Should quiet roads be closed for walking and cycling?

Nine more people have died after testing positive for coronavirus in Suffolk and north Essex Pictur

Nine more people have died after testing positive for coronavirus in Suffolk and north Essex Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN - Credit: Archant

County council experts are looking at the possibility of closing some roads in Suffolk to create more space for people to walk and cycle as part of their daily exercise during the Covid-19 crisis.

The authority has received a number of letters suggesting the initiative to give people in built-up areas more space to exercise and maintain social distancing and in rural areas to avoid road danger.

Suffolk Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group said the idea could be applied to the “worst rat runs” in communities.

Robert Lindsay, the group’s transport spokesman said: “The county council has powers to create cycle lanes, close off roads with temporary barriers, planters or cones and make experimental orders, all at very low cost.

“The Government itself has said it wants to encourage them and has made it easier by waiving the requirement to place public notice of closure.

“We know there are now far fewer cars on the road, but speeds have increased. So we have relatively empty roads that are still dangerous. For the price of a few cones, or maybe some planters, some of the partially empty road space in our towns could be used for people to safely walk and cycle, so alleviating the pressure on our parks, pavements and footpaths.”

He added: “In many towns and villages in Suffolk, people have to step out into the road to socially distance, and cyclists are having to move to the middle of the road to give space to walkers. So there is an increased danger for people.

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“We hope communities will nominate their own rat runs for closure and write to their county councillor to press for it.”

The group will be formally raising the issue with political leaders and the Chief Executive at their next weekly meeting. If no action is taken, the group are preparing a motion for the next public meeting of the council.

Councillor Andrew Reid, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for highways, transport and rural affairs, said the lockdown is having a considerable impact on roads with a very significant reduction in traffic and in passenger transport.

He said: “We are aware of the advice from Cycling UK and have looked with interest at the example in Brighton, where a road has been closed to support social distancing while people are out. To our knowledge this is the only example so far.

“I can confirm that we are looking at the potential for this in Suffolk.

“We are considering opportunities to close roads, or reallocate road space to widen footways, while there is much less traffic, to ensure people have sufficient space to socially distance while exercising or travelling for work purposes.

“Ipswich Waterfront is one potential example.

“However, this needs to be balanced against advice on public health. It is important we do not inadvertently encourage the wrong behaviour, for example encouraging unsafe social interaction, at the same time ensuring we maintain appropriate access for residents and emergency services.

“While these measures may be helpful in certain locations, it wouldn’t be appropriate for this to be considered the default, and proposals need to be considered on a case by case basis.”

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