EXPLAINED: Government guidance that ‘temporarily’ closes roads for 18-MONTHS causing motorist havoc

The coronavirus crisis has had a terrible impact on the lives and health of many people, as well as severe economic consequences. One long-term impact facing drivers in the taxi industry and all other motorists is the multitude of lengthy ‘temporary’ road closures.

Road closures and new cycle lanes are being introduced all around us on a scale never seen before. But who is leading with the idea: Government, local authorities, or the community?

In most cases it is the Government, as they are the ones handing the funds out. The new guidance brought in by the Government is additional statutory guidance issued by the Secretary of State for Transport under Section 18 of the Traffic Management Act 2004 (“the act”). It applies to all the highway authorities in England, and all of them are expected to follow.

There will of course be some authorities more willing than others to implement the Government’s instructions as it suits their own ideas and agendas around surface transport. Local authorities with high levels of public transport have been asked to take measures to reallocate long standing road space to people walking and cycling, both to encourage ‘active travel’ and to also enable social distancing. It is however worth noting that the guidance has not changed since the Government reduced the 2-metre distancing recommendation to 1-metre plus in late June.

To access the funding to implement the changes in the Government guidance, authorities are still being urged to introduce the new measures as “swiftly as possible” due to “the urgent need to change travel habits before the restart takes full effect”.

So, what do all the traffic order measures include?

  • Installing ‘pop-up’ cycle facilities with a minimum level of physical separation from volume traffic. An example might include mandatory cycle lanes, using light segregation features such as flexible plastic wands or quickly converting traffic lanes into temporary cycle lanes, suspending parking bays where necessary.

  • Using cones and barriers to widen footways along lengths of road, particularly outside shops and transport hubs.

  • Encouraging walking and cycling to school, for example through the introduction of more ‘school streets’.

  • Reducing speed limits. 20mph speed limits are being more widely adopted as an appropriate speed limit for residential roads, and many through streets in built-up areas.

  • Introducing pedestrian and cycle zones. Restricting access for motor vehicles at certain times (or at all times) to specific streets, or networks of streets, particularly town centres and high streets.

  • Modal filters (also known as filtered permeability); closing roads to motor traffic, for example by using planters or large barriers. Often used in residential areas, this can create neighbourhoods that are low- traffic or traffic free.

  • Providing additional cycle parking facilities at key locations.

  • Changes to junction design to accommodate more cyclists; for example, extending Advanced Stop Lines at traffic lights to the maximum permitted depth of 7.5 metres where possible.

  • ‘Whole-route’ approaches to create corridors for buses, cycles and access only on key routes into town and city centres.

  • And finally, identifying and bringing forward permanent schemes already planned, for example under Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plans, and that can be constructed relatively quickly.

None of these measures being handed to authorities are new. They are all part of the standard traffic management toolkit, however, Government has taken the opportunity to speed up and as they put it “step-change” their roll-out.

Given the speed of the changes, somewhat controversially, there is no consultation requirement. Opinions from those who work and live in the areas impacted by the changes will not be asked whether they approve of the changes being made in their communities. As a result, for a period up to 18- months, regarded as ‘temporary’, local businesses and residents will have to live with the changes whether they like it or not.

If that wasn’t enough, authorities have also been asked to monitor and evaluate the temporary measures they install, with a view to making them permanent and “embedding a long-term shift to active travel as we move from restart to recovery”.

At the end of all the new guidance is one area that hasn’t been highlighted by authorities, but which is hugely important. That being that any changes they bring in must consider the access requirements for Blue Badge holders, deliveries and other essential services like the emergency services and maintenance works.

The public sector equality duty still applies, and in making any changes to their road networks, authorities must consider the needs of disabled people and those with other protected characteristics.

Accessibility requirements still apply to temporary measures in the same way as they do to permanent ones.

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