Humanising the High Street

The town of Totnes is a tourism magnet and quite rightly so. It’s beautiful. But the one thing that crops up over and over again is just how un-friendly it is to those valuable visitors. We have a high street where the car is king and that is so obviously wrong that this subject will continue to return until the problem is resolved. The improvement to widen the pavement just above the west gate clock tower a few years back, was resisted by some at the time, however few would argue now to return it to its treacherous narrow past. It’s a huge improvement.

It’s all about getting together.

The one way up debacle was a well meaning idea that was badly thought out and implemented and as such, failed. Not necessarily because it was completely wrong and partially because it was imposed on the town with very little consultation that caused entrenched partisan attitudes. The public money (more than £100,000) wasted on legal action was a disaster. It doesn’t take a leap of imagination to conclude that it helped create a damagingly negative attitude toward the town up at Follaton House. Importantly, a report of South Hams Highways and Traffic Orders Committee in November 2012 states “…a review of casualty collisions between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2011 has revealed that another seven injury collisions have been reported by the Police in that period with one of these classed as serious. Of the seven collisions reported over this period, 4 of the drivers failed to stop”. Totnes High Street is quite a dangerous place.

So what is to be done?

Road / pavement leveling outside St Marys

Almost everyone has an opinion. So the Totnes Pulse aims to help clarify the problem.  We intend to consult with everyone and push for a solution. It’s all about getting together. So we will be asking businesses, tourists, local shoppers, residents and councillors how we can move forward. If the market square is the heart, the high street is a vital artery that breathes life into a town that people want to visit and we want to live in. The centre of town has to be a social space – not the polluted, traffic dodging mess it is right now. It simply isn’t good enough and what’s more – our future depends on it.

A report by American based group SPUR indicated 7 things to do for a perfect high street:

1. Create fine-grained pedestrian circulation.
In other words, make sure paving and guided routes are made for people to follow – Not really a problem for such a small space like Totnes. NOT VERY RELEVANT FOR US
2. Orient buildings to streets.
Also not relevant here because all our shops are already looking directly onto the High Street and the buildings aren’t being moved any time soon… – FILE UNDER IGNORE
3. Organize uses to support public activity
The best places have bustling centres where people want to spend time. A fountain, a play area. – REQUIRES INVESTMENT – MEDIUM EXPENSE
4. Place parking behind or below buildings
the report strongly recommends putting parking spaces underground or behind a building.- REQUIRES INVESTMENT – HIGH EXPENSE
5. Address the human scale with building and landscape details
Buildings may loom over pedestrians,but not here in Totnes – As far as we know, SHDC planning haven’t allowed a skyscraper to be built. – IGNORE
6. Provide clear, continuous pedestrian access

Before pedestranisation.

It’s almost universally accepted that pedestrians should have priority over cars – Arranging mild chicanes with street furniture like planters and benches can update the street and change the perception of who is in charge, cars or people. – RELATIVELY INEXPENSIVE, VERY EFFECTIVE
7. Build complete streets
Over the last 100 years high streets have been designed around cars. This needs to change. Encouraging places for people to get a cup of coffee, read the newspaper, or have an outdoor meeting next to a fountain  can go a long way to enriching the town. If the roadway and pavements were level, the space would become more open and much less linear. People would gather more and traffic discouraged from racing through. VERY EXPENSIVE, VERY EFFECTIVE

After pedestrianisation

What can be done?

Being realistic, it seems Option 6, could be implemented relatively cheaply and quickly. Large planters with foliage, flowers and artwork need not be difficult to arrange and would change the way the High Street works immediately without preventing deliveries to shops and other essential traffic. The difficulties would be: general objection to change, upkeep of the planting, positioning and design choices. Option 7 – leveling the streets would be the ideal for humanising the area. The space directly in front of St Mary’s Church is a successful example of creating a people orientated area. The cost and disruption however would be very high and with council budgets currently empty, it’s unlikely Totnes will see this level of investment for quite a while.

What do you think? Comment below:




  10 comments for “Humanising the High Street

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.