2 hrs ago
Extinction Rebellion (XR) campaigners will set about creating scores of pop-up bike lanes and walking routes in towns and cities across the UK this weekend, in an effort to “reclaim the streets” from polluting traffic.
The climate campaign group said it feared traffic levels in towns and cities would revert back to normal levels after the lockdown is eased, making it much more difficult for people to walk and cycle to work or to local shops.
Ministers have promised to spend £2bn creating temporary walking and cycling routes in an bid to prevent a spike in traffic, and already some local authorities have opened pop-up cycle routes and wider pavements to enable social distancing.
However XR insists faster, more radical change is needed. It is calling on its activists across the country to bypass local authorities and spend the weekend creating new cycling routes in their local neighbourhoods, by spray painting cycle lanes, marking new routes with chalk, and even using toilet plungers to separate bikes from traffic.
Alongside creating new cycling routes, activists are also being encouraged to widen pavements using planters and pallets, to make more space for pedestrians and queues for shops.
XR activist Caspar Hughes, part of the team co-ordinating the weekend’s actions, said local authorities are not moving fast enough to make changes to road layouts.
“We need to be highlighting to local authorities which are doing nothing that they have just got weeks now to prepare city and town centres to make it safe for people to get out and [remain] physically distanced,” he told i.
“We need to highlight the depth of the problem,” he added. “Virtually every town and street with any public facility – whether that is a shop or a pub or a library – will need to be changed to allow people to walk and physically distance safely.”
However, some local authorities are concerned the action could make roads more dangerous, stressing cycle routes need to be properly planned.
A spokesperson for the Mayor of London urged people to use official cycle lanes being rolled out across the capital: “Sadiq is determined that London’s recovery from coronavirus will be green. His bold London Streetspace plans are rapidly overhauling our city’s streets by safely creating new cycle lanes and wider pavements. Any unofficial action could jeopardize this and put people in danger.”
A permanent shift?
XR hopes some of the changes could become permanent, given that local authorities are already under pressure from Westminster to promote cycling and walking as the lockdown eases.
Public transport is only expected to run at 10-15 per cent capacity in order to maintain social distancing, prompting fears of a huge surge in car use. This could push up carbon emissions, worsen air quality and cause huge tailbacks, ministers fear.
Speaking over the weekend, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps promised to put cycling and walking “at the heart” of the UK’s transport policy. “Whilst it’s crucial that we stay at home, when the country does get back to work we need to ask those people to carry on cycling or walking and for them to be joined by many others as well,” he said.