The spread of Covid-19 and the lockdown have dramatically changed the way we live and move around our city. It’s looking increasingly likely that physical distancing is going to be with us for a while and we want to take a look at some ideas that Newcastle City Council could consider implementing now to make living in the city safer and easier. We think that these ideas could be implemented quickly and with limited resources – eg. with temporary measures such as those used in roadworks.
The dramatic reduction in traffic in Newcastle appears to have resulted in considerably more people walking and cycling, whether for personal exercise, or necessary trips such as going to work or shopping for essentials. If action is taken now to increase space for walking and cycling, as lockdown is gradually lifted people will be able to maintain physical distancing and can continue to travel safely without relying on driving or public transport.
Traffic signals are still largely operating under pre-lockdown configurations. We’ve identified three key problems with the existing setup:
- Many crossings require buttons to be pressed to request a pedestrian (and cycle at toucan crossings) phase.
- Prolonged waiting times mean that people will start to congregate at the crossing when they should be distancing from each other.
- Crossings with more than one phase result in people grouping together on small islands in the middle of the road. Many of these also have barriers meaning that only one group of people can safely cross at any one time if a 2m distance between family groups is to be maintained.
To resolve these issues at traffic signals with pedestrian or cycle crossings, more time in each cycle could be given to pedestrian and cycle phases, phases could be automatic (without use of button presses to request them) and signalised junctions with two stage crossings for pedestrians and cyclists could be reprogrammed as single stage crossings.
Sydney (Australia) has been rolling out changes to its pedestrian crossings to help limit the spread of Covid-19: https://7news.com.au/lifestyle/health-wellbeing/sydney-pedestrian-crossings-changed-amid-coronavirus-crisis-c-758478
The current reduced levels of motor traffic in residential streets mean that it is easier to walk and cycle in the carriageway to help people keep their distance from others. It would also appear to be enabling many more people to cycle than usual and many key workers are now cycling to work instead of using public transport.
However, we have identified two key problems which we consider need addressing to maintain safety:
- Some streets are still being used as short cuts by drivers and there are also reports of increased levels of speeding.
- As lockdown is lifted and the traffic returns, it will become increasingly difficult to walk or cycle on the carriageway to maintain the required physical distance.
To resolve these problems, we think that temporary or experimental traffic orders could be quickly implemented to filter residential areas so that low levels of traffic on these streets is maintained.
Information gathering through Streets for People and the LCWIP consultation could be used to inform plans for temporary low traffic neighbourhoods. Data collected through these temporary measures, including from residents, could usefully inform any further changes.
The UK Government has relaxed rules allowing councils to quickly implement changes to provide more space for pedestrians and cyclists. https://www.forbes.com/sites/carltonreid/2020/04/17/roads-can-be-for-people-not-cars-states-uk-government-lockdown-guidance/#64b79f5f762b
Hackney Council in London has further increased the amount of filtering in the borough using low cost measures in relation to social distancing: https://road.cc/content/news/emergency-measures-stop-rat-running-drivers-announced-272655
Also in London, Lambeth council has also begun implementing measures to provide more space for walking and cycling in response to social distancing: https://www.london-se1.co.uk/news/view/10244
While main roads also have reduced levels of motor traffic, we consider that there are still two key problems with them:
- Data suggests that the average speed of traffic on main roads has increased and we know that very few main roads have average speeds much below 30mph. On roads with shops and other services which have high levels of pedestrian traffic, it is very difficult for people to maintain physical distancing. As the lockdown is lifted, we expect that there will be a need to encourage more people to go to local shops and these businesses are going to require much more space outside so that people can queue safely.
- Many other key destinations such as schools and workplaces are also on or close to main roads. People will need more space to travel safely on foot or cycling on these key routes, in particular key workers without access to private cars.
While the volume of motor traffic is low, we think that there are many wide streets and roads where space could be reallocated to pedestrians and cyclists. This could be done using short term temporary changes.
Again, data collected from the LCWIP engagement last year could inform these plans. Routes to hospitals for key workers, routes to schools and shopping streets could be prioritised.
Leicester has introduced temporary bike lanes for key workers https://news.leicester.gov.uk/news-articles/2020/april/temporary-cycle-lane-creates-route-to-help-key-workers/
Milan (Italy) Has introduced a scheme to provide more space for cycling and walking as their lockdown eases: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/21/milan-seeks-to-prevent-post-crisis-return-of-traffic-pollution
Ipswich is closing its waterfront to traffic to allow people to maintain social distance and get exercise: https://www.suffolk.gov.uk/council-and-democracy/council-news/show/ipswich-waterfront-to-close-to-motorised-traffic-during-the-lock-down
Hammersmith & Fulham Council is reducing two-lane roads to single lanes as a response to COVID-19 https://www.transportxtra.com/publications/parking-review/news/65206/london-shopping-street-pavements-to-be-widened-to-help-social-distancing
Lithuania’s capital Vilnius has announced plans to give over public space to bars and restaurants to boost business: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/28/lithuanian-capital-to-be-turned-into-vast-open-air-cafe-vilnius
Obstructions and Barriers
Across Newcastle there are barriers between pavements and carriageway in many locations such as crossings, outside busy entrances (such as school gates) or on cycle routes. These barriers reduce the available space for walking or cycling and make it difficult to keep a 2m distance from others.
We think that the Council should consider removing as many of these as possible, especially at crossing points, along busy narrow footways and on cycleways.
At some point, schools will be opening to more pupils. This is going to put a strain on physical distancing around school sites due to the number of pupils arriving and leaving in a relatively small area.
We think that the council should consider pushing ahead with plans to implement school streets, where streets around schools can be closed to motor traffic for certain periods in the day. On busy roads where this is not possible, another option might be to widen footways around schools to provide more space during the periods when school street restrictions are not in operation.
Looking to others around the world
The Council could look to other authorities in both the UK and around the world to help identify measures that could be introduced here:
Space for Gosforth have highlighted some of these here: http://spaceforgosforth.com/how-are-city-transport-planners-responding-to-covid-19/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-are-city-transport-planners-responding-to-covid-19
The Ranty Highwayman has discussed the loosening of rules around measures that authorities can implement to introduce measures that will give more space to pedestrians and cyclists: https://therantyhighwayman.blogspot.com/2020/04/its-least-they-could-do.html
Mark Strong of Transport Initiatives has written up a detailed blog on addressing the impact of Coronavirus: https://onedrive.live.com/?authkey=!AEdwxoTL2wqdyGM&cid=4265AC62A22DBFF0&id=4265AC62A22DBFF0!84600&parId=4265AC62A22DBFF0!84599&o=OneUp
PedBikeInfo have been putting together a dataset of schemes being implemented worldwide that support walking and cycling during social distancing: http://pedbikeinfo.org/resources/resources_details.cfm?id=5209
With thanks to Neil Murphy for featured image of Jesmond Road.