The current COVID-19 situation has called into question the way our cities designate space for pedestrians, cars, and public transport, with cities worldwide quickly devising plans for how they can conform to the demands of social distancing.
Newcastle City Council has been the first council in the UK to release a proposal for how their iconic city-centre streets will adapt to these new challenges.
At the moment, their first set of schemes centre around Grey Street, designed by the famous architects Richard Grainger and John Dobson and hailed as an architectural beauty by many critics. Short-term measures are set to include reducing parking spaces, introducing pop-up cycle routes, widening sidewalks, and twenty mph streets. Widening pavements will be important to ensure social distancing measures are in place as people walk by each other, but also as the phased reopening of shops may require customers to queue outside, taking up further space.
The council states that measures will begin soon, even “as early as next week”
The council states that measures will begin soon, even “as early as next week”. Immediate plans include one-way systems for pedestrians, and markings to display two metre social distancing conventions. Pedestrian crossings will also be reset throughout the centre, reducing wait times to help avoid large groups gathering whilst waiting to cross.
In the long term, this may lead to the introduction of a workplace parking levy and road charges. The council maintains their measures will be “pro-city”, as opposed to “anti-car”. To ensure a re-allocation of space which benefits pedestrians and cyclists, motor vehicles would be assigned a one-way, narrowed carriageway, with the addition of a cycleway and a five metre widening of pavement. Parking spaces would be replaced with small areas of trees and foliage. Whilst a reduced number of parking spaces would remain, the council intend to push parking to the edge of the city centre in the future.
In addition for their plans for transforming Grey Street, the council also wishes to “implement the same format of road space reallocation to local shopping centers and schools.” - this will result in routes on which cars cannot stop, and a new traffic circulation plan, similar to that implemented in the Belgian city of Ghent. In Ghent, the city is divided into six zones which motorists can only drive within, and not directly between - to access other zones, cars must divert onto a distributor road. Private vehicles were also banned from a central city zone.
The inconvenience of driving between zones led to quieter and therefore safer streets for cyclists and pedestrians; the uptake in cycling rose 60% between 2016 and 2018 as a result, leading to both individual health and environmental benefits. When evaluating the air quality in Ghent following the use of their new traffic plan, the presence of N02 was found to be 18% lower. If applied to Newcastle, the council hopes to create an environmentally-friendly and low-cost way to ensure pedestrians and cyclists could quickly and safely connect to schools, parks, and commercial areas.
Whilst the council may have been formulating these proposals for a few years, given the importance to ensure both streets and public transit accommodate social distancing regulations (which may be in place to some extent until a vaccine is discovered) the time appears apt to begin embarking on these planning projects.