There’s been some debate in the Regit offices over the last few weeks about city centre roads, specifically – should they be closed to regular traffic? There’s strong arguments on both sides. To keep them open 24/7 will help local business thrive and help to get our city centres back to the bustling hotspots they once were, and then one of the major counter arguments to that is pollution, and how this radically dropped this time last year when lockdown restrictions were first put in place.
There is also a second argument I want to bring to the table, too. It centres on the sheer enjoyment we could get from our cities if roads were free of gridlocked traffic.
But, before we get that far, can I first introduce myself. I’m Chris Green, the founder of Regit and the pictures you see in this article are ones I took whilst out cycling last year. I, like millions across the country, struggled in lockdown both personally and professionally but in all of the trauma and pain that Covid-19 caused to us all – I’m now starting to wonder what lessons we can learn from circumstances that were imposed upon us.
Although I love getting out on my bike I’m a cars man, ultimately, and I have championed the motorist at every possible occasion, whether that be fighting Sadiq Khan or, more recently, Boris Johnson – party colours have been irrelevant to me when making sure the UK motorist is treated fairly.
But, I’ve also started to wonder if our city centres could be used differently. Could we prevent them from becoming the constant traffic jams that were common place pre-lockdown and which are now edging back in?
The pictures you see in this article were taken during the first lockdown. Being able to cycle down The Mall, Regent Street and Piccadilly Circus with no cars in sight was very surreal. It felt almost like the apocalypse had arrived and for some strange reason it felt like I was the only one doing it at first until I asked friends to join me on more rides.
I don’t want to even hint for a second that the pain and suffering Covid has caused as all somehow made my traffic free cycle around London worth it, because obviously it wasn’t, but I cannot deny that being able to leisurely meander around our nation’s capital city was an amazing experience.
And as I’ve reflected on those days I can’t help but think how great it would be to have that kind of access again but without the pain that Covid has brought to the world.
Cycling down the middle of the road, not worrying about traffic, and simply enjoying the sights that London has to offer. If you brought that same experience into today’s landscape now that we’re fortunate enough to shop, drink and eat at some of our favourite venues, I genuinely believe this would positively change behaviours in the UK.
Tourism would skyrocket as people would be able to move more freely around the city and the ease and the way we enjoy experiences change greatly, but in my view, for the better.
Imagine riding past Buckingham Palace, over London Bridge or outside the Houses of Parliament, without the hustle, sounds and smells of London’s congested roads to impact your decision and your ability to move around freely?
Groups of friends being able to arrange trips to destinations in groups of five and six to their favourite places on two wheels without the fear of being split up.
Families being able to take young children out cycling in London without the worries that come with it.
And, opposed to just a complete closure of the city centre roads, would it be such a bad idea to have partial closures to private vehicles at set hours so more can be done with our much-loved streets at certain times of the day – from pop up food stalls to small music concerts and sports events, the closure of roads doesn’t need to mean the closure of space, it would just mean a different way to use it.
One thing I would consider to be an integral part of any plan is that changes should only come into place if they have been designed to increase footfall to city centres, not take it away.
Having said all of that, as I hinted to at the top of the piece I’ve drafted this article to begin discussion, not because I have the answers. Plenty of people in my team would be firmly against taking road usage away from some motorists, and I completely understand why.
I’d be interested to hear what you think, too. Do you think city centre roads would be better without cars? Or are you firmly against the idea?
Let me know what you think in the comments below, I’ll be replying to some over the week and look forward to hearing your opinions.
Chris Green, founder and CCO of Regit.