COVID-19 means mass shift for travel

Changing our travel habits will improve health outcomes

By Cllr Mike Hakata, St Ann’s ward

The need for social distancing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated just how limited some of our existing pavement space is.

Haringey Council is rolling
out a programme of pavement widening across the borough, this will play a critical role in ensuring safe social distancing, as public transport capacity is expected to reduce by 85%. But we must do much more.

The vast majority of residents in Tottenham do not own a car, we must consider how they will travel around the borough as lockdown eases if public transport space is limited. TfL estimates that even a slight
increase in car use will lead to gridlock. At the same time, many thousands may opt to drive through the borough to make journeys across London, bringing congestion, pollution and the increased risk of road deaths and serious injuries.

Some of Haringey’s most polluted schools, for example, lie along the A10 in Tottenham. At a time when clean air for vulnerable lungs is absolutely critical, the idea of air pollution in our borough getting worse as the lockdown eases is not acceptable. It is vital that part of our COVID-19 response also ensures we build back with cleaner air for all residents after lockdown.

The health discrepancy between the east and west of Haringey has resulted in a 15-year gap in healthy life expectancy – diabetes, heart and respiratory diseases being major contributing factors. In the time of COVID-19, bad air quality, which contributes to respiratory conditions, alongside a massive reliance on public transport (65% of Haringey residents, mostly in Tottenham, rely on public transport), we can see that urgently addressing the question of transport infrastructure is essential if we are to protect the lives of residents, especially those from the poorest neighbourhoods.

The Department for Transport and TfL have both recognised the need for a massive transformation in how we use our street space after lockdown. Emergency transport plans are now being drawn up by Haringey Council to consider how we can support this process.

Studies by TfL have revealed a third of all journeys in the capital are under 2kms and could be completed easily by walking or cycling. Just 20 minutes a day of exercise could transform the health outcomes of thousands of Tottenham residents.

We must immediately provide a network of protected cycling and walking routes so that those who can walk and cycle have safe routes to do so, those who are mobility impaired to use uncrowded public transport or their car along safe, uncongested roads.

Local groups like Haringey Living Streets and the Haringey Cycling Campaign are campaigning for urgent action on these issues and I wholly support their view that this is one of the most critical health and social justice issues our borough is facing over the coming weeks and months.

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