The Changing Use of Streets

Susan Claris, Transport Planner at Arup and Vice President of Living Streets

The last year has probably seen the greatest amount of change to our streets in decades – at least in some towns and cities. The impact of Covid-19 has seen many authorities’ plans to prioritise streets for people accelerated, rather than vehicles. We have seen the introduction of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (with varying names such as Active Neighbourhoods or People Friendly Streets), we have seen road space re-allocated for cycle lanes and footway widening (sometimes temporary, sometimes permanent) and the introduction of school streets. And in some cases we have seen the road space re-allocated back after opposition.

Streets have always been changing and evolving. If I look at the evolution of my own street in North London, over the years it has: become one way, had traffic calming measures implemented, a 20mph speed limit, had residential – and then match day – parking restrictions and  other parking designations including pay and display, motorcycle bays, car clubs bays and – most recently – electric vehicle recharging bays. It has also been subject to rising volumes of traffic in the last ten years or so, as drivers have become increasingly guided by sat navs and mobile phones. And I hope that soon there will be more positive change, with my street, and the ones around it, becoming part of Islington’s People Friendly Streets with modal filters to prevent through traffic.

It is interesting to look back at my own experience of TPM over the last few years and see how some of these themes have developed.

I remember running a workshop at TPM in Nottingham in 2017 based on the ideas in our Cities Alive: Towards a Walking World, talking about how we can improve walkability. In 2018, the walking theme continued when I had the pleasure of leading a walk around Oxford the evening before the conference.

In 2019, our work on FlexKerbs was presented at TPM – this was looking forward to 2050 and how streets could be more dynamic and flexible.

Then in 2020, it was time to be more pragmatic and focus on the here and now. I talked about how if we really want to promote people friendly streets and walking and cycling, then we need to reduce the dominance of vehicles – or reduce “Transport Gluttony” as I call it. 2020 also had a focus on inclusion as we presented our “Cycling for Everyone” work with Sustrans – this was particularly timely as the global focus was on the unequal impacts of Covid, the Black Lives Matter movement and then the safety of women walking on our streets.

So, I am particularly pleased that we are continuing this theme of inclusion this year and presenting on our “Walking for Everyone” work that we are undertaking with Living Streets and Sustrans. It is vital that as our streets continue to evolve and change that they really are places for everyone.

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