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More liveable cities for cyclists and pedestrians? Yes please ... and it is starting to happen, thanks to coronavirus

Roadspace is slowly being reallocated due to the COVID-19 crisis; it's wonderful, and let's hope it's here to stay

Take a look at the picture above. A couple of car parking spaces on St Martin’s Lane in the heart of London’s theatre district have been removed and given over to an outside dining area for an adjacent restaurant, helping the business re-open while enabling customers to maintain social distancing. Now, take a closer look; there are more customers who have arrived by bike than there would have been cars parked there previously, and whose occupants would have headed elsewhere for a night out.

It’s been long documented that taking space away from motor vehicles and giving it back to people who arrive at their destination by bike or on foot – the latter, perhaps, after taking public transport to reach the general destination they are heading too – benefits the restaurants, bars and shops based there.

And if there is one positive emerging from the coronavirus pandemic, it is that we can now see in real time the benefits of the reallocation of road space.

As a cycling website, clearly we are in favour of interventions that make it safer for people to get around towns and cities when they are on their bike, so seeing emergency infrastructure being deployed on Park Lane, under the Westway, or on Hammersmith Road near Olympia – shown in order in the pictures below – is most welcome.

Park Lane cycling

(Forgive the London-centric nature of this post; I haven’t left the capital since lockdown began at the end of March, even though I officially live elsewhere. But I could provide plenty of examples from elsewhere of people's excitement about how the streets where they live are changing for the better).

But it’s not all about the bike. Making our cities friendlier for both pedestrians and cyclists, and putting interventions in place that make those with cars – only just over half in Greater London as a whole, and far less in the Inner London boroughs, whatever impression the mainstream media gives – rethink their way of getting around – can only make them more liveable.

Take Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, for example. When I posted the above picture of St Martin’s Lane to Twitter earlier today, among the replies was video of residents of Northcote Road in Wandsworth celebrating the closure of streets to through traffic.

And here’s another video posted to Twitter today of people living near Old Ford Road in Tower Hamlets enjoying the road closure there, something unimaginable a few months ago.

Such interventions aren’t just happening in London, of course – they are taking place in other cities across the UK, and further afield you may have seen videos posted to social media of cyclists taking to the Rue de Rivoli in Paris in numbers usually only seen on the final stage of the Tour de France.

This is how our cities could, and should, be.

Returning to London, there is no reason why the streets in areas such as Soho – below, there’s a picture of Old Compton Street where for years Saturday night revellers have had to part ways for drivers coming through – or in and around Covent Garden, such as St Martin’s Lane – shouldn’t be taken away from the motor vehicle.

Both those areas, by the way, as many others in the centre of the city, have one-way systems in place that are all but impenetrable other than to those who regularly drive there for a living – perhaps one of the reasons black cab drivers oppose them?

Of course, businesses need to be supplied, but that can be done within quieter periods, and inside a set window. And no campaigner for safer streets for cyclists or pedestrians would argue that cabs shouldn’t be allowed to enter a quiet zone to drop off a passenger with mobility issues, an accusation cabbies often throw around.

Almost four months after the UK entered lockdown, and with restrictions now being eased particularly in England, the pace of introducing street closures and other initiatives aimed at enhancing social distancing and protecting vulnerable road users is frustrating for many of us.

Slowly, though, it is happening. True, there has been kickback on emergency bike lanes installed in places such as Trafford, Filton and Reigate, where councils have swiftly removed them following complaints from motorists.

> How are the UK’s pop-up bike lanes being received?

But is it too much to hope that as more and more low traffic neighbourhoods are introduced, and more local residents get used to their streets being closed to rat-running drivers, there is a future around the corner in which people are encouraged out of their cars – if they have one in the first place – and use cycling or walking as their default way of getting around?

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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Philh68 | 3 years ago

Reallocating transport space is a good thing, but it's not going to solve everything on its own. Other challenges include housing affordability, the resultant labour force distribution and stratification of cities by affluence, and distribution of employment opportunities. And they're connected. One of the problems we face is reducing car use increases liveability, which contributes to gentrification and pricing the average worker out of the housing market. That pushes them further away from the inner city and increases their dependence on motor vehicles and increases their transport expenses. So the people who can most benefit from cycle infra are often the ones least able to take advantage and the tyranny of distance forces them into motor vehicles.

