Gary MacDonnell writes about Sustainable Transport

June 1, 2020 10:43 AM

It is inappropriate to describe the public health emergency resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity. But we must recognise that it has transformed the context within which transport operates. We welcome the recent announcements made by the Government and supported by the County Council that seeks to develop a sustainable travel recovery. We welcome the fact that money is being brought forward to allow transport authorities to prioritise sustainable modes of transport. The measures must combine social messaging and physical measures to:

  • Enable social distancing to occur when people return to work or start to use shopping and retail centres again. Presently our pavements and cycleways are too narrow to allow this whilst conversely our road systems are mainly empty or have dramatically less traffic.
  • Enable safe use of transport systems generally. There has been a noticeable increase in vehicle speeds for example making pedestrian and cycle use less safe and perceived to be so increasingly.
  • Assist as far as possible the reintroduction of bus and rail services in a way which promotes their safe usage.
  • Ensure that traffic levels do not increase to the extent that they inhibit the movement of people, goods and services through increased congestion, pollution and carbon emissions.
  • Use the opportunity of disruption to increase on a permanent basis the amount of sustainable travel to bake in the long-term benefits to health caused by reduced air pollution and increase in physical activity.

The challenges include:

  • Whilst maintaining social distancing providing sufficient space on the highway for walking and cycling as an alternative means of travel, particularly in our key towns which avoids pinch-points which funnel people too closely together.
  • The need for key workers and those that must use cars to access workplaces safely when public transport services are reduced.
  • Enabling safe use of passenger transport, following government guidelines and working with bus operators to provide a safe service which has public confidence.
  • Continuing to support vulnerable people who are unable to leave their homes, many are now relying on the council and other agencies to provide them with essential supplies.
  • Support for local businesses who may struggle to survive and will need to find new ways to reach their customers, either through efficient deliveries or through safe access.

Traffic levels are currently around 40% of their usual levels on both urban and interurban roads. It is likely that the public will feel safer travelling in their own cars when restrictions are eased, without measures to address the challenges highlighted above.

Unless action is taken, there could be a double whammy of increased traffic and congestion, which could limit the recovery of the bus system and not provide adequate physical distancing space in town centres.

It is important that we continue to enable compliance with government guidance on social distancing to reduce virus transmission. The need for distancing is likely continue well into the future or until other tools become available. As restrictions ease, trips will increase. Journeys both on public transport and by road need to be managed to ensure physical distancing requirements are maintained, safety is enabled on footways to allow pedestrians safe passing. It is preferable to maintain low levels of private motor vehicle traffic in urban areas, so that walking and cycling can continue to be a realistic safe choice for shorter journeys.

Recovery Opportunities

  • Encouraging as many people as possible to continue to work from home as much as they can. We can support businesses as part of the transition to the new normal
  • Developing a positive legacy for those who have become more active during lockdown.Embedding "good behaviour"; daily walk or cycle for health, walking to the local shop.
  • Build upon the air quality message, improved air quality has been noticeable.

What Can Be Done in Brentwood?

There are a number of measures which can be introduced including:

  • Creating temporary walking space on roads by coning off all (or part of) the inside lane, or on single lane roads by narrowing the carriageway.
  • Creating temporary cycling space on roads.
  • Expands the public realm on a trial basis as part of innovate, test and learn.
  • Removing lanes for motor traffic
  • Creating waiting areas on shopping streets
  • Removing through motor traffic from residential streets to allow people to walk in the street with greater safety.
  • Amending pedestrian and cyclist pushbuttons at signalled crossings wait times reduced to

We hope that Brentwood Council will be able to engage with Essex County Council as the Highway Authority and at a National Level to bring about improvements to the sustainable transport infrastructure in the Borough.