Cars were banned from a busy Sheffield street this weekend - and here's what happened

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One of Sheffield’s main shopping parades looked very different this weekend, with chalk drawings covering the road, toddlers on trikes peddling freely up and down and diners supping drinks outside its many cafes and restaurants.

Division Street, in the city centre, was closed to cars – or, as the organiser Cycle Sheffield put it, ‘open to people’ – for a trial the cycling groups hopes will be made permanent.

Pedestrians, cyclists and skateboarders had the street to themselves on Saturday and Sunday, from 10am to 4pm each day.

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Cyclists on a car-free Division Street (pic Steve Ellis)Cyclists on a car-free Division Street (pic Steve Ellis)
Cyclists on a car-free Division Street (pic Steve Ellis)

Cycle Sheffield hailed the experiment a success, and the closure was also welcomed by many visitors and some of the numerous businesses lining the street.

But other firms were less impressed, citing concerns about the impact on trade, and some members of the public had their reservations too.

Andrew Rodgers, of Cycle Sheffield, said: “It’s gone fairly well. It’s not universally supported but the feedback we’ve had over the weekend has been mostly positive by quite a way.

“When the space is allocated to cars, to me that’s a poor allocation, and this shows that if you give it over to people instead it will be much better used.

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Edward and Grace Daniel enjoy cycling down the middle of a car-free Division Street (pic: Steve Ellis)Edward and Grace Daniel enjoy cycling down the middle of a car-free Division Street (pic: Steve Ellis)
Edward and Grace Daniel enjoy cycling down the middle of a car-free Division Street (pic: Steve Ellis)

“We want to have a discussion now with the council about further options, and we want to speak to businesses too.”

Cycle Sheffield claims pedestrianising the street would be good for business, by increasing footfall, and Mr Rodgers said many traders were in favour, including the owners of gift shop MoonKo and the Copper Pot cafe, which told him it had enjoyed its busiest ever Saturday.

MoonKo tweeted that the event had brought a ‘buzz’ to the street, and the optician EYEYE told how it stayed open later on the Saturday to make the most of the extra trade, claiming the event was ‘good for air quality, wellbeing and the economy’.

The latter’s tweet caught the attention of former Olympic cycling champion Chris Boardman, who said ‘taking out parking and giving space to people is frequently shown to improve high street health and business takings’.

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Children doing chalk drawings on a car-free Division Street (pic: Steve Ellis)Children doing chalk drawings on a car-free Division Street (pic: Steve Ellis)
Children doing chalk drawings on a car-free Division Street (pic: Steve Ellis)

But there was opposition from at least 18 businesses, who co-signed a letter to Sheffield Council’s chief executive John Mothersole calling for the closure to be ‘put on hold indefinitely’ as they had not been properly consulted and it could ‘impact key trading days at a pivotal point in a year which has been difficult enough already’.

The owner of fashion store Sa-kis, which was one of the signatories, said: “I thought it was rubbish – a real waste of time. It’s been dead this weekend, and it’s not helped having a big truck blocking the road, which one customer said he thought had been closed completely.

“Sheffield doesn’t have the footfall for this to work, unlike Leeds, Manchester and York, because we’ve got Meadowhall and hardly anyone comes into town to shop.”

Tilly Ashbrook, the store manager at Eton Clothing, who also signed the letter, had mixed views.

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A car-free Division Street (pic: Steve Ellis)A car-free Division Street (pic: Steve Ellis)
A car-free Division Street (pic: Steve Ellis)

Despite her misgivings, she said the Saturday had been quite busy and Sunday had been much like any other Sunday.

She estimated that in the long-term the store would lose around a tenth of sales due to customers not being able to park outside, but that might be made up for by the increased footfall.

“It’s really difficult to say based on one weekend what impact it would have in the long term,” she added.

Elsewhere on the street, Pete Tooley, owner of the Party On fancy dress store, called the closure a ‘good idea’, and a member of staff at The Alternative Store clothes shop also gave it his backing.

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Katie and Martin Pruszynski, from Hunters Bar, were there with their son Leo, aged seven, and two-year-old daughter Lyra, who were having a great time making chalk drawings.

Katie said: “It’s been absolutely brilliant. I think it’s much better without cars and we’d love to see this made permanent.”

But Jay Rickett, a 42-year-old electrical engineer from Killamarsh, who was there with his wife and three children, was not convinced.

“I don’t think it would make sense to do this permanently. For a start, there are lots of residents in town who might find it harder to get to their homes,” he said.

“It could maybe be done once a month at the weekend.”

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The final word should go to Sam Wakeling, of Cycle Sheffield, whose tweet earlier this year illustrating how a pedestrianised Division Street might look went viral and inspired the trial.

“Today Division Street was the best it's been. Bought stuff in a couple of shops and a cafe for the first time too. We just need those bauble lights now,” he tweeted.

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