Pedestrianisation Of Deansgate
CallisonRTKL drew up its vision for a car-free Deansgate last year before an Extinction Rebellion protest

IN FOCUS | Deansgate project demands public realm rethink

Dan Whelan

The region’s design experts have praised Manchester City Council for pedestrianising part of Deansgate, and said they hope it could trigger other schemes to improve connectivity by prioritising walking and cycling.

The council has announced plans to ban traffic from the area of Deansgate between King Street West and Blackfriars as part of social distancing measures amid the coronavirus pandemic, with Planit IE and highways consultant Steer appointed to advise on the project. 

But other design and planning consultancies working on projects in Manchester called for the council to identify parts of the city that could also be pedestrianised.

Mark Graham, director at LDA Design, the consultancy drawing up plans to overhaul Piccadilly Gardens, said: “Just doing a bit of Deansgate probably isn’t going far enough.

“We need a full, city-wide approach and it is critical that the council looks at other areas [of the city], particularly those with higher footfall. This is an opportunity to fundamentally rethink how public realm is done.”

Lindsay Humblet is partner at design consultancy Planit IE, which is delivering a major overhaul of the nearby Lincoln Square, intended to open up public realm linking Deansgate to Albert Square. He said: “Deansgate is such a lynchpin and spine through the middle of Manchester.  

“If you can improve circulation, movement and dwell on that street, and connect through to the medieval quarter and Lincoln Square, then it is a massive opportunity for Manchester to create a people-centric place with less reliance on cars.” 

Planet IE expects to be on site at nearby Lincoln Square later this year, Humblet added.

Murmurings of a project to rid Deansgate – one of Manchester’s busiest streets – of traffic have been going on for some time, with groundswell deepening after environmental lobby group Extinction Rebellion blocked off the road during a protest last summer. 

Matt Pickering, associate director at design practice CallisonRTKL, explained that, at the time of the protest, a plan to pedestrianise that part of Deansgate had just fallen through. Lobby group WalkRide GM had been urging Transport for Greater Manchester and Manchester City Council to close the section between Blackfriars and King Street West, but the plans never progressed, in part due to disagreements between TfGM and the council, Pickering said.

He described Deansgate as a “glorified rat run”, and said the Extinction Rebellion protest showed evidence of several benefits. 

The shops on Deansgate didn’t suffer, they saw greater footfall and greater profit,” Pickering told Place North West.

“Air quality improved on Deansgate and the surrounding areas. It improved how people can move across the city while also benefitting health and wellbeing.” 

Matt Pickering

Matt Pickering described Deansgate as a ‘glorified rat run’

The council’s latest pedestrianisation proposal, which will be implemented on a temporary basis initially, is aimed at making it easier for people to social distance in the city centre once some of the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.  

Cllr Angeliki Stogia, executive member for environment, planning and transport at Manchester City Council, said in a statement last week that the council hopes to make the change permanent, something LDA Design’s Graham said he would welcome. 

“I think people recognise the value of having fewer cars on the street and a few more birds singing in the air and being able to meander into the street without worry,” he said. 

Pickering agreed, saying that the project could set a precedent for similar schemes across the city while also urging drivers to embrace change and reduce Manchester’s carbon footprint. 

“With Manchester’s drive to become zero-carbon by 2038 it is going to take some fairly big initiatives to hit those targets,” he said. 

“Nobody is too worried that you can’t drive down Market Street or St Anne’s Square and there’s no need to go down Deansgate. If you’re trying to get from A to B you’re much better off using the inner ring road and then the arterial roads at the point you need to get in.

“Hopefully, the inner ring road will become predominantly pedestrianised.” 

Pickering, Humblet and Graham all called for a rethink of the street and public realm layout around Whitworth Street, as well as the area around Piccadilly Gardens. 

Humblet, who has also worked on the revamp of Preston’s Fishergate Shopping Centre, said: “To make the area north of Piccadilly Gardens feel more connected to the gardens, and create better linkages between Ancoats, the Northern Quarter and the station, would be amazing.” 

