Southampton City Council announces exciting plans to support safe and active travel as the city gets moving again after lockdown

Southampton City Council is to deliver a package of transformative transport measures to help people travel healthily and safely in an era of social distancing. The £4.1m Green Transport Recovery Plan, to be delivered by the council’s Highways Partners Balfour Beatty Living Places, has been established in line with the Government’s recommendations for encouraging safe and active travel as we come out of lockdown.

It sets out a series of interventions to address two key challenges identified by the council. Firstly, it will enable people to continue adhering to social distancing guidelines as people start to travel more and, crucially, it will support people to keep walking and cycling following a staggering rise in active travel across the city.

During the current lockdown period - required nationally to prevent the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) - travel patterns in Southampton have changed dramatically. There was a 58% reduction in road traffic levels since the week before the lockdown came into effect to 8th May 2020. Similarly, average cycle numbers have risen by 63%, with over 5,000 cycles counted on VE Day alone. These new trends have inevitably resulted in lower pollution levels and quieter, safer streets and neighbourhoods in the city. As with many cities across the UK, an improvement in local air quality has been seen; specifically, a reduction in Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2).

The council is now keen to support and maintain these positive health and environmental benefits alongside the council’s Green City Plan by putting in place measures which will support the return to a new normal for getting around safely and actively, as the lockdown is gradually lifted.

As well as new measures to facilitate continued active travel and minimise potential congestion as people return to work, the council’s Green Transport Recovery Plan also includes some already planned infrastructure projects that will now be accelerated to meet immediate demand. Measures will be implemented in three stages to ensure that the city’s transport system responds effectively to the evolving challenges of the pandemic in the short, medium and long term. The plan prioritises the ability of key workers to travel to work safely and the safety of pupils getting to and from school as they start to reopen. It also sets out the council’s plans to work closely with bus operators and retail businesses as they put in place social distancing measures as demand increases.  

The plan outlines schemes that will support social distancing and maximise the opportunities for increased active travel.

Measures to support social distancing include the creation of additional space around bus stops, shops and other places where queuing may be necessary. Street closures around schools at the beginning and end of the day will create a safer and more spacious environment for walking, cycling and scooting, while spare road space will be used to create parklets providing additional footway space and cycle parking.

The implementation of measures to support active travel has begun, with changes including the reallocation of road space and prioritisation of pedestrians and cyclists at pedestrian crossings. A number of cycle enhancements will be made including the introduction of temporary cycle lanes on Bassett Avenue, The Avenue and St Mary’s Road, improvements to make it safer to cycle to Southampton General Hospital and in Portswood, and cycle parking in the city centre. The completion of the Active Travel Zone in St Denys will include targeted road closures, priority changes and cycle parking. Bus lanes with cycling permitted will also be installed in each direction from Bitterne to Northam Road.

Councillor Steve Leggett, Cabinet Member for Green City and Place, commented:
“Despite the difficulties faced, the lockdown measures have translated into some key positives for the city, with increased rates in active travel resulting in lower levels of road traffic and pollution. We now have a golden opportunity to harness this and ensure that our recovery as a city is successful, sustainable and innovative. Our Green Transport Recovery Plan means we are well-equipped to rise to this challenge and emerge more resilient, with a transport system that is fit to meet our city’s changing demands now and in the future. Importantly, it also interlinks with our Green City Plan that clearly defines how we will tackle climate change. Reducing road transport levels is one of the main actions in our commitment to delivering clean air.

We want to see the reduction in emission levels continue; the recent data is going to help us learn more about the improvements in our local air quality and to shape future plans.  We have already introduced actions that will improve the quality of life in our city, working with residents, key stakeholders, businesses and community groups across Southampton to reduce the impact we all have on our environment. Addressing road transport emissions by reducing the numbers of vehicles on our roads, promoting active travel and encouraging the switch to electric vehicles will all be key to creating a carbon neutral city.”