Responding to Covid-19 impact on transport

Cllr Waseem Zaffar, cabinet member for transport and environment, looks at the impact on transport of Covid-19 - and how we can build on the 'new normal'.

Over the past few weeks we have seen a significant reduction to traffic levels in Birmingham, with this currently running at around a third of ‘normal’ levels. Public transport is continuing to operate to make sure key workers can travel by bus, train and tram where they need to, but services are reduced as many people stay at home to protect the NHS and save lives. And we’re seeing some other changes too – more people are walking and cycling for regular exercise, there is less traffic in local neighbourhoods, and reduced levels of air pollution as a result of this.

There is now a chance to build on and maintain this ‘new normal’ in the future. We will continue to monitor travel patterns as lockdown restrictions begin to ease over the next few weeks and assess where action is needed to protect the most vulnerable users, or there is opportunity to capitalise on more people working from home and increased demand for safe space for walking and cycling.

Birmingham has already started on this journey, with a new Walking & Cycling Strategy agreed by Cabinet earlier this year and development of a Birmingham Transport Plan continuing following recent consultation. Three-quarters of people responding to this consultation said that they agreed with our vision for a sustainable, green, inclusive, go-anywhere transport network for Birmingham and there was also support for principles such as reallocating road space and prioritising walking and cycling in local neighbourhoods. Where there are opportunities to bring forward some of the schemes and proposals outlined in these documents then we will look to do so.

Our focus for any temporary measures will be where there are issues with people maintaining social distancing when making essential trips, queuing for shops, or exercising. This may be in local centres or on high streets to create additional pavement space outside premises or to improve safety on routes to NHS sites or other destinations where key workers are travelling by foot or bike.

We have introduced a system to log specific requests and then assess what can be done and how this will be delivered. We will review locations around criteria such as where we can create more space for walking and cycling to support social distancing, avoid conflict with motor traffic and manage outdoor queues. This will involve discussions with key stakeholders such as shop owners, site managers, emergency services, highway engineers and local Councillors among others.

Not all the things we would like to do are within the gift of the city council, and we would welcome further support from central government to deliver such measures – including devolving more powers and resources to the city and regional level. We remain committed to 20mph as the default speed limit for all residential streets and local centres in Birmingham and we are keen to tackle problems caused by pavement parking across many parts of the city.

Longer-term any measures should be consistent with our existing vision and plans which include the delivery of segregated cycle routes, improvements to junctions and pedestrian crossing facilities and enhanced public realm alongside wider measures such as speed reduction and parking management. This remains as important as ever in responding to the climate emergency declared by the city council in June 2019 and our commitment to becoming a carbon neutral city by 2030.

This blog was posted on 24 April 2020

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