A highway revolution – improved footway and cycle path network for sustainable travel and social distancing

A highway revolution – improved footway and cycle path network for sustainable travel and social distancing

Cycling and walking will be at the forefront of getting the county moving again as Essex County Council launches plans to expand the cycle path and footway network across town and city centres in the county, allowing people to cycle or walk more easily to work or shops and help with social distancing.

As people return to work and start to visit shopping and retail centres again, social distancing protocols to stay two metres away from anyone who is not a member of your household will remain in place.

At present, many town and city centre roads in Essex are empty or have dramatically less traffic, although as lockdown restrictions get gradually lifted it is anticipated that traffic levels will increase, but perhaps not back to pre-coronavirus levels. However many pavements and cycleways in Essex are too narrow to allow social distancing, so change is necessary to encourage new, healthier ways of travelling locally.

In order to prioritise pedestrians and cyclists more, Essex Highways is planning to utilise empty road space by making temporary changes to the road network in Essex town and city centres. Essex County Council will be one of the first authorities to take these steps.

Cllr Kevin Bentley, Deputy Leader of Essex County Council and Cabinet Member for Infrastructure, said: “We have a responsibility to provide adequate physical distance in town and city centres to maintain social distancing and help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“The Government’s advice is that people who can work from home should continue to do so and we will continue to remind employers of this.

“At the same time, for people who have no choice but to travel to work, journeys both on public transport and by car need to be managed and footways and cycle ways need to be safe and accommodate social distancing.

“We want to help people get back to work and we want to help the economy get back up and running – we can do that by making it safer for people to get to retail and industrial areas.

“Our longer-term ambition is to maintain lower levels of private car use in urban areas, so that walking and cycling becomes the preferred choice for shorter journeys. We’ll be talking to cycling groups in Essex to garner their input and this approach will also lead to an improvement in city and town centre air quality.

“We can’t embark on a complete overhaul of the road network into Essex’s urban areas, but there are temporary cost-effective tweaks we can make to the road layout which will improve access to our town and city centres for people who are walking, cycling or using public transport.”

Among the changes being considered for many town centres are:

  • Using barriers to create temporary space to allow physical distancing of 2m on footways and public spaces.
  • Creating temporary walking and cycling lanes to enable access to central areas on foot or by bike using cones and barriers.
  • Ensuring signalised crossing sequences are set to help physical distancing whilst people are waiting to cross on the footway.
  • Introducing “Thrifty Innovations” - temporary infrastructure that can expand the public space on a trial basis as part of an ‘innovate, test and learn’ approach.
  • Removing some lanes for motor traffic
  • Creating waiting areas on shopping streets
  • Removing through motor traffic from residential streets (and other roads where possible) allowing people to walk in the street with greater safety.
  • Amending push-buttons at signal crossings to allow more time for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Work with Essex Police and other partners to encourage safer use of our highways network generally. For example, there has been a noticeable increase in vehicle speeds making pedestrian and cycle use less safe.
  • Assist as much as possible with the reintroduction of bus and rail services in a way which promotes their safe usage.
  • Ensure that traffic levels do not increase to the extent they inhibit the movement of people, goods and services through increased congestion, pollution and carbon emissions.

Plans to promote this approach are being drawn up for a range of areas in Essex, and more detail will emerge on specific proposals in the coming days and weeks.

Public messages will be published on-line as plans are confirmed and measures agreed.

Last updated 12 May 2020