Council rejects call to cordon off sections of roads for walkers and cyclists

South Gloucestershire’s transport boss has rejected a call to temporarily widen footpaths and cycleways in the district to help residents stay safe during the Covid-19 crisis.

A number of towns and cities around the world have cordoned off sections of roads to make it easier for walkers and cyclists to stay two metres apart and avoid being involved in accidents.

Neighbouring Bristol City Council has said it is considering the idea.

But councillor Steve Reade, cabinet member for transport at South Gloucestershire Council, said he didn’t “see any need to make any changes at the moment”.

An opposition councillor had asked whether the ruling Conservative cabinet intended to follow advice from Cycling UK issued after the national lockdown was extended.

The cycling charity has suggested local authorities can “encourage and enforce speed limits” and use traffic regulation orders (TROs) to close roads or introduce mandatory cycle lanes.

The Highways Act permits councils to widen footways by using cones or barriers to cordon off road space, the charity adds.

But Cllr Reade said Covid-19 did not change an individual’s responsibility to behave safely and “with due regard for” other road users.

“Ultimately individuals using the highway network need to apply judgement and common sense and comply with the Highway Code,” he said.

A person cycling in Bristol (Image: Tim Ireland/PA Wire)

“We’ve had a lot of these requests to change the [road] usage patterns but as I’ve just said, I don’t see any need to make any changes at the moment.”

Liberal Democrat group leader Claire Young said she was “disappointed” by the transport member’s response and asked him to “think again” at a virtual cabinet meeting on April 27.

Cllr Young said: “Some motorists are taking the opportunity of there being less traffic on the roads to drive much faster, and obviously where you’ve got narrow pavements and so forth it is very difficult for people to maintain the required social distancing.”

Council leader Toby Savage said that the council was undertaking “quite a significant amount of work” to promote walking and cycling across the area.

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Specific ideas from individual communities will be considered “in the normal way”, he said.

“If there’s anything new that we need to consider then we’ll happily do that and people do need to get in touch with us to make those views known.”

Tory prime minister Boris Johnson told “M9” mayors on May 1 to encourage their residents to walk or cycle to work to help avoid a resurgence in car use when lockdown restrictions are partially lifted.

Conservative mayor Tim Bowles, who leads the West of England Combined Authority to which South Gloucestershire Council belongs, is a member of the M9 group.

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A spokesman for the council said it had to plan its transport response to “lock in any good new travel habits” that had developed during the lockdown. 

The council will assess “requests and suggestions which relate to locking in benefits or pinch points that may need further management to maintain social distancing as lockdown relaxes”, he said.

The West of England Road Safety Partnership is planning a road safety campaign aimed at motorists and cyclists, he added.

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