Column: No cars in the city centre? Maybe we should look to the continent for inspiration

Before I start, I should admit to being a fully paid up member of the bicycle-owning, avocado-eating, metropolitan tree-kissers. For roads to be car-free is in my best interests, so keep this in mind if you do yourself the mischief of reading on.

By Richard Beecham
Saturday, 30th April 2022, 4:45 am

Leeds wants to pedestrianise City Square and the roads around it. It also wants to make it more difficult for cars to drive around the rest of the city centre. It's ambitious, sure, and lots of people have lots of opinions about it.

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The council has been trying to sell the idea on an environmental argument - much of Leeds as we know it today was pretty much dug up and rebuilt for cars back in the 1960s, so naturally it sees more than its fair share of air pollution.

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But is there an argument for such a scheme simply making the city centre a nicer place to be?

It's worth looking at other places around the world that have pedestrianised large numbers of public spaces.

Have you heard of superblocks? They're the idea of closing a number of intersecting roads to through-traffic in order to encourage walking and improve the quality of life for people who live there.

These were piloted in Barcelona in the mid-2010s - with three-by-three blocks closed to general traffic and replaced with space for pedestrians, cyclists, paths, trees and playgrounds.

These have been so successful that work has started to create a new 33-hectare mega-block in the city, and the idea is being looked at elsewhere.

So could it work in Leeds? Well, there's one problem. Barcelona has very good public transport links - including a metro, tram and hop-on bus services. Leeds has a terrible public transport network, almost entirely reliant on unreliable buses.

Last week I wrote a story about a professor at Leeds University proposing a universal free bus service for all as a "quick win" to get people out of cars and using these services. Upon posting the article to social media, one comment stuck with me: "We don't want "free" bus service we want to drive our cars that we payed a lot of money for."

Perhaps this is the mindset we need to leave behind before we learn from our European neighbours.