Sustainable Energy

Social-distancing measures look set to transform London's roads and sidewalks

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Key Points
  • The widening of sidewalks has already been implemented in some areas of the U.K. capital.
  • Temporary cycle lanes will also be introduced to busy sections of the city.
Camden High Street is one area of London where sidewalks have been widened to enable social distancing.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Transport for London announced measures designed to accommodate potential increases in both walking and cycling once lockdown measures are relaxed.

Details of the London Streetspace program were released on Wednesday. Among other things, it will involve space being provided for new cycle lanes and the widening of sidewalks to accommodate social-distancing measures.

It's hoped that these alterations to the city's streets will ease the burden on London's tube and bus network — where social distancing can be a challenge at the best of times — by encouraging people to move around on foot or by bike.

The widening of sidewalks has already been implemented in some areas of the U.K. capital including Camden High Street, a popular destination for tourists. This has been done by placing "temporary infrastructure" — essentially plastic barriers — into roads to increase space for pedestrians.

Temporary cycle lanes will also be introduced to busy sections of the city while Khan said that some roads would be closed to through traffic. 

A review of the temporary schemes will be carried out by Transport for London, with authorities stating that they could eventually become permanent.

"The capacity of our public transport will be dramatically reduced post-coronavirus as a result of the huge challenges we face around social distancing," Khan said in a statement.

"Everyone who can work from home must continue to do so for some time to come," he added.

"The emergency measures included in our major strategic London Streetspace programme will help those who have to travel to work by fast-tracking the transformation of streets across our city."

More specific measures relating to the Streetspace program will be published in the next few weeks. 

The need for more pedestrian space in London is a pressing one, especially given the current circumstances.

Last week, analysis from University College London (UCL) found that two-thirds of sidewalks in the city were not wide enough to enable social distancing of two meters, as recommended by the U.K. government.

"Most streets in London have pavements which are just over two metres wide — this is not enough room for people to pass each other and leave two metres' distance between them, especially with obstacles such as bins, trees and lampposts," Ashley Dhanani, from UCL's Bartlett School of Architecture, said at the time.

"While some may opt to walk in the road, this is not possible for people with pushchairs or with mobility impairments," Dhanani added.

In April, information published by the mayor of London showed that lockdown measures in the city, which had in turn cut traffic on its roads, had led to "dramatic improvements" in the city's air quality.

In an announcement at the time, authorities said there had been "huge reductions" in nitrogen dioxide in the city, "especially at roadside sites."