Will City of London roads stay safe after Covid-19 lockdown?

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A cycling enthusiast is calling for a rethink on shared road space to help keep people safe when the lockdown eases but people are reticent about using public transport.

Jonathan Kelly who cycles from Kensington and Chelsea to the City to his job at Bart’s Hospital, thinks there needs to be a rethink of how our cities work.

He said: “If people start being pushed on to narrow pavements as traffic increases, will they want to take that risk? The result will be either more cars as those with cars seek to avoid crowded areas and some may feel unable to go out.

“This has ongoing implications around social isolation and how local economies get back on their feet.”

He has been involved in a scheme where bikes were donated by manufacturer Brompton to help NHS key workers travel to hospital without having to face overcrowded public transport.

They include Bart’s senior cardiac physiologist,  Rok Mravljak, who has swapped a 10-minute bus ride to the nearest station, 45-minute train journey and 20 minutes on the Tube to get to work.

He said: “For me it was a bit stressful, not the length of the journey or the investment, but the constant battle with timetables and trying to catch the right train/tube/bus to get to work and back home.”

During lockdown he is now hopping onto his bike for a 20-minute cycle to the train station, a 40-minute train ride to Waterloo station and further 10 minute cycle to Bart’s Hospital.

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Jonathan Kelly cycles to his job at Bart’s Hospital.

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The 27-year-old said: “It means I now schedule my commute around one timetable, I save additional money on commuting and it adds five hours  of cycling to my physical activity during the week.”

And cardiac nurse and quality improvement lead, Darren Barnes, said: “I commute in from Clapham and would really like to switch from the Tube getting my fitness regime up to speed and enjoy my commute more. I sometimes walk but it’s not doable everyday, I can definitely cycle it.”

Whilst medics are cycling in to work while there is a dramatic drop in road traffic, Mr Kelly said: “I am certainly concerned that (while) we have seen a lot of health professionals switch to walking and cycling, it is imperative local authorities provide infrastructure to support all key workers being able to travel safely to work.”

He said that until  there is an antibody testing regime and vaccine, there will remain an underlying risk from Covid to society.

“At first people will be acutely aware of the risk and second, people will change their behaviours.”

He added: “Some of the behaviour changes people adopt will be appropriate changes – adopting PPE such as masks, maintaining social distancing practices and changes to how we work, such as working from home more where feasible. On the flip side there may be unintended negative consequences.

“We can look to places such as China, who are starting to come out of lock down, to understand potential scenarios. For example we have seen reported increased use and sales of cars in China as people try to avoid mass public transport.”

And he said it was important to look at making sure there is enough safe space for pedestrians and cyclists as well as other transport in London.

“Behavioural changes and people’s reactions to such significant events can last a lot longer than the actual event, therefore planning for this is important to shape what kind of city we want to be when we come out of this.”

His comments come as Westminster City Council reports a “dramatic” reduction in pollution on Marylebone Road – one of the hot spots for high levels of nitrogen dioxide which can increase the risk of respiratory illness.

This year  the levels of nitrogen dioxide were twice the legal  limit just once in Marylebone Road – on 24 March (compared with 176 separate times in March and April last year.

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