A national campaign to turn more road space over to bikes and pedestrians during (and after) the coronavirus pandemic is gaining traction, with calls mounting for state governments to temporarily delegate more authority to councils to “do this quickly”.
A number of doctors, public health and transport researchers have signed a letter calling on governments to provide people with the suitable infrastructure to walk and ride their bikes while abiding by social distancing guidelines.
The campaign is also backed by the Australian Institute of Architects, the Government Architects Office, Architects Declare and Engineers Declare.
One of the organisers behind the “Space for Health” campaign, urban studies researcher Megan Sharkey, said that people are concerned that there’s not enough space available to safety exercise – one of the four activities people are permitted to leave the house for.
Even more concerning is the prospect of loosened lockdown restrictions that see people return to work and school but with no safe way to get there because public transport is considered unsafe.
This could see people flock to their cars for the daily commute or school drop-off, driving up air pollution and congestion.
The campaigners are calling for Australian governments to follow New Zealand’s lead and use the empty roads as an opportunity to build more active transport infrastructure and expand pavements onto roads where suitable.
This can be done immediately in many places because there are already existing plans to do so.
Much of this work is inexpensive, with signs and bright paint often enough to make streets safer by encouraging cars to slow down or stay out of a designated lane.
Ms Sharkey said it’s about “small local changes”, such as the decision to close off the Clovelly car park to allow children space to ride their bikes and people to walk around at a safe distance from one another.
Supporters of the campaign want economic stimulus to flow to active transport infrastructure and “not just to widening roads”.
“It seems like such an easy solution … it’s a no-brainer.”
Ms Sharkey said almost all local governments would support these measures but typically rely on state governments to approve infrastructure projects of this nature.
As such, campaigners are urging state governments to give councils temporary delegatory powers to “do this quickly.”
Ms Sharkey said campaigners in Queensland are getting the most interest from the state government so far and that overall the response was positive to the campaign.
Learn more about the campaign at spaceforhealth.org