That's not to diminish the importance of reallocating space from cars, but it's a much more effective policy when we reallocate residential space to a more homogenous mix of income levels.

brooksby | 3 years ago

Bristol City Council has started re-allocating road space from motor vehicles to cyclists and pedestrians.

I'm reserving judgement on whether it's any good, in case they haven't finished yet... 

King Street was going to be closed to motor vehicles to 'make into a more pleasant area for cyclists and pedestrians'.  Except what they've done is blocked it off completely by the Small Bar and the pubs along both sides have extended their tables right out - cars can't get through, but neither can bicycles, and even pedestrians are forced to get past the barriers at only once side (unless they want to start hopping the barriers).

The Triangle has big heavy barriers protecting a widened footway along past the shops and restaurants past Sainsbury's, then simple traffic cones "protecting" a cycle lane outside of that.  Several cones already knocked about by 'inattentive' drivers, it would seem.  Supposedly there were going to be 'proper' fixed wands there, so I'll wait and see.

There's a 'pop-up cycle lane' on the end of Lewins Mead (?) going toward St James Barton.  Which has been out against the central reservation of the road, the road which is two lanes of motor traffic straining at the leash to get past St James Barton and out to the M32.  So if you don't use the lane, you'll get tailgated and blamed for Holding Up Traffic (TM) but if you do use the lane then you have to come out onto the footway and use the pedestrian crossings to go anywhere other than right out onto St James Barton turning right.  Or something.

I'm not sure, but it looks more and more as if the reallocation of space is more to do with making it easier for the pubs to safely open and for people to go shopping/spend money than for people to move around...


They are now putting up 'proper' lanes with fixed wands along Park Row.  Going home last night, I was tailgated much more than usual by motorists who clearly felt I should be using the protected cycle lane rather than riding in the unprotected traffic lane which actually went where I wanted to go...

The other problem with these protected lanes is that they funnel you along a relatively narrow lane which takes you right over all the crappy cable trenches and potholes that they haven't fixed, and makes it harder for you to move out and avoid them...

Sorry for grumbling. I guess it's a case of "Be careful what you wish for".

HeidiR17 | 3 years ago

It's vitally important that new cycle infrastructure is fully accessible - i.e. wide enough and with suitable surface materials and cambers for people cycling in non-standard cycles to use. If we want to really make our cities cycling and walking friendly, they have to be accessible for people in handcycles, trikes, wheelchairs with cycle attachments, tandems, cargobikes, not just two-wheeled bikes. Cycle lanes also need to be completely barrier-free and avoid sections where cyclists are expected to dismount. Many Disabled people cycle because it's easier for them than walking, and not all can dismount and push their cycle or lift it over barriers or steps.

the little onion | 3 years ago

Having been involved in various city-level campaigns, the problem is that we have in the UK (generalising here) a culture whereby the 'proper' use of roads is for car driving and storage, and the 'proper' way of getting around is by car. Bikes and horses are interlopers that don't belong. As a result, whenever there are any proposed restrictions on motor traffic, elected officials get a tonne of pressure and complaints about 'the war on the motorist', and refuse to take any action. 

One example from an authority local to me - Bradford. The council are planning a clean air zone, but this planning is all about paying taxi drivers a massive amount of money to subsidise buying hybrid and electric taxis (literally millions of pounds). And of course, building more roads to allow 'smoother' flow of traffic. The council are REFUSING to consider the notion of even maintaining overall motor traffic levels at current levels, let alone reducing them. They are somehow thinking that having more cars, and more roads, will reduce pollution. Because they are political cowards.

The only way round this is to follow Oslo - have the political courage to reallocate road space, keep it up for a few months for the changes to kick in, and then ask people if they want them taken away.

fraggsta | 3 years ago

An annoyingly London-centric article. It goes through several schemes in London and then briefly mentions that there's stuff happening in other UK cities such as...errr.. Paris! Come on, life does exist outside London (and Bristol/Bath, which you occasionally cover since you have an office in Bath)

BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP replied to fraggsta | 3 years ago

The writer did mention that he was in London so was referring to what he knew. No need to get offended. 

fraggsta replied to BIRMINGHAMisaDUMP | 3 years ago

As mentioned previously, the writer took the time to mention Paris, but said nothing about what is happening in the rest of the UK other than "they are taking place in other cities across the UK". Even a small amount of research would have allowed the author to go into some detail about what is happening outside of London but they didn't. I'm not taking any offence at this article, it's just a bit tiresome seeing articles like this which only seem to care about what's happening in London.

