Campaigners are calling on local councils to introduce temporary traffic management measures to allow people to comply with social distancing rules. Scottish councils should take inspiration from cities such as Berlin and New York, and countries such as New Zealand, which have introduced measures to expand cycle lanes and widen pedestrian areas while traffic levels remain low.

Friends of the Earth Scotland wants to see the Scottish Government and local authorities follow these international examples and close currently unused lanes to motor vehicles. Campaigners argue that, with fewer cars on the road but people struggling to maintain 2 metre distance on pavements and in existing cycle lanes, this space could be used by those getting exercise, volunteers delivering food and by key workers commuting.

The Scottish Parliament’s research centre has made it clear that there is nothing legally stopping local authorities making these changes. Data from Cycling Scotland has shown that there has been positive growth in cycling numbers across Scotland whilst road traffic has plummeted.

Friends of the Earth Scotland’s Air Pollution Campaigner, Gavin Thomson, said:

“We are all doing our best to socially distance to protect ourselves and others. However, it is very difficult to pass someone on a pavement and remain 2 metres apart; one of you has to walk on the road or you have to breach the guidelines. This is a particular issue when more people are walking, running, and cycling outdoors to get exercise, and for those key workers travelling to and from vital jobs.

“The challenges presented by this shutdown include the lack of public space, particularly in our built-up areas. With traffic at very low levels for the foreseeable future, road space could be temporarily re-allocated, giving more space for pedestrians and cyclists. Our pavements are too narrow for social distancing. Around the world, we’re seeing great initiatives from councils and governments quickly unlocking space for distancing, such as expanded cycle lanes, space for pedestrians on roads, and parks closed to through-traffic.

“Councils are obviously under enormous pressures during this period and we thank them for the work they are doing. We hope Scottish Government can support councils, as soon as possible, to bring in measures which will create more public space for people to socially distance safely.”

Notes to Editors

1. Brighton and Hove Council and Transport for London, among others, are exploring options to close roads to all motor traffic, in order to create space for social distancing.

2. The New Zealand Government has announced additional funding for the expansion of cycle lanes and pedestrian spaces to help with social distancing and Covid-19 response. https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/120970386/how-coronavirus-will-change-the-face-of-the-cbd

3. The Scottish Parliament Information Centre briefing makes clear that these powers are held by local authorities. https://spice-spotlight.scot/2020/04/14/coronavirus-covid-19-remaking-our-streets/

4. Recent data showed a huge surge in cycling across Scotland during the lockdown:

5. ‘Scots praised as daily journeys cut by 69%’. April 1st, 2020. This article from one week into lockdown reports, “car journeys across the country have been reduced by 75 per cent.” https://www.scotsman.com/health/coronavirus/scots-praised-daily-journeys-cut-69-2525659

6. In Edinburgh, civil society groups have called for a temporary halt to car traffic through Holyrood Park. https://www.scotsman.com/news/transport/walkers-and-cyclists-call-sunday-vehicle-ban-holyrood-park-so-people-can-exercise-easier-2538404

7. Friends of the Earth Scotland is:
* Scotland’s leading environmental campaigning organisation
* An independent Scottish charity with a network of thousands of supporters and active local groups across Scotland
* Part of the largest grassroots environmental network in the world, uniting over 2 million supporters, 75 national member groups, and 5,000 local activist groups.