We have a unique opportunity to embrace bold changes to how our roads and public realm is designed. The aim should be to implement quick changes in the coming days and weeks to pave the way for lasting change to maintain the very low levels of air pollution we’ve enjoyed in recent weeks.
Indeed, a strategy that assumes there will be a medium-term reversion to ‘business as usual’ is both unlikely to reflect the long-term impacts on behaviour and risk missing the opportunity to deliver more long-standing positive change.
As well as needing to be bold, we should also be sensitive to local context in how changes are made. What works in one neighbourhood might not work in others. A one-size-fits all approach – where a blueprint that is predetermined and is imposed on areas without regard to local factors that make each area and street unique – won’t work. A flexible and experimental approach should be adopted.
We should embrace the concept of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) as a framework and apply it with flexibility. The LTN framework means traffic is severely reduced within neighbourhoods. Traffic should instead use the main arteries (e.g in a place liked West End Ward the surrounding main roads like Regent St, Tottenham Court Rd., etc.). The objective is to stop rat-running within neighbourhoods – only those vehicles that meet the necessary requirement are allowed into neighbourhood streets.
Exceptions should include delivery and refuse collection vehicles for businesses (on this note, there should be freight consolidation following the example set in New Bond St and elsewhere to minimise road use), residents’ vehicles, and taxis or other vehicles for vulnerable and disabled people.
Another framework which is similar to the LTN approach is the Superblock model described here. On the link there is more information about how it works.
Pavements should be widened with the goal of encouraging more walking in the long-term, not just the short-term. Therefore, there should be flexibility to ensure that measures that are initially conceived of as temporary can become permanent if and where they are successful. There should be experimentation with temporary closure of streets. This can also pave the way for changes in the longer-term, with some streets currently open to cars closed off for good. It’s important to underscore the focus on experimentation because this will allow us to see where road closures work and where they don’t.
More cycle lanes and provision (including cycle parking spaces) should be put in place with sensitivity to context (some roads work better for cycling provision than others). This should go hand in hand with public authorities being more proactive in signalling the responsibilities that come with cycling (there is a small minority of cyclists who don’t always follow the rules of the road) to help pedestrians – in particular the vulnerable and elderly – feel safe.