Fishergate Redesign

Planit IE was involved in the redesign of Fishergate in Preston

While the Deansgate initiative is a step forward, Pickering said future pedestrianisation projects must show flexibility.  

“Deansgate is a big severance,and if you remove that severance you begin to link places together really well,” he said. 

“Placemaking isn’t a finished article; it’s an evolving process you’re constantly improving. This is a good example because you can look at it and ask, ‘how has this made our lives better?’ It only takes a few minor changes.” 

LDA Design has whittled options for the Piccadilly Gardens redesign down to three, which will be unveiled later this year. He said is is “strikingly obvious” that there isn’t enough space for cyclists and pedestrians in city centres, although Planit IE’s Humblet countered that widespread pedestrianisation might not be the answer. 

He said: “There’s a myriad of things to consider. Pedestrianising streets isn’t always the right solution. It’s about creating a balanced street and sometimes streets have to have vehicles on them.” 

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Brilliant , quotes and justifications from lobby groups and self interested designers. Never in articles like this to you hear the views of those who disagree. More balance please .

By Roberto

We definitely need more pedestrianisation. But please, none of the grass like in that first image. What’s the obsession with grass in central Manchester? It doesn’t work in busy areas like Piccadilly Gardens shows (which is why so few public squares and almost no pedestrianised streets around the world have grass) and it works less in wet cities like Manchester as it just turns to mud.

Yes, we need more green in the city centre. These are called parks. We had opportunities to build more parks, but our dear leader (the unelected for 25 years one) has always blocked such moves like with the recent Central Retail Park which was probably our last great opportunity.

By EOD

I hope Planit IE come up with something original and striking for this once in a lifetime opportunity, and not the usual benches and planters that are the norm on every pedestrian high Street.

By jrb

Completely agree Roberto, with all their effort at taking all vehicles out of the centre they fail to improve accessibility. My partner has poor mobility and these scheme (while they look nice) make it worse for us to access the city centre. An example is the proposed Albert Square design, looks great but all they’ve done is reduce access to those who can’t walk or cycle. In the future we wouldn’t be able even get a taxi to drop us there anymore and with no additional public disabled bays as part of the design we might as well not bother visiting. Design for everyone please not just your vanity and pandering to domestic eco-terrorists.

By Aevis

@Roberto…perhaps that’s because the majority don’t.

By Anonymous

@Aevis, Good taxi access is usually possible in cities with extensive pedestrianisation which as pointed out, is important for accessibility, as is good pedestrianisation in general. There are many ways to achieve this. Look at cities that have excellent pedestrianisation like Nürnberg or Oldenburg in Germany. But many others. Often it includes a taxi, delivery lane that is for most part pedestrian, but deliveries can occur at certain times, or taxis/those with disabled access can use anytime

By EOD

I agree that Central Retail Park was a massive loss for potential green space.
However the site isn’t too far from Mayfield and the new proposals for Central Retail Park do intend to provide some public space, so it’s not a complete loss.
There’s also a decent amount of green space nearby on the way to Miles Platting which should hopefully improve as the wider area gets regenerated.

It’s the other parts of the city where more focus is needed.
I don’t think it’s a lost cause unlike other cities. Widespread pedestrianisation and tree planting could turn Manchester into a much more attractive city that would work well with its architecture if done properly.

Conversion of existing car parks would help link the green spaces up too. And we don’t have to ‘lose’ the parking spaces. Create multi storey car parking for the duller sites that are better off as car parking.
This would intensify traffic at these locations but it’s nothing that TfGM can’t handle…

By Anonymous

I am not sure it is a good idea to have pianos and horses in the same area.

By George Stubbs

“Design for everyone please not just your vanity and pandering to domestic eco-terrorists”…. think you’ve got your weapon pointed in the wrong direction there.

Less cars in the city centre is essential for a better city, but clearly there is a need for accessible bays across the city centre and making it easier for those who need Blue Badges to get them. More trams on lines that are more frequent, better buses and comfortable cycling lanes, and an integrated transport system should help to remove the need for most car trips and provide cleaner air for city centre residents.

