Well, that escalated quickly… – Modal Shift in Unusual Times…

If and when the world does start to return to something resembling ‘normal’, chances are it is going to look very different to the one we’ve just left.

No longer will it be acceptable for trains and buses to resemble the mosh pit of a Pantera gig, with people eager to maintain a safe distance from each other. Furthermore, the road network is unlikely to cope with a surge of new drivers on the morning commute.

Some of us are going to have to find a new way to get to work.

A fresh start

Many of us have already racked up a few months of working from home now, but we’re the lucky ones. Those employed in industries that have been forced to close –particularly in the entertainment and dining business are either hoping to stay afloat long enough to be able to open again, or have already made the difficult decision to close for good. Many of them won’t make it, but those that do may find that the customers just aren’t there in the numbers they need to break even.

Those that do have a job at the end of all this may be tempted to ditch the bus or train in favour of driving, bringing about a massive increase in air pollution and congestion –and if the research is to be believed, a further explosion in viral transmission and severe illness. Fortunately, governments around the world are conscious of this, having seen the growth in traffic in Wuhan since lockdown ended there. It’s pleasing to see that Wales is also looking to start us off the right way.

We have seen a vast increase in digital remote working which has shown that we do not all need to travel long distances for work, and we wish to see this maintained as we find a new normal.

For the sake of the air we all breathe, the world’s climate and public health, we need to try and lock in this shift and avoid returning to pre-Covid travel patterns.

via Written Statement: Funding for local sustainable transport measures in response to Covid 19 | GOV.WALES

The Welsh Government is asking councils to submit expressions of interest for funding to implement trial infrastructure improvements –think wider footways and cycle lanes that can be erected quickly and cheaply (before hopefully being made permanent…).

The good news is that here in Cardiff, the council has already been looking at what they can do in a hurry.

“We will now bring forward some of these schemes which will help ensure the safety of the public during the recovery period. First up is the traffic lane next to the Castle on Castle Street which will be removed so that the walkway can be extended into the road for both pedestrians and cyclists to use. This will run from the Cathedral Road/Cowbridge Road junction, over Canton Bridge, along Castle Street, Duke Street and up to the North Road-Boulevard De Nantes junction.

“We will also be bringing forward the agreed transport improvement scheme in Wood Street and Central Square which will involve pedestrian safety improvements, restrictions on through traffic while ensuring and access is maintained for residents and businesses, as well as the development of a new cycleway on Wood Street.”

via Re-modelling the city’s public space for safety

Elsewhere, at the end of April, the Scottish Government announced £10 million to support pop-up active travel infrastructure. Over in England, on the 9th May the Rt Hon. Grant Shapps announced a range of measures for getting England walking and cycling more.

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. According to the National Travel Survey, in 2017-18 over 40% of urban journeys were under 2 miles – perfectly suited to walking and cycling.

Active travel is affordable, delivers significant health benefits, has been shown to improve wellbeing, mitigates congestion, improves air quality and has no carbon emissions at the point of use. Towns and cities based around active travel will have happier and healthier citizens as well as lasting local economic benefits.

via Traffic Management Act 2004: network management in response to COVID-19 – GOV.UK

Whilst many of these measures apply to England, in the transcript of Shapps’ speech, he speaks of “legal changes to protect vulnerable road users”. It isn’t clear what those changes are, but it is likely that they will be England and Wales changes due to the way some policing powers are and are not devolved. More on that here.

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A brave new world…

With the financial pages talking about recessions, even depressions in the near future, the “new” world is likely to look economically quite different to the one we remember, for better or worse. However, it’s encouraging to see these recent moves in the right direction in terms of transport at least.

If we learn anything from this experience, hopefully it will be that we need to bake resilience into the system. Pandemics will always happen –COVID-19 is not the first and it certainly won’t be the last. The more we encroach on the natural world, the more likely it is that zoonotic viruses will find their way to us.

We need to be ready, at all levels of society –another rainy day will come, so we had better get back into the habit of saving for it –in both the figurative and literal sense. Fortunately, there’s few better ways to save money than by getting around by bicycle. Parts are cheap, many repairs can be done at home and getting around using your own body will make you fitter and stronger, ready to fight whatever comes next.

It seems that in the past eight weeks or so, the world has had a bit of an epiphany. People started to notice how much more pleasant their neighbourhoods were without all those cars; how much clearer the air was. Delhi is without smog, in Southampton the pollution levels have halved; an emerging picture found right across the UK.

The one thing many of us have been doing throughout this crisis is getting around under our own steam and shopping locally. It would be nice to think that perhaps we could keep doing that, long into the future and keep this fresh clean air and these calm, quiet streets.

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