Sheffield is about to join Scotland and cities like New York, Barcelona and Berlin by putting in emergency measures to help people walking and cycling under the Covid-19 social distancing rules.
After consultations with groups promoting walking and cycling, city council transport chief, Councillor Bob Johnson, has announced a first tranche of ideas including bringing forward planned road closures for low traffic neighbourhoods to help people walking and cycling, retiming pedestrian crossings to prioritise walkers and cyclists trying to cross busy roads, and using road space for emergency pedestrian areas near shops where people are struggling to keep two metres apart.
“At the moment I’m seeing more people walking and cycling than people in cars, so speed is of the essence for this work,” said Councillor Johnson, “so I’d like to see these changes starting in the next week or two.”
He added that Sheffield Council is also working with SYPTE to make two metre social distancing markings at bus stops and crossings, and looking at ‘temporary active travel lanes,’ where road space is allocated for walkers, runners and cyclists to help people travel safely at a time when traffic levels are low, but some drivers are choosing to break the speed limit.
These initial measures, also supported by Sheffield City Region, could be followed by additional ideas to help maintain and increase levels of walking and cycling when the lockdown eases, said Councillor Johnson. (The public are advised to mark areas they’d like addressing on the Sheffield City Region active travel map at: https://cyclewalkscrmap.sheffieldcityregion.org.uk)
Active travel commissioner for Sheffield City Region Dame Sarah Storey said: “The Sheffield City Region has been leading on how we can respond to the Covid-19 crisis by safeguarding all active travellers. We know that many are taking their daily exercise with a local walk or cycle, and that in some locations there isn’t enough space to maintain social distancing.”
Her team will be adapting the online map so changes called for in current times can be drawn to the attention of the South Yorkshire councils.
“We fully endorse this progress by Sheffield City Council to explore the use of temporary measures to safeguard active travellers, and continue to work with all our councils on further opportunities.”
Councillor Johnson noted that Sheffield has witnessed nearly an 80% drop in traffic, and although this is now starting to rise, it’s still nowhere near ‘normal’ levels, he said.
“I’d like to see these levels of walking and cycling to continue as we come out of the lockdown phase, what we certainly don’t want to see is everyone jumping back into their single use cars,” said Councillor Johnson. “We’ve seen evidence of the use of public transport declining as Wuhan came out of lockdown and people using cars instead. That’s the last place we want to be in.”