We are pleased to see the announcement from the Scottish Government outlining new funding and guidance available for local authorities to temporarily reallocate road space to walking and cycling. The ‘Spaces for People’ fund is aptly named and is an excellent example of alignment between public health and transport priorities.
During this coronavirus pandemic, as we are all trying to maintain two metres of physical distance it’s been evident that this is difficult, and sometimes impossible to maintain in some streets. We've been watching closely as other cities around the world from Milan, Berlin and Minneapolis to Mexico City have implemented measures to allow their citizens to walk and cycle safely at this time of physical distancing.
The physical and mental health implications of getting some activity each day and being able to do this safely is paramount. Similarly, we want our key workers to be able to choose to walk and cycle for their work journeys or to and from public transport without compromising their safety.
We know that the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown we are all enduring is taking its toll on mental health. Being active, through taking a daily walk for exercise or walking for essential journeys are an easy way that we can all improve our wellbeing and cope better with stress and anxiety. Measures that enable everyone to walk and cycle safely at the moment are good news.
It is expected that lockdown restrictions will be gradually eased over the coming months, and that social distancing will be with us for a good while yet. So implementing changes now that will help people as we move out of lockdown is to be commended.
We hope to see local authorities taking up road reallocation measures. In turn we hope more people feel confident to walk and cycle, as we adapt to the changing rules of life with this virus in our midst, and feel benefits in body and mind.
Looking to the future, the impact of these temporary changes will be watched closely. The implications of reduced traffic on climate change and air quality could be significant. Should the increased space for walking and cycling change behaviours and change minds, perhaps this could be the catalyst for more permanent changes to prioritise walking and cycling in our transport infrastructure.
Our Chief Officer, Ian Findlay CBE said
Wouldn’t it be fantastic if initiatives such as this, which help improve public health, and at the same time tackle climate change, air pollution and congestion became much more of the norm in the ‘new normal’ that we are all anticipating.
It is clearly too early to assess the full implications of the current Covid-19 crisis, but it has certainly demonstrated how behaviour can change radically overnight and perceptions of what is important can shift.
The ministerial statement with announcement from Cabinet Secretary Michael Matheson.