London Plans to Boost Walking and Cycling in the City

The new London Streetspace program is transforming the way people navigate the city.

May 15, 2020

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More Londoners are walking and cycling in the city but this isn’t part of a health craze, it is part of the new reality. With public transportation running at one-fifth of the pre-coronavirus levels and likely staying that way due to the need for social distancing, these modes of transportation will continue to increase as the lockdown is lifted.

That’s why Mayor Sadiq Khan and Transport for London (TFL) unveiled their London Streetspace program on May 7. Streetscape will transform the city’s streets to accommodate more pedestrians and cyclists as well as to ensure that private car traffic levels do not increase and cause more congestion.

While the mayor has said that working from home should continue for as long as possible, the city had to come up with a viable solution that includes reduced public transportation when people fully return to work and it had to be implemented quickly according to Capital West London. TFL models anticipate an unprecedented ten-fold increase in cycling and five-fold increase in walking when that happens.

“Many Londoners have rediscovered the joys of walking and cycling during lockdown and, by quickly and cheaply widening pavements, creating temporary cycle lanes and closing roads to through traffic we will enable millions more people to change the way they get around our city,” Khan said in the city’s press release.

Streetspace calls for the rapid construction of a cycling network using temporary materials that include new routes and to reduce traffic in residential areas through the creation of low-traffic neighborhoods. Local town centers will also be transformed so that local journeys can be safely walked or cycled. The flip side is that it will also make the city less convenient for drivers who will hopefully leave their cars at home.

Work is already begun on street closings and widenings to accommodate the two-meter social distancing needs. All of these are temporary but could be made permanent after TFL reviews.

“Large numbers of Londoners have already taken to cycling for essential travel and exercise during lockdown; the demand is there,” Dr Ashok Sinha, CEO of the London Cycling Campaign told Positive News. “The mayor’s new Streetspace plan can and should be the start of a permanent transition to a greener, healthier and more resilient city.”

Streetscape, Positive News said, is accelerating a trend that London and other cities in the UK including Birmingham, Brighton, and York, to make cities more accessible to pedestrians and cyclists, as well as a way to reduce carbon emissions, reduce air pollution, and improve quality of life.

But this trend is not limited to the UK, many other European cities are becoming much more bicycle friendly and less automobile accommodating   including Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Utrecht – the Netherlands fourth largest city – is leading the pact.

Utrecht built specialized roads and bike parking facilities that gave cyclists the upper hand over cars in the city’s center. One new 6,000 bike parking garage is located under the central train station to enable cyclists to ride to their commuter trains.

Across the pond in the US, Seattle is planning to permanently close 20 miles (32 kilometers) of streets to most automobile traffic according to CNN. The street closings began as part of the Stay Healthy Streets initiative that started in April to provide more space for people to get out and safely exercise while remaining socially distant during the coronavirus pandemic. 

It was supposed to be temporary but mayor Jenny A. Durkin announced on May 7, in a press release, that the street closures are now permanent.

"Safe and Healthy Streets are an important tool for families in our neighborhoods to get outside, get some exercise and enjoy the nice weather," Durkan said in the news release. "Over the long term, these streets will become treasured assets in our neighborhoods."

The advantages of making city streets safer for walking and cycling far outweigh the inconveniences to car owners. Cleaner air and less carbon emissions are healthier and improve the quality of life in cities and help our planet too.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.