Would you like to see a return to lockdown traffic levels in the city?
- Credit: Philip Clay
When lockdown first hit, one of the most obvious impacts was the huge reduction in traffic on our roads.
While many revelled in the idea of reverting back to a time when walking and cycling were the norm, and hailed the positive impact on the environment, others were not convinced.
Now it appears the promising trend is already on the way out, with Norwich's traffic levels are now nearing pre-pandemic levels.
But where does that leave the push towards easing our reliance on cars?
Recent Norfolk County Council (NCC) figures revealed that as of May 5 this year the seven-day rolling average traffic levels were just 5pc lower when compared to May 2019. In March this year, the levels were around 17pc lower than in March 2019.
Combining school runs with office workers, employees, and shoppers returning to the city, traffic has risen and vehicle numbers are expected to go up even further after May 17.
A NCC spokesperson said: “We have observed that traffic levels have slowly been increasing as restrictions have eased, people return to work in more sectors and schools fully reopen.
“Improvements in varying stages of development are proposed across the city over the next two years.”
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Transport for Norwich - a partnership between county, city, and district councils - was awarded £32m from the government’s Transforming Cities Fund. The aim is to make access to retail, jobs and training easier, as well as responding to issues around air quality.
Improvements to Marriott's Way and Tombland have already been completed, and construction of a new bus and cycle contraflow lane is currently underway on Thorpe Road.
But some individuals campaigning for more vigorous measures have said more needs to be done.
Iain Temperton, a road safety specialist, said it would be difficult to change a “car-based culture”.
"Sadly, the increase of walking and cycling seen during lockdown is unlikely to be sustained as people start to routinely travel again," he said.
“With the return of the school run and move back to commuting, traffic was always going to increase, but I presumed that the number of people still working at home would keep traffic levels down.”
Mr Temperton argued that reducing traffic in Norwich would take a major revision of policy and practice by city and county council and warned that in years to come local government funding would be “significantly reduced to pay for the Covid crisis”.
This, he said, would result in fewer infrastructure changes and a bigger emphasis needed on persuasion and incentives for active travel rather than cars.
Like Mr Temperton, city councillor and transport spokesperson for Norwich Green Party Group Denise Carlo said she was also surprised to see the rapid increase in traffic volume, but not the rise itself.
“The government told the public to avoid using public transport and rail, but it is disappointing that people didn’t continue walking and cycling as much as during the first lockdown.
“Some people have continued to work from home or else not yet returned to work, however, I think we are seeing a rise in car journeys across the day and not just in peak hours due to flexible working and to people using their cars for all kinds of reasons. We have also seen a big increase in van deliveries due to the rise of online shopping.”
Mrs Carlo said lockdown had taught us lessons.
She added: “It showed us that people are prepared to change their travel habits and walk and cycle if they feel safer on the roads, with fewer vehicles travelling at lower speeds.
“Politicians must send out strong messages that it is safe to use buses and trains and they must adopt policies and programmes which favour buses, rail, walking, and cycling over car use.”
Other factors, such as fears over using public transport due to the spread of coronavirus and social anxieties following lockdown, may also have had an impact.
Finally, Nova Fairbank, chief operating officer for Norfolk Chambers of Commerce, added: “Going forwards, many employers will be looking at flexible working options and this may result in staggered congestion times, not just early mornings and evenings.
“The city needs also to consider how to make public transport not only an attractive and accessible option but as cost-effective as possible for commuters and shoppers alike.”
What you had to say
We asked our readers what their concerns were and what could be done to alleviate them.
Some thought electric cars and scooters were the way forward, while others were quick to comment that such a move would “price the poor off the road”.
Danny Watkins suggested a ban on all fossil fuel vehicles, except for public transport and taxis from the city centre, but many were concerned that extreme moves could see retailers miss out.
Paul Barrs said this move would stop him shopping in the city. He said: “I won't use public transport. Can't get in by car. I won't go, just shop online.”
Lacey Freeman added: “Many people who use cars in town and cities are from rural areas so need cars to get around.”
And Lucie Boulangerie argued that the government report, the value of cycling, showed "well-planned improvements to increase cycling and pedestrianisation” increased retail.
One reader claimed to have saved 80pc of their wage by working from home.