Campaigners call for transport redesign to stop air pollution rise post-lockdown

Campaigners have called for a fundamental redesign of the transport system to help prevent a bounce-back in air pollution levels once the lockdown ends.

Nine organisations have written an open letter to the secretaries of state for transport and the environment, as well as the Chancellor, leaders of local and regional authorities, and city mayors.

It says: “It would be completely absurd if, after the unprecedented efforts and sacrifices made to save thousands of lives from Covid-19, we allowed thousands more to be cut short by the devastating impacts of toxic pollution.”

The group’s demands include wider pavements, protected cycle tracks, restricted through-traffic in residential and shopping streets through the installation of bus gates, bollards and planters, networks of low-traffic neighbourhoods, and walking and cycling to be prioritised along main roads.

Coronavirus – Thu May 7, 2020
Coronavirus – Thu May 7, 2020

Ministers are understood to be preparing to recommend that commuters use bicycles for journeys to work to reduce the number of people using public transport.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is expected to use his appearance at the Downing Street briefing on Saturday to unveil a further £250 million for extra cycle lanes, while trials of the use of e-scooters on British roads are due to be fast-tracked, the PA news agency understands.

Greenpeace UK, CPRE, Cycling UK, the Environmental Defence Fund, Global Action Plan, Living Streets, Possible, Transport Action Network and Transport & Environment have all signed the letter.

A 20mph speed limit in built-up areas and a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030 are also suggested by the campaigners.

Restrictions brought in to tackle the coronavirus pandemic have seen a drop in road traffic and a fall in air pollution of up to 60% in parts of the UK.

A YouGov poll commissioned by Greenpeace UK found 71% of people are concerned about the possibility of air pollution returning to pre-lockdown levels once restrictions are lifted.

It also found that 58% backed the introduction of cycle lanes on urban main roads along with increased Government funding for walking and cycling infrastructure.

Coronavirus – Wed May 6, 2020
Coronavirus – Wed May 6, 2020

The letter calls for “immediate action” to lock in some of the reduction in road traffic and the introduction of new measures to ensure that “when the nation gets moving again, it does so in a cleaner, safer way”.

Milan and Brussels have already taken steps to prioritise walkers and cyclists in their city centres, according to Greenpeace UK’s head of politics, Rebecca Newsom.

She said: “There are many things about the lockdown people will be glad to leave behind, but cleaner air is not one of them.

“Yet there’s a real risk that congestion and toxic pollution will be back on our streets as soon as restrictions are lifted.

“Some of the world’s major cities are already reshaping the urban space to allow people to go out and about safely while keeping the air clean, and we need our political leaders to follow suit.”