Nine motorists were fined in a single day for driving through a city centre pedestrian and cycle zone as police announced a shift in tactics to combat the illegal rat-running, just weeks after locals came together to ‘block’ drivers from using the controversial street.
On Thursday 18 May, Norfolk Constabulary issued fines to nine drivers flouting the rules on Exchange Street in Norwich, the scene of often dangerous and heated confrontations between motorists and cyclists and pedestrians since the busy shopping street was closed to motor traffic in 2020, the Norwich Evening News reports.
Officers confirmed that the recent targeted action was not the first time that fines have been handed out to motorists using the street, though it does appear to represent a shift in tactics from the force’s previous focus on giving guidance and education to rat-running drivers, who have continued to use the cycling and walking route to continue through Norwich city centre.
The enforcement also appears to signify a shift away from the police’s targeting of residents attempting to stop what has been described by local campaign groups as the normalisation of “mass law breaking” by motorists.
Last October, Harry Mach was arrested after he stood in the street in an attempt to block oncoming cars, with the charges against him only recently being dropped after he pleaded not guilty to “unlawfully obstructing free passage on the road”. A month later, 66-year-old Lucy Hall was forcibly removed by the police after she acted as a “human bollard” to demonstrate how many drivers were illegally using the road.
“The road was turned into a pedestrianised zone by Norfolk County Council and is closed to motorised traffic between 10am and 4pm seven days a week,” a police spokesperson said.
“Enforcement is just one of the ways officers are tackling non-compliance, along with signage and education in this narrow and busy city centre street.
“People are reminded the street remains open to cyclists in both directions. Officers routinely visit the area to discourage illegal vehicle movements and ultimately improve safety.”
While the enforcement on Exchange Street has been welcomed by local cyclists and pedestrians, some have voiced their concerns that last week’s campaign was a “one-off”, while noting the dangers of motorists continuing to use the street, a situation described by one activist as an “embarrassment”.
“We’re pleased that the police have finally recognised that educating people that it’s illegal to drive down Exchange Street simply wasn’t working and that it was necessary to actually enforce the law by ticketing offenders. Hopefully this will deter others,” Norwich Cycling Campaign’s Peter Silburn told road.cc.
“This needs to be the norm – and not just a one-off exercise – until a longer-term solution can be implemented, and the benefits of pedestrianisation can be realised for citizens and businesses,” adds Matt White, of Car Free Norwich.
“That Exchange Street is still subject to regular illegal driving, three years after introduction of the zone, is an embarrassment.”
Fern Blevins, a local parent, also described the ongoing situation as “actively dangerous” for people legally using the street.
“There’s a huge sign at the start of the road saying ‘pedestrian and cycle zone’, yet drivers keep using the street,” she said.
“It’s just a shortcut for them but it’s actively dangerous for the people using the street for its intended purpose. This is especially so for those with wheelchairs, pushchairs, or small children, for whom it’s not so easy to hop up on a kerb out of the way when a driver decides to push their way through.
“My child was nearly knocked over last week by a motorist trying to push their way past pedestrians. It’s not okay.
“Hopefully the thought of getting a ticket might make some of these drivers actually follow the rules.”
Earlier this month, we reported that Car Free Norwich organised an event on Exchange Street which saw residents, including families and children, come together to take action by forming one massive, informal human blockade to stop drivers using the street.
“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,” Silburn said.
“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.
“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.”
Ryan joined road.cc as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.