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“The street was functioning as it should”: People reclaim street meant for pedestrians and cyclists from drivers

Residents came together to 'block' a street in Norwich to stop rat-running drivers who have taken to “protesting” by flouting rules...

People from all walks of life were present in occupying Exchange Street, a pedestrian and cycle-zone in Norwich, as they stopped drivers from rat-running and informed them that it’s illegal for motor vehicles to pass through the street, with people pointing out that the drivers were the “protestors” — not the pedestrians and cyclists.

The reclamation event was organised by Car-Free Norwich on Saturday afternoon, when residents, including entire families with children came together to take action against drivers flouting the regulations which have been in place for more than two years.

Peter Silburn from the Norwich Cycling Campaign attended the event and told road.cc: “It’s clear that Norfolk County Council and the police aren’t succeeding in enforcing their own regulations as drivers continue to drive down there almost two and a half years on.

“So the residents just said enough is enough and organised an event, inviting everyone to gather in the street and remind any motorists trying to drive down there that they are breaking the law and will risk getting a fine.”

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Silburn said that it was a calm and pleasant affair — people chatting with each other, enjoying the afternoon sun on a Bank Holiday event, having a nice cup of coffee at the al-fresco cafes — and also forming one massive, informal human blockade to stop drivers.

He said: “For two hours on lunchtime on Saturday, the street was really functioning as it should be.

“It was quite interesting to see the calm response from drivers, there was no real aggression from them. I think the fact that there were families there, a real mix of young and old, men and women, drivers could see that they’re not going to get through there.”

Families reclaim the pedestrian and cycle zone in Norwich (credit: Claire Bullion/Facebook)

Families reclaim the pedestrian and cycle zone in Norwich (credit: Claire Bullion/Facebook)

It hasn’t always been so peaceful at Exchange Street in the past. The street has been a ground for some rather heated exchanges as drivers have continued to use this key cycling and walking route to get through the city centre and cut to St Andrews Street.

In October, Harry Mach was arrested for “being a pedestrian” on the pedestrianised street, as he stood and blocked incoming cars. He only had charges against him dropped recently, after pleading not guilty to “unlawfully obstructing free passage on the road”.

A month later, 66-year-old Lucy Hall was shouted at by a car driver for acting as a “human bollard” and demonstrate how many drivers illegally used the road. However, the police came to the site and forcibly removed her… again, a legal pedestrian on the pedestrianised street to allow drivers to illegally drive through.

“It was extraordinary, the police pushed her out of the way and indicated drivers to come through,” said Silburn. “It’s kind of gotten that situation where mass law breaking by drivers is normalised and accepted by the authorities.”

In what can only be a stroke of irony, people on social media pointed out that news outlets which covered the event as a “protest” and called the people on the street “activists”, couldn’t be farther from the truth, when it was the drivers who were protesting against the rule by using the street as a rat-run.

Exchange Street is a part of the Pedal Ways in Norwich that were introduced 10 years ago. Since the council stopped allowing vehicles from 10AM to 4PM everyday, it is now a contraflow cycle route, with all sorts of people with all sorts of bikes using it to cycle (Silburn mentioned that despite Norwich Cycling Campaign’s reminders, the council still hasn’t put up the two-way cycle lane signposts).

The pedestrianisation of Norwich’s city centre began back in 2016 after a £2.5 million funding — and not without the backing of some pesky Alan Partridge fans (people really forgot that “traders need access to Dixons”!) who pushed for the scheme. In fact, the city lays claim to become the first in the country to fully pedestrianise a road — London Street in 1967.

More than half a century later, it seems the struggle to pedestrianise roads is still continuing, and destined to continue until the council and police whole-heartedly take measures to implement the plans, according to Silburn.

“No cars in the city centre means more safety, no noise, no fumes and just more pleasant all around,” said Silburn. “The police go on patrols for 10 minutes to inform drivers that they shouldn’t be there, the council sends a £50 notice to a couple drivers, but the problem is not solving.”

“Their ways are clearly not working. In my opinion, they ultimately need to install cameras and enforce the regulations by sending the penalty notices to every driver who passes through the street to ensure that they comply,” said Silburn. “Otherwise they will continue to flout the rules.”

