If we’ve learned anything in the last couple of months, it’s that something can start apparently very small and isolated and far away – but spread with lightning speed around the globe. As with viruses, so with ideas. And the idea of taking away road space left empty by lockdowns and giving it over to pedestrians and cyclists began just over a month ago in Bogotá, which created 13 miles of bike lanes overnight on 17th March . It wasn’t long before Mexico City was considering following suit and from there the idea spread to North America with Vancouver closing roads in response to crowded parks – as opposed to the initial UK reaction of just closing the parks – and Winnipeg and Calgary also closing streets.
Starting Monday, April 6, 2020, vehicle restrictions on the four streets designated bicycle/active transportation routes will be in effect daily from 8 a.m – 8 p.m. pic.twitter.com/ljX7YEucRx
— City of Winnipeg (@cityofwinnipeg) March 31, 2020
A ray of positivity in these uncertain #covid19 times: look what happens when a city gives the streets back to the people.
— Kevin Sloosh (@itsakev) March 29, 2020
Minneapolis created 18 miles of space simply by closing the roads through its parks while Denver has 13 miles of road temporary road closures and other cities from Boston to Oakland also followed suit.
Not that it was all down to the authorities – in Washington DC some citizens haven’t waited for official actions and appear to have implemented their own Pandemic pavements and some UK shops have done similar raising the question should councils just be distributing cones to citizens to let them make changes where they see fit?
Hot take: councils should drop off cones and barriers for communities to use where they see fit. Then make the best ones permanent.
Could be used to create modal filters or to reduce the width of over-wide carriageways that encourage speeding. https://t.co/CMfK5qJ6c0
— Catriona Swanson (@CatrionaSwanson) April 11, 2020
In Europe the idea has also taken off – and with growing ambition. Brussels has brought forward a planned bike lane and you can see how quickly it can be done once the authorities put their minds to it.
It's unusual to watch a new cycle path being created! In just a few seconds, public space is reshared in favor of active mobility and speed is lowered.
— Mikaël Van Eeckhoudt (@mikaelvaneeck) April 24, 2020
The success of Berlin’s first temporary bike lane prompted applications from residents in 133 other German cities and also shows what can be done quickly when necessary.
En immersion sur une piste cyclable temporaire à Berlin
Patience, d'ici quelques jours nous pourrons voir la même chose dans des dizaines de villes françaises !pic.twitter.com/qEm32FSf72
— Mathieu Chassignet (@M_Chassignet) April 23, 2020
Budapest is putting in temporary bike lanes on multi-lane roads until at least September. Barcelona is removing car parking for wider pavements and bike lanes and improving its bus lanes. Milan have a plan to transform 35km of streets over the summer for a rapid, experimental city-wide network. Paris has gone further still with a plan to create 650km of cycleways after the lockdown.
Barcelona removing more on-street car parking to add 12km of emergency pavements, 21km of emergency bike lanes + improve bus lanes https://t.co/537saEJPYM
— citymobility (@citycyclists) April 26, 2020
Down under we’ve seen automated pedestrian crossings so people don’t have to touch potentially contaminated buttons but the real ambition has come from New Zealand (in this and so many other aspects of its pandemic response) which is providing providing millions of dollars in extra funding for temporary pavement widening and bike lanes across the whole country
— Andrew Constance MP (@AndrewConstance) March 22, 2020
So what about in Britain? Here the response has been slower but things are starting to change. Sustrans has issued some recommendations for the whole of the UK although councils’ powers are a little different in Scotland. The UK government has loosened rules on traffic orders – although apparently not by very much. Inspired by this article in the Guardian, Brighton council were then the first to close road space to cars
— Laura Laker (@laura_laker) April 13, 2020
Here’s a lovely little film about the effect for one doctor
???? This is Greg, a frontline doctor in Brighton.
????? He spoke to us from the first UK road to be closed off to motor traffic during the #coronavirus lockdown to tell us how it's making his commute to the hospital easier, nicer & safer.
