These considerations were at the forefront of policymakers’ minds as they plotted their COVID-19 responses. Many have embraced the bicycle in an unprecedented way. Paris set about constructing 65km of emergency cycle lanes, affectionately dubbed la piste corona by locals; similar works were undertaken in Bogota, Mexico City and Berlin. In London, Mayor Sadiq Khan, initiated the Streetspace programme, rolling out segregated cycle lanes and widening pathways, while extending the operating hours of bus lanes. With the help of additional funding, London’s borough councils were encouraged to follow suit and avoid a car-based recovery. The UK national government added its support, releasing funds and guidance on emergency active travel schemes.
Over the summer months, as the major western economies began to transition out of extreme lockdown, many began to question what a return to normal would look like. Would we revert back to sluggish delivery of vitally needed schemes or, worse still, see a rollback of all progress made through COVID-19 emergency responses?
Or, could this moment be the time to rapidly to push on towards more sustainable, fairer and healthier cities? The UK’s Climate Change Committee (CCC), an independent body advising government on environmental issues, certainly thought so. It called on ministers to “seize the opportunity to turn the COVID-19 crisis into a defining moment in the fight against climate change.” It’s a position that has proved popular with the UK citizens’ assembly: 79% of members agree that the post-pandemic recovery should facilitate decarbonisation of the national economy. And this sense of urgency is shared across the world. In April, Ipsos MORI asked 30,000 people in 14 countries whether they supported the following statement: “In the long-term, climate change is as serious a crisis as COVID-19.” They found majority agreement in all 14 countries.
Road transport is a significant realm of power for London’s mayor and local councils. Together, they have the influence and capacity to work towards a zero-carbon road system. As 20% of London’s emissions are from road transport, action here can help the city take massive steps towards meeting IPCC targets on global warming.