Like many others, our local Town council has spent the last 50 years dissuading car owners to visit, encouraging buses instead. This might have worked if we had buses, but really we don’t, at least not practical ones like in a big city. Small towns also don’t have trams/subways/rail etc, yet still rely on all the surrounding suburbs and small villages for their visitors. It’s not economic to build these things into surrounding areas, just too expensive and everyone who wants/needs one already has a car.
The result of this policy has been the proliferation of out of town shopping centres, visited mainly by people in cars, i.e. people have other options. The huge increase in online sales in recent years has just accelerated the reduction in town centre footfall with covid the final blow.
So now that town centres really are dying (few live there and fewer go shopping there every year) what are we to do? How do you get folks to change habits quickly and visit the town centre? Yes some shops could be converted back into living spaces, but that takes time – lots of time. What will make me (and other grumpy old folks) want to visit again now (not 5 or 10 years from now)? I certainly am not going on a bus, mainly because they stop running through our village by 6pm so I can’t even get home from work!
Throwing a celebrity or two at it and then making a TV program about how lovely the shops are won’t cut it, the car owners have to be tempted back. They bring money and a means to take stuff home with them.
The other trend, and very topical, is the rise in ownership of electric cars. How about if town centres had free charging points, one for every car parking space, ICE cars not allowed there. This could be a quick win as no huge planning and building work is required and it can be rolled out gradually (obviously ASAP) as the chargers are installed. It also encourages those who have no place at home to park (and therefore charge) to switch to an electric car sooner rather than later.
Our local town still has this on it’s strategy website:- “Cycling, walking, buses, and trains are generally the focus for low-carbon transport development”. This is 2023 in a semi-rural area with a lot of hills. Winter is coming, we car owners are not getting on a bike or walking 6 miles to go for a coffee. The “Blueprint” has been worked on for some years now, pretty posters have gone up, but no digging has started….
There is literally no time to lose, every shop/cafe etc that closes reduces the reasons to visit. Get those grumpies into the town quick – they have time, and usually the money. It’s a win-win here surely:- clean cars plus people who need to do something while their car charges (like spending a little money).
If I was in charge the on-street parking would be free and every space would have (or soon have) a charger next to it, also free, starting now. ICE cars banned. Build it and they will come. Then do your “vision” and “Blueprint” when you have some time. Simples.