How one Manchester community reclaimed its streets by closing them down to cars

In a timely turn of events, the trial happened in the week petrol forecourts ran dry and motorists struggled to get hold of fuel.

A Manchester community has taken a major step in its efforts to reclaim its streets after holding a pioneering trial to prioritise people over cars.

Roads in Chorlton were shut last week as part of an Open Streets trial designed to get people thinking about using four-wheeled vehicles less.

It is the first time such a trial to block off some streets to through-traffic has been given the go-ahead by Manchester City Council.

And the organisers admit they could not have timed it better as it happened in the week petrol shortages starkly illustrated our current dependence on fuel.

How did the Open Streets trial in Chorlton work?

Burrows Avenue and Westfield Road were each closed to cars for several days last week as part of the Open Streets trial.

It was designed to get the local community thinking about lowering carbon emissions and reducing the use of four-wheeled vehicles.

Neighbours pledged to reduce their own car use and instead to walk, cycle or use public transport when they were heading to work and school or going to the shops.

The project, the first of its kind in Manchester, was supported by Our Streets Chorlton.

Burrows Avenue was transformed into a play street last Monday to Wednesday (27 to 29 September).

Then, between Thursday and Saturday (30 September to 2 October), Westfield Road was closed to through traffic to get people talking about what streets are currently used for and what changes they would like to see in their local area.

Activities took place each afternoon of the trial including opportunities to test out e-bikes and cargo bikes, talks about climate change and the promotion of new car sharing schemes.

What did residents say?

Residents said one of their reasons for signing up to the trial was their concern about the amount of traffic using the roads and the speeds vehicles are travelling, making the area unsafe.

They also expressed worries that there are not enough places for children to safely play in the area.

Burrows Avenue resident Mary with her children Burrows Avenue resident Mary with her children
Burrows Avenue resident Mary with her children

Burrows Avenue resident Mike Lever said: “We’ve needed change on the street for a while. The number of cars that speed down this road is scary, especially at night when you feel it shaking the houses.

“These three days have been peaceful – the last time it was anything like this was the first lockdown. It’s given everyone on the street an opportunity to come out and chat again.”

Mary, a long-term resident on Burrows Avenue and a supporter of the project, added: “It’s for the kids this. They’ve never been able to play on the street because of the cars. And now look at them, all playing together.”

What happens next?

Data is being collected from residents across Chorlton through an interactive heatmap on the changes people would like to see to enable driving less.

An interactive heatmap which is collecting data on how people in Chorlton would like to see their communities improve An interactive heatmap which is collecting data on how people in Chorlton would like to see their communities improve
An interactive heatmap which is collecting data on how people in Chorlton would like to see their communities improve

The findings will be shared with Manchester City Council to work on lasting solutions to reduce carbon emissions and get more cars off the road in Chorlton.

What did the organisers say?

Our Streets Chorlton, which is part of not-for-profit organisation Walk Ride GM which supports active transport across the city-region, hailed the Open Streets trial as a success.

It thanked Manchester City Council for approving it and hoped other communities worried about traffic levels and environmental issues might give it a go.

It also admitted it could not have taken place in a better week than the one in which HGV driver shortages meant there were long queues at filling stations and fuel shortages across Manchester.

Project co-ordinator Pauline Johnston said: “It has been so encouraging to see action taken by residents on these two streets. We worked with the streets to develop and deliver a project that they care about and can get behind.

“It could not be more apt timing with people panic buying fuel. There are many alternatives to getting in the car that are better for individual health, air quality, our pockets and our planet.

“The residents here are making the case for change here and elsewhere by leaving their cars at home and trying out sustainable forms of transport.

“Hats off to Manchester City Council and our local councillors for being supportive of the project.

“It’s a first for Manchester that roads have been closed for three consecutive days with a play street permit and no on-street marshalling required.

“Only barriers and road closure signage have been used so that opens up opportunities to try it elsewhere too.

“In all weather, residents have got together to socialise, engage in conversations about climate change and re-imagining a neighbourhood that is less dependent on cars to get about.

“Now we have more data that can be shared and positive feedback, we can look at longer-term solutions to reduce unnecessary short and local car trips, leaving the streets clear for the people that need to use cars.”