The Green Party are calling on Newcastle City Council to make streets safer to help the NHS during the coronavirus crisis. Before this current crisis, campaigner Tay Pitman made the case to the council for extending 20mph speed limits close to schools, but she feels the council must now go further during the lockdown.
Pitman says "It's now even more important to make our streets safer for people to walk, run, cycle or travel using a wheelchair? - and particularly for children to exercise. Quieter streets have seen speeding incidents on the rise across the North East, and Northumbria Police have issued an appeal to drivers to stick to speed limits. We believe Newcastle should follow other cities and introduce quick and cheap temporary changes to help people stick to the social-distancing rules and to reduce road accidents. This would reduce the pressure on the NHS".
To make it safer for people to get fresh air and exercise close to their homes, other cities are making temporary changes to road use and speed limits. Central London has set a 20mph speed limit. Brighton & Hove Council are rolling out new pedestrian and bike-friendly measures inspired by cities around the world. Many places including Berlin, Vienna, Vancouver, Bogota and Mexico City have been temporarily widening pavements, closing residential streets to through-traffic, reducing speed limits or adding emergency bike lanes during this crisis to help people exercise or make essential journeys safely. The UK Department for Transport recently changed rules to make it easier for councils here to take such steps.
Pitman added "Many pavements are too narrow to allow people to pass while leaving a 2m gap, meaning people either have to pass at an unsafe distance, move into the road, or cross the road - increasing the risk of spreading infection or of being hit by a car. For people with poor mobility or visual impairment, this can be especially dangerous. Residents are also reporting issues with pavement crowding around shops where queues are now forming outside. Some drivers seem to wrongly see emptier roads as a chance to speed, again increasing the risk of far worse road accidents happening".
"It can be cheap and simple to make temporary changes to improve safety and protect peoples' health" says Tay. "Councils can use traffic cones and temporary barriers to widen pavements or create segregated cycle lanes, or put in temporary lower speed limits or traffic lights - similar to when there are roadworks. If we make more safe options for exercising, it would help reduce the spread of coronavirus while still enabling people to stay active. There are keyworkers including NHS staff who still need to get to work - they are temporarily not able to use public transport, so many are walking or cycling. It's vital we support our NHS staff however we can. I think we owe it to them to help keep them safe on their commute too and do all we can to reduce the spread of COVID-19".