We live in an age of walkable cities. The word ‘walkable’ has seen an increase of around 160 percent since1800, and has been on a steady incline since the 1990s. The benefits of walkable cities have been coming to light in recent years – they reduce carbon emissions, promote active living and minimise road accidents, to name a few. While it is important to note that walkable cities are not completely vehicle-free (they refer to cities whose infrastructure facilitates the accessibility of amenities by foot), some may as well be. York is often regarded as such– in fact, 2023 research has named it ‘the UK’s most walkable city’.
Many areas of the city are pedestrianised or vehicle-restricted, including Parliament Street, Davygate,Coney Street, Lendal and many of the streets leading up to York Minster. This has been the case since 1987, when the City of York Council began implementing foot streets, pedestrian zones and vehicle restriction in and around the city centre. At the time, it was northern Europe’s biggest pedestrianisation scheme. The first initiative of the scheme was to replace the pavement on Market Street and Feasegate with concrete blocks. According to Councillor Dave Merret, the vice-chairman of a York City Council Working Group overseeing the project, the blocks aimed to create a “safe, pleasant and long-lasting walking environment.”
Since then, numerous schemes have been set up to ensure the walkability of York is maintained. For example, Scarborough Bridge was completed in 2019. The bridge spans the River Ouse and connects York railway station with the city centre and was successful in reducing traffic congestion. In 2021, the city received a £3.3million boost for York cyclists and pedestrians. The scheme aimed to introduce a number of cycle lanes, as well as safety measures for cyclists and pedestrians. The Active Travel Programme was introduced in York during the Covid-19 pandemic, but became a permanent fixture in order to promote safer, more convenient walking and cycling across the city.
There has also been changes to infrastructure. Road improvements, foot paths and cycling routes, for example, were introduced as a result. In July 2023, a petition was released calling for the pedestrianisation of Fossgate. The street is already recognised as a pedestrian and cycle zone. This means that only service vehicles and residents have access to the street between 8am and 6pm. Outside of this, parking is restricted to permit holders or pay-and-display. However, petitioners are calling for complete pedestrianisation of the street. The petition came after the Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 granted Fossgate businesses the right to trade outside. According to the petition, concerns over disability access have since prevented many businesses from trading outside. A ban on vehicles on the street would open up the external areas of businesses whilst allowing them space to accommodate for disabilities. The petition was handed over to the City of York Council on 8 November 2023. In 2019, the York Transport Consultation found that 60 percent of York visitors had used a car or van at some point during their journey, including nearly all (96 percent) of those visiting for either an everyday or one-off shopping trip. 30 percent had used trains, and 20 percent utilised the Park and Ride service. There seems to have been generally positive responses towards the pedestrianisation of York. One local resident said: “It feels more convenient and a lot safer when walking around town to not have to worry about vehicles. At the same time, the foot traffic can be a bit overwhelming.”