The pandemic has highlighted the need to rethink how we have been organising the very valuable and limited space that we have—but will these changes last?by Clara Hernanz-Lizarraga / July 23, 2020 / Leave a comment
Salome Gongadze took up cycling as lockdown orders emptied roads across London. “I was too afraid to do it before because there’s just too many cars,” she said. Now, car traffic has started creeping back up but changes in the way people travel could have long-lasting effects on cities.
Social distancing measures have drastically reduced public transport capacity. London Underground services will only be able to serve 13 to 15 per cent of its five million daily passengers: a Central Line tube carriage that normally carries up to 131 passengers will only accommodate about ten to maintain social distancing. As people avoid public transport, how many will switch to cars? According to climate charity Possible, there is scope for 2.7 million more commuters to travel to work by car, especially in urban areas with high public transport use.
To prevent congestion the government has urged people to walk or cycle to work. In May, the City of London unveiled the Streetspace programme, which aims to provide temporary cycle lanes, widen pavements, and close roads to traffic. Gongadze now regularly bikes alongside Hyde Park through a bollard-protected Park Lane, which ironically is also home to a surprising number of luxury car showrooms (and one of the most expensive properties on the Monopoly board). Before the pandemic, it was also one of London’s busiest and most hostile roads for cyclists: “It’s still a little bit scary: pretty much every time I go on a trip they’ll be a close call with a car.”
Thousands of others have started cycling during lockdown. On June 24, London recorded 51,938 Santander Cycle hires, the most on a working day since the scheme was launched a decade ago. June also saw a 120 per cent increase in the number of people joining the city’s Cycle to Work scheme, which helps commuters get bicycles tax-free.
“What the pandemic has highlighted is that we need to rethink how we have been organising the very valuable and limited space that we have,” says Nicolas Palominos, an urban design researcher at UCL. Car-centric planning, which has shaped cities since the 1960s, sets aside large amounts of space to roads, urban freeways, commuter suburbs…