Space for distancing

I have written to my local councillor, the leader of the council, and the Cabinet member for infrastructure at my local council to ask that they make changes to the roads to help provide space for people travelling on foot or by bike. This is that letter:

The current crisis has highlighted how much of our streets are dedicated to cars, not to people, and at the same time, increased the need to give people walking, running, cycling, and queuing more space. Please consider how changes could be made to streets to make more space for people. Several cities have done work on this already, and received very positive feedback, even from sections of the press and public usually hostile to anything that could be considered anti-car1.

The benefits

Works to create space for walking provide multiple benefits, including:
  1. Making it easier to keep to 2m distancing;
  2. Encouraging walking over driving, which is particularly important given that air pollution worsens outcomes for those infected with COVID-192 and may be a transmission vector3;
  3. Helping slow speeding traffic, a problem on usually congested roads that puts extra strain on emergency services responding to avoidable collisions4;
  4. Providing space for queues to essential businesses that need to limit the number of people entering at any one time;
  5. Making streets more accessible for people with disabilities who use assistance devices such as wheelchairs; and
  6. Supporting government policy to make “active travel” (walking, cycling, wheelchair use) the first choice for daily activities5.

As lockdown rules are eased and car traffic increases but we’re still going to be asked to maintain physical distancing, walking and cycling key worker commuters are really going to struggle if this isn’t planned and provided for. Data from transport use in Wuhan, where most restrictions have now been lifted, show an increase in car use, and research from Autotrader suggests the same is likely here6. Our roads and environment can’t support that – as Transport Secretary Grant Shapps wrote just last month “Climate change is the most pressing environmental challenge of our time. There is overwhelming scientific evidence that we need to take action, and doing so is a clear priority for the Government.” and “Public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities.”7 – making these changes supports the government policy, and the government have recently announced guidance to support this.8

What can the council do?

The council can give people more space by widening footways (pavements), closing streets, creating “modal filters” (where roads are made access only for motor vehicles, but people can still pass through on foot or by bike, using bollards, planters etc, like the top of Lichfield Street opposite Wilko in Hanley).
Footway widening can take place very quickly and cheaply9, usually without a Traffic Restriction Order (TRO); others can be implemented relatively quickly using Experimental Traffic Orders or Temporary Traffic Orders10.

Where?

I’m sure the highways team can identify places where this can usefully be done, but I would encourage you make sure residents have a way of making suggestions, too. To start with, I can recommend:

Street Measure Reasons
Market Street and Transport Lane, Longton Footway widening Provide extra space for queuing outside the bank branches, two lanes of one-way traffic should make this easy to implement.
Bucknall New Road, Hanley Footway widening; cycle lane addition Speeding traffic and commute route for key workers in the city centre.
Hartshill Road, Hartshill Footway widening; cycle lane addition Space for local food shops and commute route for hospital staff.
Sections of Waterloo Road, Burslem Footway widening, physical protection of footways Space outside food shops and takeaways, footways frequently mounted by cars reducing space where it would otherwise be adequate.
College Road, Shelton Footway widening Space outside food shops and takeaways, and commute route for key workers.
Multiple – outside schools Road closures where practical, footway widening Pick-up and drop off times are often crowded, additional road safety benefits. Especially ones with higher than average pupils still in, and as preparation for them re-opening.

Footnotes

1 BBC News; New York City press release; Photo of example in Washington DC, on Twitter; Edmonton, Canada, announcing measures; Glasgow Times; Living Streets

2 Air Quality News

3 The Guardian

4 Metropolitan Police

5 Creating the Transport Decarbonisation Plan on gov.uk

6 Autotrader

7 Creating the Transport Decarbonisation Plan on gov.uk

8 Reallocating Road Space in Response to COVID-19 – Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities on gov.uk

10 The Ranty Highwayman

11 The Ranty Highwayman

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