Since it started 15 years ago the NLA has organised two exhibitions on the future of streets as well as numerous seminars and conferences on the subject. These have tracked the global trend of reducing car use in the central city areas, the encouragement of active travel, walking and cycling, and the improvement of the quality of streets as public space rather than as conduits of goods.
In recent weeks lockdown has generated a flurry of discussion on social media about what the current crisis will mean for these essential arteries of our cities.
Authorities around the world have announced temporary schemes whereby road space is given over to pedestrians to provide more space for physical distancing.
Auckland, Bristol, Bogota, Calgary,Denver, Cologne have blocked off stretches of road in recent weeks. Oakland is planning to close 10 per cent of its street network to vehiculartraffic. Vancouverhas removed cars from roads in parks while Vienna is creating slow-speed shared streets as drivers take advantage of clear roads and turn them into race tracks.
With public transport only accessible to essential workers trains and buses are running pretty well empty - leaching funds from an already financially stretched TfL.
What will happen when we all go back to work? One can only presume that there will be restrictions on the use of crowded systems. So will the majority of commuters take to the road in their cars - as they are doing in China - causing congestion and pollution? Or will there be a substantial shift to cycling as there was after 7/7 in London when bombs were detonated in the Underground?
Will we all become germaphobes and find the crowded conditions of rush hour public transport unacceptable and get on a bike instead?
It was a brilliant move of the government to allow cycle shops to remain open to encourage exercise on bikes. Cycle manufacturers have seen Christmas-like sales with Raleigh boasting of “record-breaking on-line sales”, according to bikebiz.com
. There will be many who have started riding in recent weeks who will surely carry on riding. Brompton bicycles provided 1000 bikes for NHS workers providing doctors and nurses with a healthy way to get to work.
The increase in cycling after 7/7 changed attitudes to cycling in a way that can still be felt today, although it didn’t take long for people to start taking the tube again.
By the end of all this, TfL’s cupboard will be pretty bare, but it will be more important than ever that we continue to invest in improvements to the buses and underground, and increase capacity with Crossrail 2 and the Bakerloo Line extension.
At NLA we will continue to debate these issues and to promote the kind of city we set out in the NLA Charter which supports “continued investment in the transport infrastructure to deliver efficient, integrated and more pleasurable travel and believes that the shift away from cars towards public transport, walking and cycling should be accelerated.” Do join with us as we continue that debate in the difficult times ahead.