As every planner and traffic engineer knows, it’s the small things in life that often cause the most controversy. Removing a parking place, installing a cycle lane, or relocating a bus stop – all can generate strong feelings among those who use the streets daily for living and trade. Resolving scheme designs to everyone’s satisfaction can be time-consuming and sometimes soul destroying. Which is why the programmes of temporary active travel measures being promoted by the DfT and the devolved administrations for social distancing sounded so bold. A few weeks in, however, and councils already have schemes in on the ground. Those that haven’t had better hurry up – the DfT wants those in England to have something to show for their money within four weeks.
The quick delivery of schemes raises a host of questions. Are they schemes that councils were poised to implement anyway, and now being accelerated with temporary measures as for starters? Are they easy to install schemes away from locations that would cause controversy? What forms of community consultation and engagement are actually taking place? The Freight Transport Association fears that, withbusinesses such as shops still closed because of lockdown, owners will only learn about new schemes affecting their deliveries when they turn up for work for the first time in the coming weeks.
Stepping back from the nitty-gritty, there is a sense that we may be living in a pivotal moment in the unfolding story of urban transport planning, one in which potentially big shifts in roadspace allocation occur not just for a few weeks but for the long-term. As one contributor to LTT’s discussion on the topic said last week, once these schemes are in, it will be politically hard to take them out if they’re judged a success. Many big and medium-sized cities do seem to be grasping the opportunity. But is it a mainly metropolitan agenda? What’s going on in the market and industrial towns, and even within the suburbs of cities?
Ultimately, of course, the test will be how well used all these new facilities are, and how well they cope if traffic levels do return to near normal. It’s an interesting experiment borne of necessity. And the results will be eagerly awaited.
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