Have full faith in Planit to do something great!

By Imp

@EOD, thank you for your response. I agree with your point however this is really not occurring in Manchester. An example being Oxford Road near the Universities; private hire taxis cannot use the pedestrianised part, only black cabs which are difficult or unavailable to book in the wider area (who honestly thought that was a good idea…?). Public transport is really poor in Greater Manchester as a whole; buses are too numerous on some roads and too few on others, TFGM has been prioritising tram access to the West side of the city for years now and doesn’t appear to want to change that, and useless bus lanes/ bus only roads which do not consider the logistics of deliveries/accessibility issue. Its a shame as we used to enjoy coming into the city centre but it’s proving ever challenging and I have no confidence in those currently making the decisions on these to issues to actually think of the bigger picture or outside of the box rather spending money to pat each other on the back…

By Aevis

Anonymous – you had me right up to “…it’s nothing that TfGM can’t handle…”

By the light of the moon

Another reason to avoid the city centre, more traffic

By Dan

Great idea – fully support making our city centre far more people friendly.

We can’t change the amount of street space available in our city centre without demolishing a huge amount of buildings (which isn’t going to happen).

What we can change is how we use it.

We all know we need more, better quality public space in Manchester city centre – outside of Canal Street we hardly have anywhere where bars and restaurants can spill out into the public realm or where you can go for a walk where you’re not alongside traffic.

Pedestrianisation is too often viewed as something costly, permanent and controversial but it doesn’t have to be. We can work ideas through and then test the best ones by erecting bollards to either end of a street for a period of time – monitoring the success of the trial. If it’s a disaster and has unexpected consequences it’s easy and cheap to put things back to the way they were, but a well planned trial generally proves pretty popular with the public. More expensive public realm improvements can then be implemented when it makes sense to do so – rather than having to happen at day 1.

Obviously the needs of service vehicles and those with limited mobility needs to be fully considered, but a well planned city centre with less unnecessary vehicles should create more vehicle space for those that need it.

By Oli

Where will I go to rev the engine in my souped up drug dealer car if they pedestrianise Deansgate?

By Mr T

What a fantastic opportunity to catch up with other cities (mainly in mainland Europe) who have put people (including those with disabilities) above motorised traffic. Deansgate should become our Las Ramblas. We shouldn’t get too hung up with demands for blue badge access and parking. This doesn’t have to be on Deansgate (or Albert Square for that matter) itself, And Metrolink is fully accessible. A far lower proportion of people with mobility issues have driving licenses or drive than the general populations, so the emphasis should be on accessible public transport. The evidence is that far more people (including those with mobility problems) use cities that have made themselves friendly to people rather than motorised transport. This isn’t ‘eco-terrorism’ – it’s actually business friendly.

By Peter Black

Manchester isn’t that bad for public transport when you compare it to most cities in the UK. It’s probably one of the best tbh.
But there is tonnes of room for improvement.

It would be ace if they made use of the canals for both tourist and commuter services.

If they had a top notch underground metro system they could convert the existing tram routes into a massive cycle highway network, but that probably wouldn’t happen in my lifetime.

By Anonymous

The problem isn’t necessarily whether Manchester has a good or bad transport system. The problem is people who move to an area without a Metrolink or rail station nearby, and then complain about the fact that there isn’t a Metrolink or rail station nearby. If people did their research before moving house and didn’t just move into the first bland Barratt homes box which became available, we wouldn’t have thiis problem

By Anonymous

The problem with altering an established traffic flow is that the traffic is dispersed to other streets.. Then static traffic in those street causes more pollution than moving traffic.

Its really not comparable to the Rambles in Barcelona. Barcelona, in the area where traffic is allowed, consists of large six lane tree lined avenues which go on for miles which meet in huge roundabouts and fountains. These were built in the nineteenth century and quite impossible to, in anyway, replicate in Manchester.

My experience of Deansgate is that its isn’t that busy. Discouraging people from the city centre is not the answer, unless you want to create a quaint toy town world of some retro middleclass fantasy.

By Rivers