The COVID-19 Recovery: Changing Transport and Public Realm in the City


(Source: Tomek Baginski on Unsplash)

Despite London recently returning to some semblance of normality, I’ve somehow come to prefer this abrupt shift in my normal routine, so much so that venturing back to everyday life almost feels strange. No one really knows what our cities* will look like post-pandemic. One thing is clear though — with the lockdown lifted for now, people are starting to move around again. For this reason, safety is of utmost priority, especially on transport and in public spaces.

I recently attended a City Architecture Forum webinar where Bruce McVean, Acting Assistant Director for City Transportation at the City of London Corporation, discussed how the governing body is taking a leading role in transforming traffic and pedestrian issues post-COVID-19. As part of their transport recovery strategy for the City**, the Corporation is implementing temporary changes in stages. With Roy McGowan, Managing Director of Momentum Transport Consultancy, chairing the webinar, these were my 5 takeaways:

1. Prioritising the safety of pedestrians and those wishing to cycle. With around 25% of the workforce initially expected to return to the City in September, and a further 50% by the end of the year (subject to considerations of a second wave), Bruce stressed the importance of giving people the space they need to navigate the streets safely. One way is by restricting vehicle access to certain streets (e.g. Lombard Street below), especially during peak hours. The other is by reallocating carriageway space to walking and, in some places, putting up protective cycle lanes for those wanting to cycle into the City.

Lombard Street from Bank Station
Lombard Street

2. Improving the City’s public realm. Plans by the Corporation to install outdoor seating in 12 areas is underway. Not only does this help support small businesses, such as takeaway trucks, it’s also a great initiative to revitalise the public realm by bringing more greenery onto the streets, and to welcome those returning in September.

3. Changes to the management of delivery and service vehicles. The Corporation recently released a guidance pack advising businesses on how to manage their deliveries and servicing (e.g. maintenance, fit-out). It covers measures such as moving deliveries out of the daytime as well as promoting alternatives to courier services other than vans. Cargo cycles, for example, could be a viable option. Longer-term opportunities are being flagged for consolidation surrounding grouping deliveries together or bringing them in fuller and fewer vehicles.

Protective cycle lanes
Protective cycle lanes have been set up on streets like Old Broad Street

4. Trials for micromobility devices have been approved by the Department for Transport (DfT) sooner than expected. The relationship between micromobility providers and cities has been tense for quite some time. Initially planned for 2021, the DfT are now allowing ‘controlled trials’ of devices, such as e-scooters, to take place in the autumn. Whilst safety concerns remain, the use of these devices is excellent from a social distancing and sustainability standpoint. The Corporation has also received permission to participate in the trials.

5. Self-responsibility when using publicly shared transportation services. I wanted to get Bruce’s opinion on how bicycle hire schemes, like Santander Cycles, will be maintained as we continue to battle the virus. Whilst there will be an increased cleaning regimen for these services, there is still an expectation for people to self-manage their own safety by wearing a mask and sanitising surfaces before and after use.

Santander Cycles docking station
A Santander Cycles docking station featuring me in shadow.

Concluding thoughts

It’s been a while since our cities have experienced a radical rethinking in terms of infrastructure planning and movement. Although the measures being implemented are temporary, the hope is to embed some longer-term change to support the Corporation’s aspirations of a safer, greener City of London. Their COVID-19 Recovery Consultation form, therefore, gives us the opportunity to relay our thoughts over to key policymakers on the work they’ve been doing. Only then can change impact other London boroughs*** and cities through an assessed programme of what’s worked and what needs improving.

The COVID-19 crisis has significantly altered our perception of space, and I’m sure no one saw this coming a few months ago. While fear may continue to govern the post-pandemic city for the moment, our individual responses will determine how quickly our communities are able to recover.

*city/cities – refers to the noun itself

**City – refers to the City of London: a city, ceremonial county and local government district separate from the county of Greater London. Many prominent skyscrapers and financial institutions are located here

***to clarify, the City is not a London borough

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