Ashok Sinha, CEO of the London Cycling Campaign (LCC) and Alan Clark, director of UK policy and government affairs at Lime, write for Environment Journal about why we need longer-lasting and meaningful changes to the way we travel.
People are returning to work, meeting friends and family again, and edging back to normality, but transport capacity is under intense pressure.
With social distancing measures in place, public transport capacity will be reduced for many months – perhaps years – until we manage to bring the virus fully under control or find a vaccine.
There needs to be a new normal for travel in the UK and extra transport capacity from other sources is urgently needed.
Without policies to support sustainable travel options, that capacity is likely to come from cars. TfL estimates that without intervention, we will see a ‘car led recovery’ in cities like London with as much as a doubling of vehicles in Central London compared to pre-COVID levels.
That means double the congestion, air pollution and danger on our roads. Elsewhere in the UK, pollution levels are expected to soar and road deaths increase as cars crowd back on to roads.
We cannot let that happen.
To avoid this, we must radically rethink the design of our streets and the forms of urban travel we encourage.
Governments around the world are recognising the importance of increasing space for people walking and cycling, and have been supporting other forms of sustainable travel that will help people maintain social distancing.
Many cities have already begun making progress towards this goal, implementing car-free roads for the first time. Pop-up cycle lanes have also been installed in locations where groups like the London Cycling Campaign have long been advocating for safer cycling infrastructure.
As a result, walking and cycling are on the rise with bike shops booming and rental services like Lime seeing record levels of demand.
However, there is still more that urgently needs to be done. Before the current crisis, too many people were already being killed walking and cycling on our streets. Many felt too unsafe to walk and cycle.
We faced – and still face – a public health crisis due to pollution and inactivity, and the greatest threat of all, the climate emergency.
We must, therefore, see the current moment as a chance to reshape travel in the UK.
Central roads should become ‘access only’ for vehicles and where this isn’t possible, bike lanes should be installed or widened, and plans for a new smart road pricing system should be accelerated.
The UK has also legalised the trial of rental e-scooter programmes, offering another sustainable, socially distanced form of travel for commuters and residents.
London must be at the centre of these changes and lead by example – giving TfL the power to ensure e-scooter services are made available to all Londoners, improving access by ensuring rental schemes operate across all Borough boundaries.
As LCC’s recent Climate Safe Streets report highlighted, new, shared mobility options will be essential to decarbonising London’s roads.
The arrival of e-scooters offers a cleaner, low carbon alternative to cars, for hundreds of thousands of people who can’t or don’t want to cycle. This will help clean our air and tackle climate change.
Make no mistake, these changes are not an optional ‘nice to have’.
Without further action, the problems caused by our over-dependence on the private car will deepen, which would be devastating for the UK – reversing recent progress in improving air quality.
It would also deprive everyone who enjoyed the experience of walking, jogging or cycling on empty streets during the strictest lockdown measures, the chance to do so safely and healthily in future.
As our lives begin to recover, we should aim higher than simply a return to ‘normal’. The prize is a healthier, greener and happier cities.
Photo Credit – Pixabay