more footfall to the city centre.
Tom Brooks said: “Why not have some quick pop-up shops/food market?”
Former Mincinglake councillor Catherine Dawson said: “As long as there’s segregated access for cyclists or a clear alternative cycling route, let’s make it permanent some time.
“It’s shown that buses can be rerouted without much fuss, and could bring back some more greenery too with more space.”
But not everyone was in favour of keeping buses off the High Street longer than necessary.
Adam Moxey pointed out that disabled people and parents with young children would have to walk further to bus stops, adding: “It’s a city centre, not a tranquil garden.”
It comes as Exeter City Futures is inviting ideas in its Zero Congestion Challenge as part of its goal of making the region congestion free by 2025.
Among the ideas submitted so far, Joe Baker has suggested trialling car free Sundays within the old city wall for a month and using technology to measure the impact on footfall in High Street shops.
Laura Rose-Baker said: “It’s fantastic. Agree with segregated cycle lane and market ideas. And a Sunday closure would be a great start.”
Cycle safety campaigner Bridget Walton said it was “lovely” when buses were diverted away from the High Street and suggested making the change permanent, adding: “Terrific without the traffic. Yes to cafes, play areas, chill and chat zones. Yes to walking, scooting and cycling.”
Former city centre manager John Harvey replied: “I’m inclined to agree.”
An Exeter City Council spokesman said it would be a matter for Devon County Council as the local highways authority.
A Devon County Council spokesman said: “Unfortunately there is no viable or efficient alternative to the High Street as a cross-city route for buses, and removing bus services from the city centre can have a negative impact on the local economy.
“The recent Greener Journeys report stated that ‘buses are the primary mode of access to city centres, responsible for facilitating 29 per cent of all city centre expenditure’.
“Some years ago, one city route saw a 20 per cent fall in passenger numbers after it was experimentally diverted via Musgrave Row.
“We also need to consider the needs of people with mobility impairment who rely on being able to access city centre shops and services easily. In a city like Exeter with a long main street, if cross-city routes were stopped, walking distances to bus stops would be excessively long which would disadvantage a large number of people.”
Stagecoach South West managing director Bob Dennison said: “Following last week’s fire our buses have been on diversion from the High Street and we have been unable to serve our busiest city centre stops.
“Whilst this has been understandably necessary in the short term, we believe it would be detrimental to both our customers and city centre businesses for this arrangement to be made permanent.
“In addition, those with impaired mobility, the elderly and parents with young children would be particularly affected. The city centre stops are also a major interchange for customers transferring from one service to another.
“As we move on from the impact of the fire and enter the year’s busiest trading period we must do everything possible to show Exeter is open for business. Public transport access to the heart of the city – including the High Street – is an essential part of making Christmas a success for all of our retailers.”
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