During the Covid-19 lockdown the importance of walking, for health and as a means of getting around, has been highlighted. While the dominant message is to stay at home and avoid unnecessary travel, legitimate reasons to go out include daily exercise and essential shopping.
People undertaking such excursions are asked to stay local and to maintain a two metre distance between themselves and others who are not in their household. Across Bristol people are walking more, doing their best to follow these guidelines.
To make it easier to stay local, neighbourhoods need a number of elements: a safe walking environment, local shops providing essential items and services, and access to nearby parks and green spaces – some of the requirements for a “liveable” neighbourhood.
Walkers benefit from a reduction in the dominance of motor vehicles. During the current lockdown, we are witnessing the effects of a significant reduction in car journeys.
Many residents are commenting on the noticeable reduction in air pollution and traffic noise. Others, including the police, have expressed concerns about an unwelcome increase in vehicle speeds which is all the more worrying as pedestrians try to make use of road space to maintain social distancing.
There have been calls for the mayor and council to retain and strengthen the current benefits of reduced car use by implementing low traffic neighbourhoods, which also have the effect of reducing excessive speeds.
Low traffic neighbourhoods are created by closing roads to motor vehicles at specific points while allowing people to walk and cycle through.
Closures are carefully planned to enable vehicle access to all properties while eliminating through traffic and rat running. The road closure points can be combined with pocket parks, benches, and other public realm improvements to support community interaction.
Where low traffic neighbourhoods have already been implemented, car usage has decreased, walking has increased, children play out more, neighbours are more connected, air pollution is lower, road safety has improved, and more people cycle for everyday journeys.
Case studies focusing on the “pedestrian pound” have also shown that reducing motorised traffic with a well-designed, pedestrian-friendly scheme can revitalise neighbourhoods and boost local trade.
The restrictions on car journeys during the Covid-19 pandemic, together with the need for two metre social distancing, have also highlighted an opportunity and a pressing need to allocate road space for pedestrians and cyclists. Such schemes are being implemented in cities across the world and requests are being considered for similar measures in Bristol.
Many residents across Bristol will be wondering about the longer-term impact of the lockdown. Things seem unlikely to be quite the same again. As the city tentatively re-opens, schemes will be needed to support neighbourhoods and revive our local high streets.
The constituents of a thriving neighbourhood are described in London’s liveable neighbourhoods programme – the active use of streets and public spaces, improved air quality and green infrastructure, and vibrant streets that support local businesses and provide places for the community to come together and interact.
Some of these elements are included in Bristol’s One City Plan: the implementation of a clean air zone; investment in walking and cycling routes; targets for every Bristol citizen to live no more than a ten-minute walk from a learning opportunity, affordable fresh food, and excellent quality green space.
It is hoped to deliver a low traffic neighbourhood pilot by 2023. By 2040 it is hoped that all neighbourhoods in Bristol will have key services and facilities that are easily accessible on foot.
The One City Plan is not fixed. Citizens are encouraged to shape the plan as issues are identified and city-wide conversations develop.
The lockdown period is an ideal time to test partial road closures in neighbourhoods and the reallocation of road space for safer walking and cycling routes using traffic cones, signs and temporary road markings.
As the city emerges from the measures imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic, the lessons learned should be incorporated in future plans for the city including support for everyday walking, improvements to the pedestrian environment.
The target date for when all neighbourhoods will have key services and facilities that are easily accessible on foot should be brought forward – 2040 is too long to wait for making our communities more resilient and liveable.
Alan Morris is chair of Bristol Walking Alliance, a consortium of organisations and individuals campaigning to improve Bristol’s walking environment.
Main photo: Lowie Trevena