Opinion: Authorities should seize the moment to deliver schemes to tackle climate emergency

Simon Munk is concerned that people will be scared to use public transport post-Covid and use cars i

Simon Munk is concerned that people will be scared to use public transport post-Covid and use cars instead. - Credit: Archant

The hashtag #NoGoingBack has been trending on social media for a few days now in relation to the ongoing crisis.

A recent survey of British residents by YouGov found only nine per cent of us want to go back to the UK exactly as it was, and half have noticed cleaner air.

Meanwhile, the AA found a significant amount of its members want to drive less and cycle more.

No one wanted this crisis - the huge toll to lives, our economy and our freedoms is horrific - but it is clear many are reflecting on what we did routinely before and its impact on our lives.

London’s air is, according to the mayor and monitoring stations, about half as lethally dirty as it was before the crisis, and many of us can hear birds singing due to the absence of motor traffic.

We can also, I think, lay to rest the idea that cycle schemes were causing the pollution and congestion. It was the cars.

The Twitter feed of Supt Andy Cox also shows that of the few remaining cars on the road, some of them are racking up a terrifying amount of speeding and dangerous driving.

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Meanwhile, we’re seeing bike sales boom and a plethora of rusty bikes dragged from sheds and pressed into service as keyworkers are cycling, and just about everyone is jogging and walking on empty roads for daily exercise and essential journeys.

More people walking and cycling, fewer driving, cleaner air – all of this is, of course, what we’ve all been saying we wanted for years.

It’s what we need for the coming even bigger crisis - the climate. It’s shameful and horrific it’s taken a global pandemic with so many of us losing loved ones to showcase a different possible London. But that’s what has happened – and many of us are now saying “no going back” to the way things were before.

Sadly, there is a risk we won’t go back to things like before - but to something even worse.

Wuhan’s easing of its lockdown has seen people shunning public transport and using cars in preference. There is a real risk people won’t want to or be able to get back on tubes and buses for a long time.

If we don’t want to risk more motor traffic and more pollution than we’ve seen in decades - we need our councils and mayor to take action now.

We need to cone off parking bays outside shops with narrow pavements; to cone off spare lanes on main roads along tube and bus routes to give that currently spare capacity to cycling keyworkers, and to ensure it doesn’t just go back to people driving as traffic levels rise.

We know that people all over the world cycle where there is a network of safe, direct routes, and stop cycling where there are none.

We also need boroughs to urgently consider “low traffic neighbourhood” filtering schemes - before the rat runs come back; bus lanes to go 24/7 for buses and cycling; and “smart road-user charging” to keep motor traffic to essential journeys - and to fill some of the whole in TfL’s finances.

In other words, we now need rapid action on motor traffic, walking and cycling - a concerted effort from mayor and boroughs - to deliver safe walking and cycling before the opportunity passes and we end up with a London even more polluted and congested than ever.

The good news is that the mayor, his commissioner and indeed some of the boroughs this paper covers are clearly thinking along similar lines - please make sure you support them taking action.