The gradual easing of lockdown will present many challenges for local authorities, town centres, destinations, retailers and parking operators. Images of vehicles queuing at drive-through fast food outlets and shoppers lining up in car parks at IKEA stores make it clear that once people are finally allowed to visit a place they turn up in droves.
The dry, sunny weeks of May saw sometimes large gatherings of people in parks, in high streets, on beaches and other beauty spots. In many places, people have not always been able to adhere to social distancing guidelines. Indeed, the sheer weight of visitors at some scenic areas, such as national parks, country parks and coastal areas, has threatened to overwhelm rural roads, village streets and car parks.
Indeed various national park authorities and the County Council Network have implored potential ‘day trippers’ to stay local when getting their exercise. There is a genuine concern that people travelling great distances could spread the virus and prompt a second spike (an issue put in the spotlight during the Dominic Cummings affair that dominated the headlines over the second May Bank Holiday weekend).
Another complicating factor has been the different pace of lockdown easing across the nations of the UK. While the Westminster government holds sway in England, the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have taken a more cautious approach. Indeed, non-essential cross-border trips between England and its Celtic neighbours is still not encouraged.
Social distancing is being better managed in retail settings. The queue management techniques developed by the food retail sector were widely adopted at those retail destinations that have been allowed to open so far – garden centres, outdoor markets and car showrooms. (In England, non-food indoor retailers can open on 15 June and, possibly, the hospitality sector from 4 July.)
Whenever people do return to the high street and shopping centres, they will find the world transformed. In town centres, a wave of activity by local authorities has seen the streetscene transformed, with pavements widened, pop-up bike lanes created and through-traffic banned using a mixture of temporary barriers and social distancing signage. These cycling and walking schemes have been actively encouraged, and funded, by the national governments. There is an ambition among many mayors and councils to lock-in the benefits of lockdown, especially the reductions in traffic congestion and vehicle emissions. A desire to see ‘active travel’ become the norm in urban centres means that many of what are temporary traffic measures will become permanent.
With the kerbside increasingly cordoned off and traffic being more actively directed, shoppers, commuters and visitors who decide to drive into towns will be increasingly encouraged to use car parks.
Like shops and offices, social distancing measures will need to be applied to car parks. Parking operators are already installing contactless payment mechanisms and encouraging the use of phone parking as ways of reducing potential transmission of the virus. There is also real interest in implementing ideas such as car parks serving as local distribution hubs and click & collect locations, ideas that, until recently, were the stuff of conference papers.
What was once a speculative future of parking is being written now.
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