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Street space should be given over to walking and cycling in a post-Covid world

28 September 2020

In the latest ICE Strategy Session, panellists discussed the increase in cycling and walking resulting from Covid-19 and the implications for future design and development. Watch the debate again here. 

Street space should be given over to walking and cycling in a post-Covid world

Space on the UK’s streets should be reallocated to make it easier for more people to cycle and walk, according to a panel of experts speaking at the latest ICE Strategy Session: How will the Walking and Cycling piece fit into the post-Covid jigsaw?

“Far too many short journeys are made by car. We need to make successful places where walking and cycling are the most obvious choices for short journeys,” said Sheffield City Region active travel commissioner Dame Sarah Storey at the event, which took place on World Car Free day.

According to Storey, 40% of journeys of 1km or less in her region are made by motor vehicle, rising to over 60% for journeys of 5km.

Both cycling and walking increased during lockdown, and the government has created a £250M emergency active travel fund to support councils to maintain these levels. British Land head of development delivery told the online audience that Transport for London is planning for a ten-fold increase in cyclists and a five-fold increase in pedestrians post-Covid.

“We have seen major changes in behaviour, with most people saying they will work from home more,” Phil Jones, chair of consultancy Phil Jones Associates. “Commuting and business travel were bound to come down, and I believe that is a permanent change.”

Watch the debate again below.

Active Transport Strategy Session Sept 22nd from ICE Group on Vimeo.

During lockdown the government published 'Gear change: a bold vision for cycling and walking'. This new policy document promises £2bn of new investment and a national cycling and walking commissioner for England.

In it, prime minister Boris Johnson says: “People want the radical change we are committing to in this strategy, and we politicians shouldn't be afraid to give it to them.”

The document also commits to “much higher standards” for planning and design – something Storey welcomes. “One of the biggest problems we face is that the standards we’ve been adhering to are just too low,” she said. “We’ve prioritised motor vehicles too much, and now we need to turn that on its head.”

Arup transport planner Susan Claris also said there should be a change in priority, with pedestrians considered first, followed by people on bicycles, then public transport. After that should come the needs of taxis, freight and deliveries, with private motor vehicles at the bottom.

She told the online audience that work needs to be done to make cycling more inclusive. At the moment, said Claris, women, older people, people from ethnic minority groups, disabled people and people at risk of deprivation are all under-represented in cycling. As a result, cycle infrastructure is often designed for confident cyclists and commuters.

“We don’t ask motorists what they are using their cars for [when designing roads], but we only create cycling infrastructure for commuting,” said Storey. “We should be building infrastructure for everyone to use, so that people can cycle to pick up their children from school or to go for a coffee with friends.”

Gehl partner Henriette Vamberg gave examples of cities around the world where this has been achieved, with space freed up to encourage people to walk and cycle, including Copenhagen and New York.

With £250M available immediately from the government’s active travel fund and £2bn of new investment promised in Gear change, Living Streets chief executive Mary Creagh said it is vital the money is spent tackling inequality. People with lower incomes are far less likely to own cars, she said, resulting in the richest 10% getting four times as much spent on their transport than the poorest, through investment in roads ad subsidies to train companies.

“Residents of deprived communities tend to travel less, but they experience the impact of people who are travelling,” said Creagh.

Creagh also highlighted that over 2,000 children were killed or seriously injured on UK roads last year, and suggested setting a “net zero” target for reducing such deaths similar to that for carbon reduction. As a result, she said, our streets would look very different.

Be sure to join incoming ICE President Rachel Skinner's inaugural address on 3 November where she will be discussing the importance of carbon emission reduction and the need for urgent actions.Book the event here.