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Issue 337 – Ambitious plans to redesign Market Place

AS part of their plans and ambitions for the town centre, Frome councillors are looking at reshaping the Market Place. In particular, they are interested in using the area as “shared space”.

The concept of shared space involves stripping back barriers, signs, kerbs and controls, and therefore putting responsibility for safety back into the hands of drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists.
The town council would like to see more markets take place in the Market Place, while reducing the speed limit to 20mph. Closing the Market Place and Bath Road to traffic on two days a week are also possible measures which are being considered.
Cllr Mel Usher, IfF (Independents for Frome) , says the area is currently a “nightmare” for pedestrians, with a “chaotic” traffic situation, and also points out that the Market Place currently suffers from a lack of atmosphere. “It doesn’t feel like a Market Place,” he said. “It’s just not a pleasant environment. When you are there, all your attention is focussed on your safety and the movement of traffic. It can’t live up to its name and operate as a market place.
“It’s a nightmare for pedestrians. Frome is a bustling market town and yet it is effectively divided in two by the B3090 which is busy all day, carrying a great deal of traffic which just passes straight through the town.
“The traffic situation is frankly chaotic, with illegally parked vehicles, unloading vans, gaggles of buses, double parked cars waiting for spaces, legally parked cars coming in and out on short stays and a three-way junction around Stoney Street, Cork Street and Bath Street.
“One of the solutions we want to look at closely is a concept called shared space. It won’t be cheap and some people won’t like it, but we know it works elsewhere and it fits Frome like a glove.”
Cllr Pippa Goldfinger, IfF, explained, “Shared space is an urban design concept which seeks to strip back the layers of highways barriers, signs, kerbs and controls which have accumulated on our roads over the past century. In doing so drivers, pedestrians and cyclists are forced to engage with each other and to negotiate the shared street. Removing objects which were installed for our safety sounds counter-intuitive but statistics show that accident rates fall where shared space has been introduced. This is because shared space throws the responsibility for safety onto the individual and makes people think harder about what they are doing.
“We already have shared space in Frome – Stoney Street and Catherine Hill are historic examples – drivers and pedestrians become very aware of each other and behave with much more courtesy than is normally evident on our roads. By contrast, the pedestrian crossing by St John’s School on Christchurch East is a good example of a clear cut safety measure which performs poorly. Because of the visual clutter at the junction with Gore Hedge, cars often go straight through red lights which children have been taught are safe to cross at.
“Shared space sounds like a traffic design issue but it has as much to do with human psychology as with the physics of highway engineering. Shared space schemes have been popular in northern Europe for decades and are now finding favour in the UK where there are many working examples.”
The Frome Times has been asking local groups what they feel the Market Place needs.
Neil Howlett, president of Frome Chamber of Commerce said, “The Chamber of Commerce wants the Market Place to be what it has historically been – the heart of the town. That means getting people out of their cars and uniting the spaces on either side of the Market Place (and Bath Street). The Market Place is flexible, and we would like to see the main uses change through the day. It would be good to see more and different market stalls in the Market Place.
“We have to accept that many people need or want to drive into the town centre. Short term parking is important to the trade in the town centre. What makes a vibrant town centre is people walking and talking, with their children. The shared space concept seems to offer an innovative solution to this.”
Luke Wilde of ‘Keep Frome Local’, the group campaigning against a large supermarket in the town centre, said they were also attracted to the concept of shared space. “Such an initiative here in Frome would support local businesses by making the town centre more attractive and easier for pedestrians. It would also be worth thinking about how visitors who arrive in the Market Place can be encouraged to discover Frome’s gems – the friendly local shops off the Market Place in Cheap Street, Catherine Hill and Black Swan Arts.”
Michael Rhodes of ‘Frome For All’, the group who would like to see a range of shops in the town centre (including a supermarket large enough to draw people back into the town), said, “Improved traffic management and a more pedestrian friendly town centre is one of Frome For All’s key priorities. At the moment the Market Place better meets the needs of those driving through to shop elsewhere than those walking around the town centre, trying to do their shopping locally.
“We would like a range of different proposals to be drawn up for the Market Place so that there are some options for public consultation.” The group also suggested that a retail development in Saxonvale could bring in money to help improve the Market Place.
The Sustainable Frome Group said, “Sustainable Frome welcome the investigation into plans for the shared space in the Market Place, and would support any initiative that would enable Frome residents to use sustainable forms of travel.”
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