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Play streets brought some peace to our rat run

posted this in Community, Play Streets, Street Space on 06/07/2023

Why Lyndsey organised a play street after lockdown, benefitting children and adults in her local area…

It started with beers in the front garden. One of the positive things to come out of lockdown was the peace on our street, which had previously been used by drivers as a rat run. Suddenly we and our neighbours could stand in our tiny front gardens and talk without shouting over roaring traffic. As restrictions about socialising in groups were relaxed, we’d bring out chairs and chill while the small children ran up and down the pavement. 

The peace couldn’t last, but as the cars slowly returned we didn’t want to lose our new habit. Wouldn’t it be brilliant if, just for a little while, we could reclaim some road space for the kids to play and neighbours to socialise? We were nervous though; our street runs parallel to a much bigger road and is heavily used by cars wanting to avoid queueing and stopping at traffic lights. Closing the whole stretch would have been all but impossible, but what about just a short section for a few hours?

Getting local support from my neighbours

Kate from Playing Out was a massive support. She helped us set up a ‘parklet’ one Sunday morning, using a couple of the parking spaces outside our houses to set up chairs and a table. We brought out chalks and cake and had a brilliant morning, speaking to locals about the possibility of having a play street. The verdict? Massively positive, so we decided to go for it and put in an application to the council. 

We chose the quietest feasible time – Sunday mornings, once a month – and held our first play street in September 2021. Just before we put out the cones, Kate and I were standing on the pavement as cars zoomed past, glancing at each other nervously. But we took a big breath, donned our hi-vis steward’s tabards and closed the road.

Peace at last

Peace settled. It was like that Simpsons episode when The Krusty Show gets cancelled; the children, some from streets away, moved into the safe space we’d made and started to play – we reckoned around 50 neighbours came along. People were chatting, birds were singing. It was absolutely wonderful. I’m not a parent myself, but I love hanging out with my neighbours and their kids, getting to know each other and playing silly games.

We held our play street every first Sunday of the month. Our biggest fear was confrontations with drivers angry we’d cut off their usual route, but surprising mostly the opposite was true. We had drivers stop to tell us how much they supported what we were doing. People walking by would ask questions and enjoy the atmosphere. We had so many great conversations about our road and what it could be, if not purely for motor vehicles.

Traffic queueing on Lyndsey’s street on a normal day

Traffic increasing again

But each month, the cars and vans thundering down the road increased a bit more. I was always very aware that in closing our road we were directing the traffic back on to the main road using streets even smaller than ours, and despite very supportive neighbours on those roads, it was clear this couldn’t be a long-term solution. After 18 months, we decided to pause our play street.

Liveable Neighbourhood on its way

We have reason to hope that it is only a pause though. In May 2023 Bristol City Council announced a trial ‘Liveable Neighbourhood’ for our area. This would eliminate the rat-running and massively reduce the amount of traffic using our road, giving us the opportunity to re-start our play street and, hopefully, enable children to play out informally in the future.

For us, our play street has given us the opportunity to find our what out street would be like if
children were prioritised rather than cars, and it has demonstrated a local appetite for change. Hopefully we’ll be out together again soon, enjoying the peace.

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