ENTERTAINMENT

How councils block roads but create bike lanes to protect us from viruses


The streets have narrowed so the sidewalks can be widened. The streets have been reduced from two to one lane. Additional bike paths.

Parking exposed in the city center. Main diversions. Under the guise of protecting us from Covid, councils across the country have put in place a number of tough restrictions on motorists.

Of course, everything must be done to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but many believe it is being done as an excuse to punish drivers as part of a wider campaign against the use of cars.

Additionally, these measures are killing main highways trade at a time when the economy is in dire need of all the help it can get.

Measures like this one in Manor Lane, Lewisham are being put in place by councils across the UK as the government invests £ 225 million to make the country more sustainable during a pandemic

Motorists say that new restrictions in favor of cyclists and pedestrians are worsening traffic

Motorists say that new restrictions in favor of cyclists and pedestrians are worsening traffic

Typical is what happens in Bristol, where van driver Steve Weeks is at the end.

He says: “These measures increase each trip by around 20 minutes an hour. That means I work longer for less. It's crazy. “I spoke to Steve when he was stuck in a traffic jam at an intersection on Lewins Mead, one of the main roads through town.

“It was 3pm on Wednesday when traffic was normally light, but a traffic jam snaked more than a mile behind and in front of Steve.

On August 3, the council reduced the space for motor vehicles on Lewins Mead from two to one lane.

“Since then, Nearside Lane has become a thoroughfare for bicycles. By the way, for 30 minutes at the intersection I only saw one cyclist using the bike path. & # 39;

Narrowing roads to create super wide bike lanes isn't the only measure Bristol has put in place.

On-street parking has been suspended in several places, the roads have been closed and some key left and right turns are about to be banned.

As a result, cars and vans from Temple Meads Central Station were effectively banned from the street downtown, forcing drivers to use a long, cumbersome alternative.

The impact on businesses has been devastating, but more road closures – another 12, the city council warns – are imminent.

The government is spending £ 225 million on similar measures across the country, particularly in London, Oxford, Manchester, Birmingham, York, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Derby and Cardiff.

There has been little public consultation but the justification is the same everywhere: Covid provides an ideal opportunity to give a green boost to economic recovery, encouraging people to get out of their cars while getting fit and losing weight to protect them from it the virus.

Bristol Labor Mayor Marvin Rees says the changes will help the city "get out of this crisis more inclusive and sustainable" and "protect public health and remove barriers to inclusive economic growth, with cleaner air, safer and more better." public transport and improved hiking and biking trails for everyone. "

His enthusiasm follows a major initiative by the Ministry of Transport in May.

Pictured Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees says changes will help the city "get out of this crisis more sustainably," as the city is the target of major funding from the Department of Transportation

Pictured Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees says changes will help the city "get out of this crisis more sustainably," as the city is the target of major funding from the Department of Transportation

£ 225 million has been allocated to 'pandemic active emergency travel systems for local authorities'. (Active travel is the ministry language for hiking and cycling.)

The department says the money will allow local authorities to create "new cycling and walking facilities," and that the changed road and parking systems will encourage recreation.

However, the Emergency Active Travel Fund money is tied with a string. The councils must satisfy the officials. You have quick and sensible plans to reallocate road space to cyclists and pedestrians (both groups instead of one or the other), including on strategic corridors.

Programs that do not significantly change the status quo on the street will not be funded. “In other words, drivers have to lose.

However, many see this government initiative as deeply misguided.

At Bristol & # 39; s Galleries shopping center, around a third of the stores are closed or boarded up. Others risk closing permanently or barely cling to it.

"When we reopened after the lockdown, things were good at first," says Naheed Iqbal, 45, owner of House of Colors, an Indian clothing and jewelry store.

"But customers are saying now that they just can't come here." They want to drive and park because they have heavy bags.

"The council says blocking roads will encourage business to come back, but it killed mine." I'm giving up – even though that means I'll lose everything I've invested. “Manzar Nawaz, 40, co-owner of high-end men's outfitter Suits Plus, tells me he only had one customer all morning. He claims the road closure resulted in an immediate reduction in customer numbers.

"The impact on us is simple: we are almost out of trade," he adds. "We've been here for 30 years but I don't think we've done more than £ 400 in business all week."

He had to let three employees go and feared that he would have to close.

In his empty hairdressing salon, owner Toni Caroben says that he was “fully occupied” for ten days after it reopened. But after the council closed the streets, trade collapsed.

"A lot of my clients are from out of town, and now it's dead."

Oxford pictured is to receive government funding for the installation of cycling and walking measures along with London, Manchester, Birmingham, York, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Derby and Cardiff

Oxford pictured is to receive government funding for the installation of cycling and walking measures along with London, Manchester, Birmingham, York, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Derby and Cardiff

For some, of course, getting banned from automobiles is a long-cherished dream. Last year, the left-wing think tank Common Wealth – among its board members is Ed Miliband – released a report entitled Away With All Cars, in which it argued that the UK needs to cut total traffic by 20 to 60 percent by 2030 to meet emissions targets to reach .

"That," it commented dryly, "is a lot of traffic to lose."

By the same date, London should be “free of private cars”.

The report's author, Leo Murray, wrote The Guardian in November, applauding Bristol's new diesel-free clean air zone. However, he wanted the council to go further and “make private cars completely redundant”.

