Car Bans Could Be Implemented To Assist With Social Distancing

Councils could soon be granted powers that would allow them to ban cars from urban streets. This could, in theory, help key workers with social distancing during the coronavirus…

New Powers

The Department for Transport (DfT) has formally written to councils and local authorities, granting them permission to implement car-free measures. Under normal conditions, it’d take weeks for councils to ban cars from select urban streets. Now, however, the government wants to remove red tape in order to combat the coronavirus and assist key workers with their social distancing. In theory, removing cars from select streets would make it easier for key workers to walk or cycle to work, allowing them to avoid traffic and, potentially, crowded public transport. That said, the government has stressed that it’ll be reclaiming these powers as soon as it can. In its letter it said, ‘this is a temporary guidance and will be withdrawn once conditions allow’.

Weighing Up Car Bans

So far, few local authorities have pursued car-free measures in order to assist with social distancing. This is probably because, in general, vehicular traffic has declined by 73% due to the lockdown; with most driving obeying the government’s advice to stay home and avoid non-essential journeys. That said, Brighton and Hove City Council has quickly responded to the government’s letter and closed Madeira Drive yesterday; making more room for pedestrians and cyclists. But its reasoning seems to be more about general welfare than social distancing.

Councillor Anne Pissaridou, chair of the city’s environment, transport and sustainability committee, explained the decision. She said, “Madeira Drive is a long, wide road right by the seafront and will create an extra safe open space for local people in the area to use for their daily walk or bike ride”. She added, “it will provide a traffic-free place for the many residents in that area who do not have access to a garden. We are pleased to be able to offer this change so quickly and are considering other locations to see if we can extend this to other roads in the city”.

Lasting Changes?

All over the world, governments are clamping down on cars. New York, infamous for its traffic jams, has closed four streets to aid social distancing. Other cities, like Berlin, have widened and created new cycle lanes. Now some campaign groups are suggesting that measures like these should remain in place after the coronavirus pandemic has been surmounted.

Ashok Sinha, from the London Cycling Campaign, told the BBC that we have a ‘moral responsibility’ to assist other road-users. He said, “first we have a moral responsibility to keep staff safe whilst cycling to work during the crisis. We know this crisis will end – but we will still be faced with an ongoing climate crisis which, longer term, will cause much more loss of life”. He added, “we are being taught a lesson here about what a difference it makes to people’s activity and air quality and carbon emissions if we allow people to cycle safely”.

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