DISABLED Fifers will have just one hour to park in the pedestrianised zone and do their shopping under new rules.
Councillors have agreed unianimously to ban ALL traffic- including blue badge holders, delivery lorries and residents’ vehicles - from the area of Kirkcaldy High Street between 10.00 a.m. and 5.00 p.m.
And, in the latest bid to tackle the parking chaos, automated bollards are to be installed to control access to the zone during the prohibited hours.
The unanimous decision was taken by the Kirkcaldy Area Committee yesterday (Wednesday) after months of discussion.
It means Blue Badge holders will only be have access to the pedestrianised zone between 9.00 a.m. and 10.00 a.m. ... or after 5.00 p.m. when most shops have shut.
Councillors stressed that pedestrian safety had to be their top priority.
Councillor Neil Crooks said: “I think we have unanimity around the table on this suggestion.
“We have had many meetings on this issue and we will make every attempt to minimise any negative aspects this could have on people with mobility problems.
“We are a day or two away from someone being bumped by a car or lorry on the High Street and it is not a pleasant shopping experience.
“Anything we can do to give our retailers the opportunity to benefit and make shopping different from elsewhere in Fife gives us a marketing opportunity that Kirkcaldy4All should explore. Safety is absolutely paramount.”
And the news was welcomed by Steven Roberts, manager of the Mercat Shopping Centre, who said that during certain periods the pedestrian zone “resembled a car park,” with dozens of cars blocking off the entrance to the shops while pedestrians tried to dodge the traffic.
“In principle we are really pleased with this decision as it can be quite dangerous out there at times. It has to be a good thing to decrease the volume of traffic which has got out of hand recently,” he said.
And he said the decision would not affect deliveries to shops in the Mercat which used the service delivery areas.
But disability groups including Fife Elderly Forum hit out, saying that a blanket ban on traffic every day was the wrong move.
“There is an hour slot first thing in the morning, but most people with disability issues will take longer to get ready in the mornings, especially if they have to wait for a carer to come and help them,” said John McKendrick, co-ordinator with Fife Elderly Forum.
“I would also question Shopmobility’s ability to cope with the increased numbers of people who could potentially use the service.”
A report to the Kirkcaldy Area Committee by transport planning officer David Brown said that the move to reduce traffic on the pedestrianised High Street had been prompted by safety issues.
He explained that “more than 30 parked vehicles have been counted in the zone, creating an almost continuous line of parked vehicles from one end of the zone to the other.”
The document outlined how refurbishment of the east end of the street was completed in 2008, with the second phase involving the pedestrianised area facelift completed in October last year. During the works a temporary road closure to traffic was granted which, although opposed by disability groups, was “widely regarded as an improvement by the malority of High Street users and businesses.”
Discussions on the future of vehicle access to the street began in June with various concerned groups to try to reach agreement on what could be done.
Mr Brown highlighted that since the works were completed there had been “a steady accumulation of vehicles” in the zone despite almost 1000 flyers detailing alternative travel options and the availability of Shopmobility, with which an open day had also been held.
The report concluded that current restrictions were failing to provide a safe environment; access restrictions had been accepted by the business community; blue badge holders access should be in line with business and residents’ access; and alternative travel, parking and Shopmobility options were available to help people with mobility issues.
Councillor Susan Leslie sought assurances that 10 parking bays for blue badge holders only – two on the east end and eight on the west, immediately after the pedestrian zone – would be in place before any of the restrictions came into use.
She was told by Mr Brown that the process to change the restrictions, including a new Traffic Regulation Order and consultation process would take a minimum of six months to be put in place.
Councillors also agreed to do more to help promote the Shopmobility service in the town, including investigating the possibility of one of the empty units in the Mercat Shopping Centre being used to advertise it.