The first location to say goodbye to cars at lunchtime was St Mary Axe which sits in the heart of the ‘City Cluster’ of tall buildings including the iconic Gherkin, Cheesegrater, Aviva Building and the Baltic Exchange. For three lunchtimes, it was transformed to provide a car-free space for people to enjoy food, music and fun activities.
Next month, Chancery Lane will banish cars for a similar period and at the end of next month there will be Clean Air Day – an event masterminded by the Mayor of London’s office which will see more than 12 miles of streets across Central London being closed to traffic on September 22nd.
These are temporary events but the move towards fewer cars in London and more pedestrianised spaces is clear.
The trend has definite ramifications for property owners, retailers and particularly operators of places to eat and drink. A move to environments where human beings are more important than cars brings into play the opportunity to utilise space for outside dining and events which will enliven shopping locations.
In these scenarios, landlords will need to be carefully aware of how far an occupier’s curtilage extends and therefore how much they can utilise the space outside of their premises. Although British summers cannot be guaranteed to deliver regularly the kind of weather that Mediterranean countries enjoy, the ability to serve customers al fresco can be a valuable asset.
It also needs to be remembered that sometimes pedestrianisation is not always the undoubted advantage that it may appear to be. Whilst anything that favours people of cars may feel intuitively good, sometimes retailers object to it because it detracts from footfall being channelled past their shopfronts and, of course, there is not the ‘drive-by’ awareness of people seeing shops, restaurants etc while they crawl past in jammed traffic.
However, it’s clear that pedestrianisation and all its implications will need to be increasingly factored into the calculations of both London landlords and occupiers as the car gives way to footfall.