blog | 05.05.2020 | Alistair McCay

An infrastructure emergency: implementing temporary cycle facilities during lockdown

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused sudden shifts in the way we live our lives. One of the most noticeable changes in our cities is the reduction in motor traffic, which the Urban Big Data Centre has been monitoring in Glasgow.

This reduction has led to significantly improved air pollution as well as aiding an increase in non-commuter cycling, which will be a mixture of cycling for exercise as well as local errands such as shopping trips.

Cities around the world are beginning to react by quickly building infrastructure which allows people to walk, wheel and cycle while physically distancing. Brighton & Hove acted first in the UK by creating new waterfront space to walk and cycle, while many other UK councils are now introducing cycle infrastructure to better support people to move around by bicycle. Cities such as Milan, Auckland, Bogota, Lima, and Paris are already installing kilometres of new cycling infrastructure. However, Berlin could be the city that has led the way in Europe by producing a formal systematic guide to the implementation of emergency cycle infrastructure during the COVID-19 pandemic. The images below show the temporary cycle infrastructure in place in Berlin.

Photo showing temporary cycling infrastructure in Berlin being used by cyclists. Credit: Frank Masurat. Published under the unconditional Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal license
Photo showing temporary cycling infrastructure in Berlin being used by cyclists. Credit: Frank Masurat. Published under the unconditional Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal license

Photos showing temporary cycling infrastructure in Berlin being used by cyclists. Credit: Frank Masurat. Published under the unconditional Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal license.

To support UK local authorities to learn from Berlin’s experience, I worked with a group of practitioners to translate the Berlin guidance. The translated version is available to download.

The image below is from the translated guidance. It shows a large 2-way urban road with two lanes of traffic for each direction. One lane each way has been labelled as cycling space with red-white plastic bollards to create a feeling of protection. Such feelings of protection are vital to enable more people to cycle.

Illustration showing a large 2-way urban road with two lanes of traffic for each direction. One lane each way has been labelled as cycling space with red-white plastic bollards to create a feeling of protection

Such space is often typical of main roads in the UK and Europe such as Dumbarton Road in Glasgow or Chorlton Road in Manchester. There is debate around whether these roads over-provide for motor vehicles at the expense of active travel. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, this debate is now an urgent public health issue rather than a transport planning problem.

Cities need to move fast as traffic levels are starting to rise during the lockdown, which might stop some from starting to cycle who would otherwise be able to make use of these lanes. Fortunately, the recent announcement of £10m to fund physical distancing and active travel measures will give local authorities in Scotland the required resources to implement similar public health infrastructure measures as Berlin. Indeed, Glasgow and Edinburgh were both quick to announce their first actions following the funding.

But these shifts will also affect our cities once lockdown ends. As Lennart Nout from Mobycon asks:

Can your city function with transit at 25% capacity? If the answer is no, you have no choice but to implement cycle infrastructure right now.

Traffic jams were the immediate consequence of Wuhan coming out of lockdown as people avoided public transport. If cities want to function now, and in the future, then we must enable more people to cycle through good-quality infrastructure. By continuing to monitor walking, cycling, and traffic data, UBDC will be able to inform the continuing use of such infrastructure.

As we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis and return to the ongoing climate breakdown armed with our understanding of the harmful effects of urban air pollution, we will continue to be presented with an urgent need to reduce motor traffic in cities. So why, once a city has gone to the effort of implementing working cycle infrastructure, would it even consider removing it?

Alistair McCay

Alistair is a lecturer in Civil Engineering at the University of Glasgow and joined UBDC in 2020 as an engineering associate.

Leave a comment. Please refer to our Comments Policy before posting.

Your comment

JOINTLY FUNDED BY