Last weekend was lovely. With the sun shining, meeting up with friends and family to sit outside felt normal: a hint of the summer we are all eagerly looking forward to as lockdown restrictions lift.
Each step in our collective recovery from the pandemic means our city opening up. Kids have returned to school, and shops, gyms and the outside sections of pubs and restaurants have reopened. That means that while many are still working at home when they can, there are now a lot more people moving about London – making the school run, commuting to work, travelling to the shops or to see friends.
As our city and we start to recover, given social distancing is likely to be in place for some time still, helping us all make journeys without overcrowding public transport will be essential. This will be a key challenge the next mayor, elected on 6 May will need to continue to address – and urgently.
In the last year, regardless of the level of lockdown, more Londoners have been cycling. They’ve been doing it to keep fit, and to keep the pressure off public transport . They’ve been supported in this by the government, the mayor and borough councils – who’ve delivered new safe cycle routes faster than we’ve ever seen. This needs to continue, with the cycle network that has been developing in London rapidly expanded, so many more people feel like it’s safe and convenient for them to travel by bike. Many more need to have a route that starts near where they live and ends near where they want to go.
Transport also has a part to play in the health of our high streets. By re-allocating road space to people, not cars, either by transforming lanes or through temporary road closures as in Soho and other shopping streets elsewhere in London, we can give businesses much needed space to operate in an outdoor, socially distant manner and the footfall and custom to go with – because people on foot and on bike visit more frequently and spend more than those in cars. The best thing about this approach is that it not only makes for better business – it also sets us up to cut lethal air pollution, increase the health of Londoners and cut emissions that is vital to avoid catastrophic climate change.
The alternative to supporting this shift to people-friendly high streets and improving cycling will be a car-led recovery. Where without the ability to feel safe cycling, those with access to cars will use them, and those without will either put pressure on public transport, or not make journeys. We can see this happening right now in some parts of London.
Not only will this put off those who might have started cycling, but it would also set back progress on cleaning up our air, reducing unnecessary car use and meeting the global duty to cut carbon emissions, leaving us further away from the London we need than before the pandemic.
The next mayor must make sure that they don’t lock in a damaging future for London as lockdown lifts. It’s why LCC are calling on all the all the mayoral candidates to commit to a recovery that sets us on a path to zero carbon roads by 2030.
Green Recovery or Climate Crisis? Clean Air or Lethal Pollution? Active Travel or Gridlock. The next mayor will decide London's future - email the candidates to demand action now.