Following a meeting with the Prime Minister on Friday 1 May, Cambridge and Peterborough Mayor James Palmer says he has called on Cllr Steve Count, Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, and Cllr John Holdich, Leader of Peterborough City Council, to put forward schemes for pop-up cycle lanes in the two cities. In a tweet published on Monday, he said, “Now is the time to encourage more cycling in Cambridgeshire.”
During the meeting with the ‘M9’ group of UK mayors, it was reported that both Boris Johnson and the communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, emphasised the need to promote cycling and walking after the lockdown is lifted, avoiding the dangers of increased congestion and air pollution from increased car traffic. Traffic data from China shows that since the lockdown, rush-hour congestion in Beijing and Shenzhen has crept up to levels that are higher than the same time last year. Jamie Driscoll, mayor for the North of Tyne, said in an interview for The Guardian:
“It was very interesting that the prime minister was talking about taking the opportunity to push clean, green travel, active travel, cycling infrastructure and getting cars off the road. The real risk is that you end up with a situation where people go back to work in their cars, into city centres that are not designed to take that amount of traffic, that congestion makes it harder for buses to get through and you end up with this vicious cycle. We will be coming out of a crisis involving a virus that makes it very difficult for people to breathe. The last thing we need is a man-made equivalent.”
Local charity Camcycle, which recently launched its ‘Spaces to Breathe’ campaign, agreed that public health was a key concern. Executive Director Roxanne De Beaux said:
“During this lockdown period, we need to work together to create safe spaces so that we can all stay active for our physical and mental health while maintaining at least 2m distance from others. In some areas in and around Cambridge, including routes to work for key workers, and many of the bridges over the river, there isn’t enough space for those walking and cycling to pass safely. Many city streets, such as Mill Road, also have narrow pavements. This is an issue now for those making essential journeys and will be more difficult as businesses start to reopen and may require customers to queue in the street. We’re calling on the county council to look at some simple, temporary changes to our roads which will increase space for those walking and cycling and help to keep everyone safe.”
Camcycle has published an open letter to local decision-makers, with a list which includes suggestions for measures that could free up space for active travel. Many of the ideas have already been implemented in other cities around the world. In the UK, Brighton has closed off a road near the seafront to provide more space for cycling and walking, while Leicester has used traffic cones to create two temporary cycle lanes for key workers. Camcycle’s letter has already been signed by over a hundred local people, including Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner and many business and healthcare professionals.
Zeichner expressed his support for Camcycle’s Spaces to Breathe campaign. He said:
“Camcycle’s Spaces to Breathe campaign is exactly the breath of fresh air we need to turn the misery of the COVID crisis into a more positive future. Re-balancing our streets in favour of those walking and cycling is good for our air quality and for all our health, and for many short journeys it is absolutely the right transport solution for the future. Let’s do it.”
Many local residents have also signed the letter including Russell Dunn, who said:
“As a parent of a young cyclist, I’ve really appreciated the lack of traffic during lockdown. The roads are safer for him to learn to cycle, and the lack of pollution has been wonderful. My greatest fear about the end of lockdown is a return of the congestion, which will lead to health issues that burden the NHS further and make the roads unsafe for my son to cycle on.”
Active travel charity Sustrans agrees. Matthew Barber, its Head of Partnerships in the East of England region, said:
“During these incredibly challenging times, one of the few positives has been on each of our doorsteps – neighbourhoods across the UK are enjoying quieter, calmer streets which in turn is giving families the confidence to explore their local communities by walking and cycling. As the lockdown eases, we need to lock-in these benefits and ensure car use doesn’t become the default socially-distanced transport mode, further increasing inequality and accelerating the climate emergency.”
More information on national policy is expected from transport secretary Grant Shapps by the end of the week which may further strengthen the resolve for fast action on the issue in and around Cambridge. Camcycle encourages all those who would like to see more safe space for walking and cycling to sign the letter at camcycle.org.uk/spacestobreathe, where local people can also suggest specific areas where they would like to see improvements.