Adwitiya joined road.cc in 2023 as a news writer after graduating with a masters in journalism from Cardiff University. His dissertation focused on active travel, which soon threw him into the deep end of covering everything related to the two-wheeled tool, and now cycling is as big a part of his life as guitars and football. He has previously covered local and national politics for Voice Wales, and also likes to writes about science, tech and the environment, if he can find the time. Living right next to the Taff trail in the Welsh capital, you can find him trying to tackle the brutal climbs in the valleys.

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21 comments

Avatar
brooksby | 11 months ago
5 likes

I've just read an article in the Grauniad that The Hague is bringing in a flat rate €50 parking fee for some of the busiest roads (not banning parking, just making it as expensive to 'just pop into a shop' as it is to park for a day: people can then make their own choices).

Avatar
jmcc500 | 11 months ago
2 likes

"The pedestrianisation of Norwich’s city centre began back in 2016" - Funny, a great part of Norwich has been pedestrianised since I was a kid - sometime in the 1980s. Just behind the cameraman is gentelman's walk, to the right is London St, and round the back is Castle Street, all pedestrianised since then. Exchange Street wasn't really a rat-run back then, it was the natural route out for North-bound drivers who had parked in St Giles Car Park. Still, makes sense to push cars out to the inner ring road rather than through there.

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ShutTheFrontDawes replied to jmcc500 | 11 months ago
2 likes
jmcc500 wrote:

"The pedestrianisation of Norwich’s city centre began back in 2016" - Funny, a great part of Norwich has been pedestrianised since I was a kid - sometime in the 1980s. Just behind the cameraman is gentelman's walk, to the right is London St, and round the back is Castle Street, all pedestrianised since then. Exchange Street wasn't really a rat-run back then, it was the natural route out for North-bound drivers who had parked in St Giles Car Park. Still, makes sense to push cars out to the inner ring road rather than through there.

I like to talk to my wife about the pedestrianisation of Norwich city center while doing the ol' no-pants-dance. It helps keep the wolf from the door, so to speak. I've done it for years. Got the idea from my favourite radio DJ.

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Mungecrundle | 11 months ago
6 likes

From a recent trip to York, which is very pedestrian friendly, and apparently thriving. These roads are adjacent, I wonder which shops in which street see the most footfall?

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brooksby replied to Mungecrundle | 11 months ago
0 likes

Mungecrundle wrote:

From a recent trip to York, which is very pedestrian friendly, and apparently thriving. These roads are adjacent, I wonder which shops in which street see the most footfall?

IIRC York council are being taken to court by disabled rights groups who say they're being discriminated against by the council blocking motor vehicle access to the city centre.

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chrisonabike replied to brooksby | 11 months ago
0 likes
brooksby wrote:

IIRC York council are being taken to court by disabled rights groups who say they're being discriminated against by the council blocking motor vehicle access to the city centre.

'Twas specifically the "anti-terror measures" which led to parking removal apparently.

Although I recall some useful car-free infra (*many* years ago now) I'd bet it isn't so ubiquitous that it would give you confidence getting about if you had a disability. Also IIRC York Council have form in deliberately making places inaccessible with barriers and needing the courts to get this fixed. (Covered by road.cc)

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2021/nov/19/york-anti-terror-measure...

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chrisonabike replied to Mungecrundle | 11 months ago
0 likes

Haven't been to York for a few years but the last time there the "historic core" (basically inside the walls) was indeed full of people on foot. Outside that the roads were full of motor vehicles. There is some cycle infra but it didn't seem particularly busy.

Given the compact size, flatness (single hill) and demographics (lots of students and tourists) of York I'd say their active travel efforts were underwhelming. Perhaps it's that much of Yorkshire and especially the North and East is car country.

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Fignon's ghost | 11 months ago
10 likes

This is brilliant. Power to the good people of Norwich!

Sorry! More Partridge...
You forgot to mention. The need for access to wheeeeeelchairssss!

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brooksby | 11 months ago
1 like

I appreciate that its a bit OT, but has anyone seen this article yet, in the Grauniad?

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2023/may/05/pollutionwatch-debun...