At the heart of this “war on cars” is UK100, which describes itself as a “network of highly ambitious local government leaders who are committed to securing the future of their communities by moving to 100 percent clean energy”.

Founded in 2016, members include dozens of Labor Council leaders and eminent figures on the left such as London Mayor Sadiq Khan, his Manchester counterpart Andy Burnham and Marvin Rees from Bristol.

One of the main backers of UK100 is the European Climate Foundation (ECF), which in turn is funded by a number of American green billionaires. ECF also donates heavily to radical groups like Extinction Rebellion.

In October last year, UK100 called on the government to give councils "the powers and resources they need to provide zero-emission transport networks (and encourage and facilitate behavioral change, including promoting active travel)" – by opposing motorists proceed and strengthen these cycling and hiking.

UK100's influence is significant: currently one of its employees is seconded to Bristol City Council. Support from the Ministry of Transport is also crucial.

The fact is that, as more honest anti-car activists admit, Covid has accelerated changes that otherwise would have taken years.

In the real world, drivers have great success.

In Oxford, the road on Magdalen Bridge, the only route over the Cherwell River between the city center and the suburbs of East Oxford, where tens of thousands live, has been narrowed to make way for two super wide bike paths.

As a result, the street is only 15.7 feet wide. And since double-decker buses are at least 9.2 feet wide, two can't drive past each other without hitting the bike lanes and running the risk of flattening cyclists.

There are similar bottlenecks in London. For example, Park Lane has been reduced from three to one lane since June to accommodate new bike lanes – although less than 50 meters away in Hyde Park, a long-established bike lane runs exactly parallel – and has the advantage of being there away from cars .

One of the worst of several new, almost permanent, traffic jams in London is on the formerly three-lane Euston Road, a major east-west artery.

The drive on the new single lane road from Regent & # 39; s Park to King & # 39; s Cross – a 1.5 mile drive – can take up to 30 minutes.

Traffic jams in Park Lane, London caused by road restrictions related to coronavirus

Traffic jams in Park Lane, London caused by road restrictions related to coronavirus

All of these changes have been dramatic, but many more are in the pipeline.

Ultimately, the Department of Transportation plans to spend £ 2 billion on active travel.

In a foreword to a report on the matter last month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was looking forward to "the most radical change in our cities since the advent of mass transportation".

Part of this initiative has been the issuance of 50,000 Fix Your Bike vouchers worth up to £ 50 that can be used by people to get their bikes ready to ride.

Indeed, several cities are planning to prevent drivers from traveling between areas except via outer ring roads.

For example, there are plans to divide Birmingham into six “segments”.

According to the city council, in order to get from one segment to another in a private vehicle, one would have to re-enter the A4540 Middleway (the city's inner ring road). Movement between the segments would be unrestricted … for public transport, pedestrians and cyclists. "

The result is that trips that now take a few minutes will be much longer – and ironically, considering that this is part of an effort to make us greener, they will be creating more exhaust emissions.

Oxford is facing something similar. In the name of creating "low-traffic neighborhoods," the Tory-led county council is accelerating a system of gates that only buses can pass through.

This will separate large parts of the city from each other unless drivers are driving on the ring road.

The inevitable consequence is that local car journeys such as a supermarket or to the John Radcliffe Hospital become much longer and more difficult for thousands of people.

Significantly, documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act from the young opposition group Reconnecting Oxford show that the system's likely impact on traffic, pollution or business has not been assessed. There was also no formal consultation.

However, such subtleties are not legally required.

By using emergency traffic orders that are valid for up to 18 months, municipalities can do pretty much what they want with their roads – and then assess the impact.

Oxford Deputy Labor Leader Tom Hayes claimed last week that camera-monitored bus gates with signs and road markings banning general traffic would increase visitor numbers to the city's shops and restaurants by "encouraging more rides by cyclists" and "café" would create cultural routes & # 39 ;.

The government has allocated £ 225 million to local governments to install new cycling measures to make people fitter after Covid-19 and the country more sustainable

The government has allocated £ 225 million to local governments to install new cycling measures to make people fitter after Covid-19 and the country more sustainable

Yet no one in the business seems to agree.

"You are justifying this to help the city out of Covid," says veteran hotelier and restaurateur Jeremy Mogford. "The truth is, it's going to be a lot harder."

In addition to the bus gates, planned new parking and charging restrictions and an additional pedestrian zone would put even more pressure on retail, he says.

"It is as if the extreme end of the Extinction Rebellion has got the policymakers under control." They become zealots – they just don't want motorized vehicles. "

Understandably, we are seeing a backlash – from community groups and national organizations like the Alliance of British Drivers and the Road Haulage Association.

Duncan Buchanan, its political director for England and Wales, says: “The Covid emergency is being used to push through fantasy projects.

“People forget that we have to move – that our food is put on trucks, for example. There are tons of necessary road trips every day, but we run the risk of following a dogma that destroys the road network, destroys business and competitiveness, and thus ruins people's lives.

“Roads are functional places where we connect and they need to be managed for the benefit of all users – not just cyclists.

"The government must remember: this is not done by ordinary people, it is completely alien to them."

"It's an artificially constructed overload caused by people who don't care about the lives of ordinary people."

Van driver Steve Weeks agrees to the traffic jam in Bristol. "You should have chosen another time – not now, when we're trying to get over Covid."

& # 39; It's too much. Traffic used to be bad, but now it's just silly. It's not sustainable. "

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