— Living Streets (@livingstreets) April 24, 2020
After masses of work with officers over recent weeks, today I’ve agreed @lambeth_council’s emergency plans to reduce road danger & enable safe social distancing??????…
— Claire Holland (@clairekholland) April 24, 2020
Liverpool has opened the Birkenhead tunnel to cyclists
To assist key workers making essential journeys cross river, the Queensway (Birkenhead) Tunnel will temporarily be open to cyclists
— Merseytravel (@Merseytravel) April 14, 2020
The timing of traffic signals has been changed in Manchester to reduce waiting times for pedestrians
Traffic signals have been changed to reduce your waiting time if you’re making an essential journey on foot ?
This is so people are less likely to group together at pedestrian crossings, helping you to maintain social distancing & travel safely.
Photo from @KatKynes, Insta pic.twitter.com/UvCASeZYsf
— TfGM #StayHomeSaveLives (@OfficialTfGM) April 22, 2020
And it’s not just been in the cities: the Isle of Man now has a blanket top speed limit of 40mph, making journeys safer for everyone, including drivers, and keeping the pressure off the health service there.
To ALL motorists on the Isle of Man.
Please be advised that as of midnight tonight, there will be a maximum speed limit of 40mph on all roads over 40mph. You should observe 20mph and 30mph signs as normal.#40ToSaveLives pic.twitter.com/2L3jXvOdBR
— TweetbeatIOM #StaySafeSaveLivesIOM (@TweetbeatIOM) March 27, 2020
In Scotland, the initial moves weren’t good – although Glasgow and other places have suspended parking in parks, in Edinburgh, Holyrood Park actually opening to drivers on Sundays leaving bikes and pedestrians squeezed together
Nowhere busier in #holyroodpark than the pavements next to the road. I count nine people in this photograph all trying to share the pavement while the road remains open to vehicles. Prioritise safe social distancing and close the road. pic.twitter.com/BEtdIe8rgi
— Car-Free Holyrood Park (@carfreeholyrood) April 25, 2020
However Edinburgh and Glasgow councils have reportedly been in discussions with the transport minister and since we started our #SpaceForDistancing campaign there are further signs of movement in Dundee with local cyclists and the council together looking at where space could be made for active travel.
We’re also seeing further hopeful signs in Glasgow and Edinburgh and Midlothian:
My notifications have been awash with the #spacefordistancing campaign all weekend. We are currently looking at possible locations for temporary interventions and I’m happy to take suggestions by email as I’ll no doubt miss some mentioned on here.
— anna richardson (@AnnaLangside) April 26, 2020
Councillor @adamrmcvey says..
".. opportunity to transfer substantial area of roadspace to ?&???? .. quite significant change .."
— Spokes CycleCampaign (@SpokesLothian) April 25, 2020
Campaign for cycle etc priority route between #Dalkeith & #Pathhead via #Ford #Edgehead & #Whitehill gaining lots of local support please contact me for more information thanks to @midgov & @SustransScot in particular #SpaceForDistancing @OwenThompson @uartlach @AlisonJohnstone
— james aitken ??????? ?? (@aitkenjamesroy) April 26, 2020
Thank you to everyone who’s been tweeting and posting over the weekend – it’s been a real buzz to see so many ideas and suggestions. We’re hoping for that there will be positive news soon – the minister will be making a statement on transport in Holyrood tomorrow. Please do keep on the pressure though – whether on Twitter, or writing to your council leaders directly as in this thoughtful blog post asking for space for everyone. The pandemic has made stark so many of the inequalities in our societies – this is one small way that we can start to redress the balance
Scotland is a country that prides itself on its sense of fairness, and which likes to look outwards, especially to its European neighbours. We hope this summary shows just how many great examples there are out there of Space For Distancing – it’s time we joined the rest of the world in putting this in place.