With so many fewer cars on the streets during lockdown, air pollution has fallen by up to 50% and people have been walking and cycling to local shops and parks, as well as to work.
But now, as lockdown eases, cars are returning to the streets. If Southwark doesn’t act to provide more space for pedestrians and cyclists, all Southwark residents will suffer.
- Many people will not be able to travel safely to work. The majority of residents don’t have access to a private car and there will be reduced capacity on public transport for months to come.
- More people will choose to drive, creating gridlock - causing delays for those who do need to use motorised transport, including delays to buses.
- Increased air pollution means more heart disease, asthma and strokes, as well as exacerbating the impact of coronavirus.
It's a question of social justice: 60% of Southwark residents do not have access to a car. With limited capacity on public transport, they need safe ways to walk and cycle. Workers in health care, retail and construction who can’t work from home are more likely to be on lower incomes and most in need of safer ways to commute.
If Southwark Council doesn’t act quickly, there’s a real risk that as people avoid public transport, Southwark will become a corridor of choking gridlock, from the southern suburbs to the river.
Meanwhile, people still need extra space on pavements for daily exercise, recreation and essential tasks while keeping a safe distance from each other.
But the last few months have shown that rapid changes are possible.
Photo (above, and top): the Low Traffic neighbourhood around Van Gogh Walk, Lambeth
Southwark is far behind its neighbours in implementing measures to make space for safe walking and cycling. Our neighbouring borough Lambeth has published a detailed action plan and has already started improvements, using temporary barriers and planters, and bringing forward plans that have already been consulted on. There is scope to do the same in Southwark, notably with ‘Our Healthy Streets’ in Dulwich.
Southwark has asked for residents to suggest ideas but has given no details of plans yet.
Two thirds of trips in England are under five miles and could be walked or cycled, and Southwark Council’s own research shows that 77% of residents support reducing traffic.
It can be done. People do choose to walk and cycle when it feels safe, and when routes are direct and pleasant. During the lockdown, children and less confident cyclists have started to ride on the streets. We want them to be able to keep cycling in the coming months, not to go back to previous levels of danger and pollution.
Camberwell resident Tracey says:
'I got back into cycling after 30 years, encouraged by Southwark Council's 'Try a Bike for a Month' scheme, with training from Cycle Confident. Now cycling is my only way to get to work without taking a bus, and I've discovered a quiet, cycle-friendly route to the Elephant and over Blackfriars Bridge. It's great exercise and I really enjoy my commute - but a big increase in traffic could force me to stop.'
Queues on many Southwark high streets don't leave room for people to pass at a safe distance
FIVE URGENT IMPROVEMENTS SOUTHWARK COUNCIL COULD MAKE IN DAYS
- Use temporary barriers to create extra space for pedestrians on shopping streets including Lordship Lane, Dulwich Village, Camberwell Green and Bellenden Road. These must be wheelchair accessible with ramps from pavement.
- Use quick, temporary solutions like concrete barriers and planters to implement low traffic neighbourhoods that have already been consulted on, like the ‘Our Healthy Streets’ plan in Dulwich. Don’t wait for supplies and labour for the final, high quality finish - that can come later.
- Remove through motor traffic from streets like Bermondsey Street and The Cut to enable safe use of food shops and (eventually) reopening of restaurants with outdoor seating. Streets like Rye Lane could be bus and cycle only.
- Help people cycle to work by improving existing routes, like Cycleway 17 from Dulwich to Elephant and Castle, and adding physical barriers to create new cycle lanes (for example on Denmark Hill, giving access to King’s College Hospital, and on the Old Kent Road and New Kent Road). This can be done with measures such as the ‘wands’ used to create a cycle lane on Rodney Place.
- Help people take healthy exercise and recreation outdoors, particularly in areas with little green space, by closing some streets to through motor traffic, with the help of signs and temporary barriers.
We appreciate that many members of Southwark Council’s staff and councillors are working hard to deal with the complex problem of coronavirus. While we usually welcome consultation, we do not wish the invitation to contribute suggestions to create any further delay.
One positive effect of the lockdown has been a change on our streets: key workers taking up cycling for their commute, families cycling together on the streets, and many people rediscovering their neighbourhoods on foot. This is the future we need to see for the sake of our health and to cut our carbon bill. Southwark Council must act now to enable these positive changes to persist.
Write to your councillors to tell them how your travel has been affected by the lockdown and what changes you'd like to see. Find contact details of your councillors here.
More suggestions of how to make cycling safer in Southwark can be found on Southwark Cyclists website.
Add comments to the Commonplace website and see suggestions made by other people.
Read the Covid-19 Transport plan from Lambeth Council.
People who work, live or study in Southwark can hire a cycle to suit them for a month at a very good rate in the 'Try Before You Bike' scheme from Southwark Council via Peddle My Wheels. At the time of writing, waiting times are approximately one month and key workers are given priority. Stock includes cycles for adults and children, and e-bikes and cargo bikes too.