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Rendel Harris | 11 months ago
5 likes

It's astonishing (well it's not anymore, because it happens so often) how much the police will allow motorists to get away with. Pictured Bute Street in Chelsea, which I ride through regularly. Clearly signed pedestrians and cyclists only apart from loading and disabled, I've given up sending the police videos of people driving through it in the morning (they can't later in the day because the restaurants and bars have tables out on the road and very civilised it is too) after being told "we can't be sure the person wasn't delivering or collecting from one of the shops or a disabled person being dropped off", this despite the fact that the videos clearly show cars driving straight through and out the other end without stopping. I did point out that they could easily ask reported drivers for proof that they were delivering or check whether they had a blue badge, "Oh we don't have the resources for that, I'm afraid." 

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chrisonabike replied to Rendel Harris | 11 months ago
5 likes

Police? I think their main role is to maintain order - and that's effectively the status quo. Including the position and authority of themselves! Police are *major* users of motor transport. Like lots of "out and about" jobs the vehicle is the office. And larger ones are the station and cells too.

Finally - "Police car" has meaning beyond just transport.

If we do change our relationship with driving the police will be as much a buffer against that change as helping it happen, I think.

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brooksby replied to chrisonabike | 11 months ago
5 likes

chrisonatrike wrote:

Police? ... Like lots of "out and about" jobs the vehicle is the office. And larger ones are the station and cells too.

Bring back police boxes!  3

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hawkinspeter replied to brooksby | 11 months ago
3 likes

brooksby wrote:

Bring back police boxes!  3

I'd love to see some TARDISs put in various locations based around cycling routes, similar to the Wallace and Gromit schemes we had some years ago. Maybe have the insides decorated by artists rather than the outside. That'd bring in some tourists.

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wycombewheeler replied to hawkinspeter | 11 months ago
5 likes

hawkinspeter wrote:

I'd love to see some TARDISs put in various locations based around cycling routes, similar to the Wallace and Gromit schemes we had some years ago. Maybe have the insides decorated by artists rather than the outside. That'd bring in some tourists.

that would take a lot of paint, I hear the inside is pretty big.

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brooksby replied to wycombewheeler | 11 months ago
3 likes

wycombewheeler wrote:

hawkinspeter wrote:

I'd love to see some TARDISs put in various locations based around cycling routes, similar to the Wallace and Gromit schemes we had some years ago. Maybe have the insides decorated by artists rather than the outside. That'd bring in some tourists.

that would take a lot of paint, I hear the inside is pretty big.

"You've redecorated... I don't like it."

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BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP | 11 months ago
11 likes

 “unlawfully obstructing free passage on the road”. So if a vehicle was stopped in a cycle lane wouldn't that law also apply? 

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Sriracha replied to BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP | 11 months ago
8 likes
BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP wrote:

 “unlawfully obstructing free passage on the road”. So if a vehicle was stopped in a cycle lane wouldn't that law also apply? 

Or parked on a pavement, fully blocking it? Police just drive on by. Maybe if they were on foot more often...

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NickSprink replied to BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP | 11 months ago
14 likes

unfortunately it is very easy to move a little old lady blocking a car, far harder to move a car blocking a little old lady

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brooksby | 11 months ago
20 likes

I would love to know how the police could justify arresting people for being in the road or blocking motor traffic, when the motor traffic is breaking the law by going through there... Seems very odd.

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Awavey replied to brooksby | 11 months ago
10 likes

I believe they used the excuse the pedestrian was causing more of disruption than the motor traffic and then the officer was sent for some retraining...

but its really simple to stop people driving down a road like that with access only at restricted times, heres how Bury St Edmunds have been doing it for over a decade

https://goo.gl/maps/GFETVzBEVSdxwiUL9

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chrisonabike replied to Awavey | 11 months ago
4 likes
Awavey wrote:

but its really simple to stop people driving down a road like that with access only at restricted times, heres how Bury St Edmunds have been doing it for over a decade

https://goo.gl/maps/GFETVzBEVSdxwiUL9

Nice! Gap could be a bit wider of course if cycling is permitted there. Presumably there's budgetset aside for regular repairs to the gate - or are drivers there more sensible / careful than Edinburgh ones?

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