The first phase of long-running roadworks on Fishergate came to a close last week. Chief Reporter BRIAN ELLIS spent a Saturday afternoon in the city centre to see if the new road layout passed its first big test
Urban planners call it “shared space.” But there was precious little sharing going on as Preston’s new-look Fishergate faced its first real test at the hands of weekend shoppers.
Fears of a frightening free-for-all were quickly realised as many drivers ignored the appeal for a new mood of courtesy and tolerance.
Long queues formed in Butler Street, Chapel Street and Lune Street, with traffic on the city’s premier shopping thoroughfare stealing priority. Not quite how the £3.4m scheme was meant to work when it was opened days earlier.
“We’re struggling just to get out from the railway station,” said cabbie Shahid Khan. “It can take up to 20 minutes to get from the rank to the top of Butler Street. One driver said it had taken him nearly 40 minutes.
“The drivers in Fishergate just aren’t giving way. No-one is meant to have priority now, yet it’s not working like that.”
The Central Gateway Project has rid the city’s busiest retail street of traffic lights. Vehicles are meant to share the space with pedestrians. And everyone is urged to show consideration.
But when the Evening Post paid a visit on Saturday lunchtime the blood pressure was rising as drivers waited in line to even get onto Fishergate. And hesitant shoppers on foot took their chance where they could to scamper across the road.
“I think it looks great and we should probably wait and see how it is when it has settled down,” said Mark Selley, chairman of the Preston Hackney Carriage Association. “But first impressions are worrying.
“If it’s like this now, what’s it going to be like in the run-up to Christmas? If there is no sign of it improving then we need to sit down with the council and see what contingency plans they’ve got.
“We just can’t ignore it and hope it goes away.”
One angry shopper, who took 15 minutes to get out of the Fishergate Centre car park and a further 15 to reach the top of Butler Street, said: “I couldn’t do this every weekend. I hadn’t expected it to be this bad. Christmas is going to be horrendous if they don’t get things moving quicker.”
Regular rail commuter Peter Grandidge, who parks his car at the station multi-storey, added: “It’s not working in Butler Street.
“Previously there were three lanes at the top. Now there is only a single lane which has no priority at any time due to the removal of the traffic lights. And if a few drivers try to turn right out of Butler Street at a busy period it is gridlock. “
Phil Wilson, Lancashire County Council’s project manager for the City Deal Delivery team, said: “This is the first weekend that the revamped Fishergate has been open and, as with any scheme like this, it will take time for everyone to get used to using the shared space.
“The front entrance to the train station will be re-opened this week and this should improve the situation for taxis taking passengers to and from the train station.
“We will continue to monitor the situation to see if we need to put any other measures in place to improve the way traffic moves through Fishergate.”