Has the pandemic increased the speed at which we push cars out of our cities?

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16th March 2021

Picture credit: Stephanie LeBlanc on Unsplash

One positive to come out of the pandemic is the creation of additional car-free zones in cities. Designed to make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists, especially in areas where social distancing can be difficult, these are measures which would probably have taken much longer to put in place if it wasn’t for the current crisis.

The Streetspace for London scheme means that London Bridge is closed to standard vehicles during the day, with only buses, black taxis, motorbikes, cyclists and pedestrians now able to use the bridge between 7am and 7pm.

Around Victoria Station, Streatham Station and Brixton station pavements have been extended to allow for greater numbers of pedestrians. And cycling corridors have been created in several areas, including between Colliers Wood and Elephant & Castle.

There are other plans in place across the city’s boroughs, designed to ensure that people are supported to walk and cycle rather than take to their cars.

And London isn’t the only city to introduce measures that put pedestrians ahead of cars. In Paris, there are plans to convert the famous Champs-Élysées from a busy thoroughfare to a pedestrian-friendly garden.

Half of the avenue’s eight lanes will be closed, leaving room for more green spaces. In normal times, 3000 cars per hour pass along the route, with the resulting nitrogen dioxide levels twice as high as the limit set by the World Health Organization. So this closure will have a huge impact on air quality and hopefully mean that Parisians, who tend to avoid the area, are able to return.

As well as reduced traffic, there are plans for low-noise road surfaces, street food kiosks, extra trees and “planted living rooms” where people can meet and relax.

Another city with plans for reducing pollution and creating more sustainable spaces is Barcelona. The city council intends to turn a third of the car-clogged streets in the Eixample district into car-free public spaces. Over the next ten years, 21 streets and 21 road junctions will be turned into parks and public squares.

Across the pond, there are also plans afoot to give pedestrians more space. Earlier this year, the New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, announced plans for a 366-metre elevated walkway to connect Manhattan’s High Line to Penn Station. The High Line is a disused railway track that was turned into an urban park and has since become a tourist attraction.

These steps towards making cities healthier and more sustainable – and putting pedestrians and cyclists first in certain areas – is clearly a step forward in cutting pollution and working towards net zero emissions targets.

What I’m keen to see, especially in London, is that we’re also able to keep traffic flowing where it needs to. It’s no good solving the emissions or overcrowding problems in one area and then creating bottlenecks and increased pollution elsewhere in the city as delivery drivers and others are forced to find different routes.

What do you think? Are schemes such as closing London Bridge to standard vehicles a step in the right direction, or do they just create problems elsewhere?

I’m always interested to hear your views. And, of course, if you need assistance with the structural elements of an upcoming project, please do get in touch.

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