WLS comments on WBC Transport and Healthy Streets response to COVID-19




7 June 2020

Wandsworth Living Streets comments on Wandsworth Council’s Transport and Healthy Streets response to COVID-19

We are in unprecedented times. The Paper in front of you (20-169) has been largely overtaken by developing policy at national and London level. You should also note the two funding applications – with further details of the specific measures Wandsworth Council Officers recommend be taken – which we understand have been circulated to you. The Department for Transport and TfL are saying to Wandsworth Council: You must act, and you must act now to ‘embed’ walking and cycling as the normal ways of getting around the borough, recognising and preserving the quality of life benefits that have arisen during lockdown. Of all times, this is not the time for half-measures.

Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, said on 9 May: “We recognise this moment for what it is: a once in a generation opportunity to deliver a lasting transformative change in how we make short journeys in our towns and cities.”

New DfT Statutory Guidance instructs local authorities to do what is needed to our streets “as swiftly as possible, and in any event within weeks, given the urgent need to change travel habits before the restart takes full effect.”

It outlines the required package of measures:

  • pop-up cycle lanes to protect people cycling, which must use full or light segregation, suspending parking where necessary;

  • widening footways and pedestrian crossings;

  • introducing school streets;

  • introducing 20mph speed limits;

  • introducing pedestrian and cycle zones by restricting access to motor vehicles, especially on high streets;

  • using mode filters to create Low Traffic Neighbourhoods;

  • increasing cycle parking at key destinations e.g. by repurposing parking bays to accommodate cycle racks;

  • changing junction design to accommodate more cyclists;

  • whole-route approaches to create corridors for buses, cycles and access only on key routes;

  • identifying and bringing forward permanent schemes already planned.

On 28 May the DfT’s Funding Letter sent by its Deputy Director to each London borough and TfL outlined the purpose of the funding as being “… to help you use pop-up and temporary interventions to create an environment that is safe for both walking and cycling…. We have a window of opportunity to act now to embed walking and cycling as part of new long-term commuting habits and reap the associated health, air quality and congestion benefits.”

The DfT further made clear: “To receive any money under this and future tranches, boroughs and TfL will need to satisfy the Department that there are swift and meaningful plans in place to reallocate road space to cyclists and pedestrians, including on strategic corridors…. The quickest and cheapest way of achieving this will normally be point closures. These can be of certain main roads…. or of parallel side streets…. Point closures can also be used to create low-traffic filtered neighbourhoods.”

We expect all these measures to be delivered quickly using temporary materials, such as barriers and planters. Elaborate, costly materials will not be funded at this stage. Anything that does not meaningfully alter the status quo on the road will not be funded.”

DfT Guidance complements TfL’s Streetspace Plan, announced on 11 May, which focuses on three types of interventions for urgent and swift delivery: a strategic cycling network; changing town centres to enable walking and cycling for local trips e.g. widening footways; low traffic neighbourhoods on borough roads.

During lockdown, walking and cycling has increased as people explore their locality for exercise and to shop locally. The challenge for Wandsworth councillors is to ensure that these changes in behaviour are ‘baked in’ for the future.

As we emerge from lockdown, use of cars, vans and lorries is increasing; motor traffic levels are now at 2/3 of their pre-lockdown levels and reportly now at 80% on London’s main roads. The window of opportunity for action is small, and closing rapidly. A Centre for London survey has found strong public support for reallocating road space to walking and cycling; and that, after lockdown, Londoners have an appetite for walking and cycling more, but also for using cars more.

In the near future, public transport will have low carrying capacity and will be unattractive for many people, for fear of infection. There is a clear incentive for car-free households to buy a car, potentially adding to the pressure on scarce street space and risking squeezing out walking and cycling. Actions taken – or not taken, now – will affect Wandsworth’s ability to deliver the Environment and Sustainability Strategy (WESS), its landmark response to the Climate Emergency. It will also affect the viability of other key Council policies – LIP, Air Quality Action Plan, Active Wandsworth Strategy, and Wandsworth Cycling Strategy.

All borough residents need to be given a meaningful choice in favour of healthy and sustainable travel, with the aim of avoiding a car-based recovery.

How will Wandsworth perform in comparison with other London boroughs? The moment for ambition in enabling walking, cycling, and enjoyment of streets across our borough is now.

OSC paper 20-169 and the funding bids to the DfT and TfL invite general questions: Are changes significant? Do they meaningfully alter the status quo? Is WBC ‘fully committed’? Will it make rapid progress towards ‘far reaching environmental targets’?

Councillors will need to consider both quality and quantity of interventions, speed of implementation, andensure effective monitoring of outcomes.

The key measure of Quality is the extent to which extended footways and pop-up cycle lanes are comfortable, convenient and appealing to people of all ages and abilities. Quantity refers to number of streets and junctions that are modified; Wandsworth Councillors should not think that if they improve a few streets scattered across the borough, they will have ticked the ‘streets box’ set by national government; this is a time for widespread change.

We ask Members of this Committee to demonstrate that they recognise this moment in our borough’s history as an opportunity for Wandsworth Council to move quickly, effectively, and at scale to transform our streets for everyone in the borough.

Dr Susie Morrow (Chair, Wandsworth Living Streets)