Simon E replied to fraggsta | 3 years ago
fraggsta wrote:

As mentioned previously, the writer took the time to mention Paris, but said nothing about what is happening in the rest of the UK other than "they are taking place in other cities across the UK". Even a small amount of research would have allowed the author to go into some detail about what is happening outside of London but they didn't. I'm not taking any offence at this article, it's just a bit tiresome seeing articles like this which only seem to care about what's happening in London.

These reports, tweets and links are really helpful - they show people in places like ours that benefit from traffic-free streets. We can then badger our councils (again) to do the same. I'm getting serious 'street envy'. smiley

Instead of whining, why not do a small amount of research and post something positive?

Gary's bike channel | 3 years ago
1 like

Simon, one thing though, if we're going to redesign cities for pedestrians and bicycles over the car, we need to step away from this sort of thing

i sent this to the council, and the response? ''i see nothing wrong with the bmw's driving, you managed to come to a stop in time. The junctions fit the current criteria for safety''.     How can we have people feeling safe to cycle, if councils do this sort of rubbish? 

hawkinspeter replied to Gary's bike channel | 3 years ago
1 like

You should have sent it to the police. The road is clearly marked with a stop and give way triangle/lines and the driver did neither and caused you to stop instead. The junction may work if drivers use it properly, but as it stands there's no enforcement.

Gary's bike channel replied to hawkinspeter | 3 years ago

i dont bother with the police and cycling problems any more. If i lived in london i would but the responses or lack of i got when i did report incidents to my bobbies- zilch. Put me off.  Imagine being just outside a shared path, going 30 mph, then being shouted at, blocked in at a redlight, driver gets out cals you a cunt for not using the cycle lane, then you get pushed off the bike/ headbutted. All on 1080p video, statement given to police. Three years have passed. Nothing back at all.  I have no faith in them.

Gary's bike channel replied to Gary's bike channel | 3 years ago


Gary's bike channel replied to hawkinspeter | 3 years ago

angry chap...

LetsBePartOfThe... replied to Gary's bike channel | 3 years ago
1 like

The principle of the contiguous footway/cyclepath seems really good. Why after all should the motorised vehicle have the unbroken network. Instead, here, a child could set off from their house to their school on foot or by bike, with the "priority" all the way. 

But your video clearly shows the serious flaws in the implementation, not just in the ignorant driving.
It's basically a blind corner because the first "lane" is obviously right up against the front garden walls and hedges. Even stopped at the stop line it would not be possible to see sufficiently far along that first lane before pulling out. So to my mind there still needs to be the conventional width of a pavement at junctions before reaching the stop line - so that the stopped vehicle's driver's head is forwards of the line of front garden walls; and so that the stopped vehicle is itself visible to the main lanes of traffic. 
This leads to the only practical solution - existing road lanes must be given up for cycling and walking infrastructure. Not sure what would work on your highlighted road.... but either space used for onroad parking has to be reallocated to the contiguous footway/cyclelane. Or one whole side of the road has to be reallocated even if the remaining side has to become one-way. 
The reality is that a quart doesn't fit into a pint pot. Significant change/impact is required to reclaim the streets for people ahead of vehicles. And ideas that would seem absurd in a vehicle-first culture are actually perfectly sound in a people-first culture. But it should become a virtuous circle as people  forgo their vehicles in favour of their newly designated space. 
In the meantime that junction is not safe and should be closed today. ( closed to the vehicles obviously.  People-first culture ! )

jh2727 replied to Gary's bike channel | 3 years ago

Did you reply back to the council? Because that giveway line is completely useless - the drivers of most vehicles would not be able to see what then need to give way to until they are well past it. Ordinarily a junction with such poor visibility would have a stop line - I would say that is the first thing that needs to change, but they also need to improve the sight lines or install mirrors. The simplest thing to do, would be to make it a stop line, but put it at in a position where the driver would be able to see anyone who is approacing - and hatch off the area around it so that cyclists know to move to a position where they are visible to someone who stops at the line.

But that shared use path is a perfect example of one that many cyclists wouldn't use twice.

*BTW on YouTube video you:
 1. Call it a cycle path, it isn't, it is shared use.
 2. State that the driver is required by law to stop.  They are not. It is a give way, not a stop.  That doesn't mean their driving is good or even legal, if I had such a video, I would be tempted to report the driver for careless driving.

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