Reflections and actions captured in project report after two community-led Open Streets in Chorlton.
What would your street be like if people were prioritised ahead of cars?
Our Streets Chorlton worked with residents, Manchester City Council and the Highways Department to trial two three full day ‘Open Streets’ – where people were prioritised over cars.
Access was permitted to residents; driving was permitted at a walking pace and diversion routes were chosen. All to encourage residents to choose walking and cycling as well as divert traffic back onto bigger capacity roads.
You can read the full Open Streets Project Report here or at the bottom of the blog and download the PDF which includes:
- The delivery of the ‘Open Streets’ and the impact they had on local people, and at a wider strategic level for each Chorlton ward and Manchester City Council
- The project highlights, positive outcomes and future actions, alongside any challenges faced
- A timeline of events that led up to the delivery, including our engagement and co-creation approach; the discussions, activities and events that helped to facilitate a mini-project that placed the community at the centre of decision making for their street(s).
Behind the scenes of the two Open Streets in Chorlton in September and October 2021, one we held in Burrows Avenue and the other on Westfield Road, the Our Streets Chorlton team worked together with the community and here we have captured the reflections from residents, facilitators and local councillors for their honest feedback.
Reflections on Burrows Avenue Open Street
Local resident Mike Lever said that a large bright sign on the road to explain exactly when and why the closures were happening might have helped to spread more understanding and awareness, but agreed that the event went down well and that it engaged a wide range of people.
While houses were told about the closures via letter, email and local social media pages, it is important to recognise that these still could have been missed, so planning how we can better advise people next time is really important.
Mike told us: “The social aspect was huge – it got people out chatting with one another. The road was much quieter throughout the day. People normally use our road a lot because there are no speed bumps, unlike parallel roads. It feels like people are becoming proud of where they live and are taking ownership of it. Everyone seems to want to improve the street as a whole.”
Councillor Mandie Shilton Godwin, who attended the Open Street, said: “There were a good range of things for people to do and people had a go at them all! The organisation was really good, and it was clear that the staff had worked hard to make the open street work, which people can sometimes overlook. When I spoke to residents, they seemed keen to have something like that in the longer term.
“I would do it over a wider area, but I understand the difficulty in that. I would have liked to get more local groups and organisations involved by working with them in advance.”
Councillor Joanna Midgley also attended and added: “The timing of activities was good because it captured people coming home from school and the whole thing had a really good buzz about it.
“There was something for everybody to do and it gave a glimpse into what life would be like without cars speeding along the road. I think the three days worked well in allowing people to see that impact.”
The full impact video for Burrows Avenue can be found here.
Reflections on Westfield Road Open Street
Councillor Eve Holt, who was involved in the project right from its beginnings, said: “I grew up on these streets so I have a real sense of care and connection to them that I learned to walk and ride by bike on. In Greater Manchester, 30% of all car journeys are less than a 1km, and a lot of these are in places like Chorlton.
“We have some of the highest emissions, so we have the responsibility to do more here and you have to take people with you on that journey by finding ways to engage people so they feel like they can take action. People need to know that governments, councils and councillors are all playing a role, and then understand what role they can also play on their streets to address the climate emergency.
“My aspiration is that more people feel like they can make change locally and that they feel better connected and hopeful about what is happening as a whole.”
Local resident Nick Dixon expressed his positivity around the project and said: “Having a big focus on the environment and traffic helped to give it a real purpose. We learnt a lot from the lightning talks that were put on because it gave us information and the strength to know what to do with it.
“Often, people feel powerless, but we felt like we were part of a movement and not just an individual worrying about how to tackle climate change on their own.”
Since the Open Street, residents on Westfield Road have been keeping in touch with one another on WhatsApp messenger and are actively planning to reduce emissions on their street, for example by retrofitting and installing solar panels.
Resident Karen O’Keeffe added: “We feel like we’ve got the weight of voices behind us now and the open street definitely gave us all some direction. It was well-attended and everyone enjoyed the refreshments especially – having somewhere to grab coffee gave us a central focus point.”
Both Nick and Karen agreed that the Open Street might have run more smoothly on a warmer evening and are therefore hoping for something similar next spring, but aren’t ruling out a special Christmas version to bring their neighbourhood together in festivity.
The full impact video for Westfield Road can be found here.
Our own reflections
George Coombs, one of the Our Streets Chorlton Project Coordinators, said: “We wanted to make it easier for people to come out on the street because families were saying that their children couldn’t usually go out to play anywhere.
“During the open street, local children who had previously never played with each other could be seen having a great time using their bikes on the road and neighbours who didn’t know each other were out chatting. I think that some parents even struggled to get their kids back in the house at the end of the day!
“The main challenge we found was that the barriers used on Burrows Avenue to close the streets to cars had been opened by motorists attempting to travel through. We witnessed a few people driving on the pavement to get around them even though the diversion was only about 30 seconds away. Mostly of these were vans.
People who typically use the road as a cut-through were not residents – so bringing on board the wider community and understanding the complexity of the street network and behaviour change required for people who do have to use cars to get about is something we need to continue to work on in a positive way.
“We’re looking forward to making further connections with communities and making the project about what the community wants – led by the people. Starting conversations and reimagining how streets can be used. Getting neighbours to feel empowered to make lasting change and see the results of their input is a wonderful thing.”
Final thoughts and next steps
On both streets, it’s clear that while trials achieved their goal of letting people reclaim the space where they live and experience less traffic, one of the biggest positive benefits was the way people engaged with each other and responded to their neighbours’ ideas.
The Open Streets at both locations sowed some seeds of inspiration together to not only just to ask ‘what else can we do’… but to actually start putting amazing ideas into next steps and actions.
Residents on Westfield Road are looking at ways to join up on ideas around retrofitting their homes and sharing energy resources as well as planning more open street events
Residents on Burrows Avenue and Emery Avenue are working together to deepen the conversation with local councillors and nearby schools to develop a plan for the network of streets to support some of the ideas and positive benefits seen from the three days of repurposing their streets for people.
If you would like to share your feedback with us from your experience of the Open Streets or learn more about them, you can get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org