Lockdown has meant most of us spending much more time than usual close to home. We are noticing how cars dominate, and how pavements are often not wide enough to maintain social distancing. Less traffic has cut air pollution and reduced injuries and deaths from collisions, while a growing body of research shows that death rates from Covid-19 are higher in polluted areas.
Some councils, including Brighton and Hove, are already re-shaping their cities to benefit walkers and cyclists, re-allocating road space. Manchester closed streets to create new cycling and running lanes over the Easter weekend, Hackney is planning car-free zones to give people space to exercise and Leicester City Council created ‘pop up’ bike lanes to make it easier for key workers to cycle to work.
The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has followed this lead and pledged £2bn to double the number of cyclists and walkers by 2025. This new-found enthusiasm is welcome, except that it’s not new money but the fast tracking of previous investment and it’s not enough. To put it in perspective: Manchester’s proposed cycling network alone is likely to cost £1.5billion.
So let’s match this new-found enthusiasm with the resources it needs. When even the AA is predicting a permanent reduction in car use, now is the time to cancel new major road schemes and reallocate the £27bn budget to making safe streets and space for walking, cycling, shopping and play a reality – for everyone, every day.
Let’s take this opportunity to reclaim our streets, for all our good!