‘The Strand should be a huge plaza with cafes and bars’ - major city road closed for World Car Free day

The main thoroughfare has been transformed from masses of cars to a hub of activities and music.

One of Liverpool’s major roads is closed today, in celebration of World Car Free Day.

The Strand, which handles more than 1,000 vehicles per hour on a usual working day and is often congested with traffic, is closed until 4pm.

Instead of a line of polluting vehicles, it is set to be filled with live music, healthy activities and stalls - despite the rain.

Simon O’Brien, Liverpool City Region cycling and walking commissioner, told LiverpoolWorld : “Closing a major artery like this makes us all pause and think ‘what if it was like this all the time?’.

“I think The Strand should be a huge plaza with cafes and bars, like they do in other cities.”

Stalls open on The Strand for World Car Free Day. Image: Emma Dukes

The road closure, which began at 10am, aims to encourage motorists to reconsider how they travel around the city, and allow the public to experience The Strand without cars.

Activities are running from 11am until 3pm, including the chance to make your own smoothie on a bike and inflatable obstacle courses.

A series of diversions are in place redirecting vehicles away from The Strand via Leeds Street and Grove Street.

Celebrated worldwide, Car Free Day aims to change how people see cars and consider how air and noise pollution damages where they live.

Simon O’Brien, Liverpool City Region cycling and walking commissioner, told LiverpoolWorld why World Car Free Day is important: “It’s a symbol really, we have to start rethinking how our cities and our urban areas look.

“What if the beautiful architecture and riverfront were connected back to the city. We’ve got noise pollution and air pollution and it’s not about getting rid of cars but showing and giving people opportunities to get around in different ways and enjoy our city.”

Simon shows off his bike. Image: Emma Dukes/LiverpoolWorld

He added: “This is just one day, but the authority is going to roll out different road closures all over the region over the next year.”

Simon decided to ditch the car over 35 years ago and said cycling was nowhere near as possible or accessible back then: “I used to cycle around London 30 years ago and I was just a lone maniac amongst a sea of cars.

“If you go down there now, because they put in the infastructure and pedestrianised huge areas, everyone is walking or cycling around the capital, because they thought about the plans ten years ago. That’s what we need to be doing now.

“World Car Free Day is just a pause to invite people to appreciate The Strand without cars.

“We all remember in the first lockdown, everyone was cycling and walking because it was safe.”

Is closing outside of rush hour enough?

The decision to close The Strand from 10am to 4pm, rather than the full day, aims to minimise disruption and traffic build up in the city.

LiverpoolWorld asked Simon if he thinks the closure being limited to this timeframe is enough.

The music stage goes up as The Strand is closed to traffic. Image: Emma Dukes

He said: “The Strand was never designed as a through route. It was designed as a destination to get to the waterfront.

“This should be the focal point of the whole city. We’ve got Liverpool ONE on one end, the business district on the other end and I think The Strand should be a huge plaza with cafes and bars, like they do in other cities.

“For me, closing from 10am to 4pm isn’t quite enough, but it’s a symbol, it’s a start. It’s a chance for anyone in the city centre to think, what if?”

Would a congestion charge for motorists be considered in Liverpool?

Some areas in England have a congestion charge for motorists, forcing commuters to reconsider their journeys to work. In London, driving through a congestion zone comes with fees of £15 per day, and public transport such as tubes and trains are extremely popular.

Other areas such as Birmingham and Manchester also have charges for driving through clean air zones, with Bradford joining the list next week.

Simon said: “I think inevitably you have to consider it but first, you have to give people the alternatives.

“Liverpool City Region has a really good train system, the buses could do with a bit more work, but what we don’t have is a decent cycling infrastructure.

“We’ve got little islands, such as The Strand and Princes Avenue but my push over the next three years is to join up all the gaps in cycling infrastucture and create a pathway to cycle from A to B safely.”

He added: “I don’t mind cycling amongst traffic, I’ve been doing it for years. But, if you want the people who are less confident or people with kids, to really think about cycling into town on their bikes, they need to feel safe doing so.”

Electric scooters in the city

Voi scooters have become increasingly popular in Liverpool, especially with young people.

The easy-to-use electric scooters require a provisional driving license and are located around the city, unlocked via the Voi app.

A spokesperson for Voi told LiverpoolWorld there are not currently any plans to increase the price to use the scooters, amidst the increasing cost of energy.

Voi scooters along The Strand. Image: Emma Dukes/LiverpoolWorld

Currently, the scooters costs £1 to unlock, plus £0.20 per minute and unlimited daily and monthly passes are also available for £9.99 and respectively £39.00

Simon O’Brien shared his opinion on Vois: “The scooters can be a bit chaotic with people not using them properly, but if we’re honest, there are people who don’t drive or cycle properly.

“What the Vois do is make road users aware that there are other people out there who aren’t in a metal box.

“You can commute to Lime Street and hop on a Voi and travel around town, easily.

“A new Voi bike scheme is about to be introduced in the city with ebikes, which are fit for people who are less confident cyclists.”