When Sandown (briefly) became the city of the future

Cat James

What have Ridley Scott’s neo-noir thriller Blade Runner and a hand-knitted tea cosy got in common? That’s right! Pedestrianisation!

Watching Ryde Film Club’s showing of Bladerunner: The Director’s Cut, I was struck with how, in this future Los Angeles, the majority of traffic hovered above the streets, leaving the pavements below the domain of eyeball engineers and fugitives from off-world colonies.

Yeah, yeah – so far, so dystopian. But where does the tea cosy fit (and no, not on your head!)? On Christmas Eve I popped into Sandown, specifically to visit the wool shop to buy a cosy as a gift for my boyfriend’s vicarage-capacity brown betty teapot. Some say that the glory days of this seaside town are behind it, but let me tell you, the place was heaving! The high street was closed to traffic and people thronged in this newly-accessible space. No longer having to jostle shoulder-to-shoulder on the narrow pavements, they’d reclaimed the streets; chatting with pals and enjoying a carnival atmosphere.

I discussed this phenomenon with a veteran Sandownian. “Yes,” he told me, chewing on his pipe, “‘Appens every Christmas. Back in the 1970s, because of its similarity to that of a Vietnamese prison camp, we used to call the public address system the Hanoi Tannoy.” Err, ok.

That overcast day in December showcased the merits of pedestrianisation. Nonetheless, there is quite a lot of vociferous objection from some quarters about the prospect of making even a tiny part of a single street in some Island towns car-free. The arguments are usually twofold: business owners are convinced that their only customers are those who can park right outside the shop doorway; remove that ability and the retail sky will fall in. The other camp waves the mobility trump card; suggesting that pedestrianisation will create a ghetto of the able-bodied.

Well, let me ask you this; how often do you get the ‘Hollywood parking spot’, right outside your destination, be it a shop, your home or workplace? Thought not.

In the sage words of American historian Lewis Mumford, “Adding highway lanes to deal with traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to cure obesity.” Ergo, perhaps we need to tighten our road belts to reduce traffic congestion – the act of which as everyone knows would deliver astonishing health and wellbeing benefits, as well as potential retail uplift.

My pedestrianisation utopia will take a leaf out of Oslo’s book, redesignating on-street parking bays as tiny parks, cycle racks, or benches – that last one regularly on the wish lists of those with limited mobility. It’s not an inhuman place; there will be parking for those with accessibility needs, designated times for deliveries and access for transit (the modern word for public transport). Mobility scooterists won’t have to fight for pavement room, they can cruise down the centre of the erstwhile road. The sun will always shine and everyone will doff their hat.

Frankly, if Sandown can prove it works, surely Ryde, Newport and Ventnor won’t want to be left behind.

This article first appeared in print in the Isle of Wight County Press on 8 February 2019, and also online.

Cat James

Graphic designer, creative director of Pinkeye Graphics, Isle of Wight County Press columnist, Cat out of Matt and Cat

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