Life as we know it has changed dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic. Rather than returning to business as usual, we must create a cleaner and greener environment, and healthier citizens to protect the NHS in the long term.
That is what Mayor Dan Jarvis and Active Travel Commissioner Dame Sarah Storey have told the Prime Minister in a letter urging the Government to put walking and cycling at the heart of plans to get the country moving again.
As South Yorkshire begins to recover from the impact of coronavirus, passengers on public transport are likely to need to socially distance from each other, reducing capacity on trams, buses and trains. To prevent an increase in car use, safe provision for those on foot or bikes will be essential.
In the letter, Mayor Jarvis and Dame Sarah outline their proposals to enable more people to walk and cycle safely, whilst adhering to social distancing guidelines.
They have asked for flexibility in funding, to allow South Yorkshire to use the £166million allocated to the region through the Transforming Cities Fund to be used to make space for walking and cycling quickly during the pandemic. The Prime Minster has also been asked to bring forward planned investment in walking and cycling as part of the country’s recovery plans; encourage councils to identify and safeguard space for walking and cycling so that the health and well-being benefits of increased walking and cycling during lockdown will continue, and provide further investment in programmes which help people get on their bikes or walk more.
The joint letter says: “The current Covid-19 crisis has taught us many things. The importance of good social networks, the resilience of local communities but also how influential people’s travel choices are, in both helping to combat the spread of the virus while ensuring the best recovery for the country, both from an economic but also public health perspective.
“The impact of Covid-19 on transport has been profound. Commuting by public transport is down as much as 90% in some of our urban areas. In addition, combined with the reduction in private car use, we have seen air quality levels measurably improve, with more and more people enjoying the benefits of walking and cycling for allowable trips, especially for exercise. Research shows that cleaner air and increasing exercise will increase the resilience of the population to all infections.
“We welcome the Department for Transport’s support to keep our public transport network operating during this difficult period. Given patronage levels will be unlikely to recover in the short term due to the need to continue with social distancing measures post lockdown, this is likely to mean restricted use of our public transport modes for some time. The risk is that this will drive more people back into cars as the only viable alternative. That is not a risk that we want to take.”
In South Yorkshire work has already begun on creating a vision for how people will travel as lockdown restrictions are lifted. People are being asked to identify areas where social distancing is difficult to maintain for those on foot or by bike. These can be marked on the and will be fed back to local authorities.
Dame Sarah Storey is hosting a number of Active Travel Surgeries to speak to the public about the issues they are facing in their communities and what can be done to enable more people to walk and cycle as we move out of this crisis.
In the summer, Mayor Jarvis and Dame Sarah will release their vision for improving walking and cycling in South Yorkshire over the next 20 years. The vision, which has been developed with input from both local authorities and the public during Dame Sarah’s first year as Active Travel Commissioner, will include plans for low traffic neighbourhoods and a comprehensive, connected network of routes across the region which will be safe and suitable for all to use.