Fast Urban Change for Life-Saving Streets

Fast Urbanism at work in Brixton: widened pavement created overnight at busy bus stop



Urban Designers call for urgent changes to the design of town and city streets and spaces to address the crises of COVID 19, Air Quality, Obesity and Wellbeing, and Climate Change. To meet their statutory duties, local authorities need the courage and resources to act NOW.

The UK Urban Design Group is calling for life-saving streets and spaces.

We have published a HOW TO GUIDE as now is the time for practical action, not words. The FAST URBAN CHANGE FOR LIFE-SAVING STREETS – HOW TO GUIDE outlines the duties local authorities have to secure the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, and the actions that can be quickly taken to provide that safety and without timewasting and expensive bureaucracy.

People who can’t work from home are being encouraged to return but without using public transport; the restriction on amount of exercise is being lifted, and businesses are beginning to reopen…  this will put streets and spaces under huge and immediate pressure. We need to provide space to allow this to happen.


Space for movement

Public transport systems will soon be running, but because of social distancing requirements at as little as 1/10th of their capacity, leaving millions of journeys a day needing to be made by other means. If people switch only a fraction of these journeys to cars, towns and cities will grind to a halt, air quality will plummet, and road danger will increase. We need to make walking and cycling the easiest and most safe ways to get about.


Space for work. Space for leisure

We need to use space in a way that is best for people, society, and the environment – with a view to strengthening our economies, biodiversity, health and community. Space outside shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars will enable the economy to be unlocked, and people to safely come together.  Extra space can be provided swiftly by extending footways.


Space for Children. Space for neighbourliness  

This crisis has bought communities together and made them stronger – to support this we need to keep residential streets as places where children can learn to ride a bike or play together, and community life can flourish. Play Streets and School Streets, Low traffic neighbourhoods with 20mph limits, can be created at minimal cost.


Green space for health and happiness

We need to create safe and attractive network of walking and cycling routes links to these spaces from residential areas as a matter of social justice so ALL can benefit.


Robert Huxford  Director, Urban Design Group

‘Local authorities are under a duty to use the functions conferred upon them in the Road Traffic Regulation Act to secure the safe movement of the public. They also have duties to both careful and negligent road users, and children, elderly and disabled people. They don’t need to be afraid of using the powers they have to create safer streets.

Local authorities have a massive challenge ahead, and little resource to meet it, but the changes made now will help to avert the dangers that lie beyond the present crisis: air pollution, poor physical and mental health from sedentary lifestyles, and climate change.’


Christopher Martin  Director Urban Movement (Urban Design Group Exec Committee)

‘The way we shape our towns and cities is directly linked to our success, health, and happiness. For too long we have allowed towns and cities to service commodities but not society. We need to learn from this trauma and focus on using the space we have to allow people and society to flourish.

We need to act fast to protect our cities. We need to be (re)active to break bad habits and find gracious solutions to the challenges we face that allow people to do what they need to do whilst living life and supporting others.

On the ground we need to actively enable and invite people to walk and cycle because that helps others and supports society. We need to actively discourage people from driving into cities if they don't have to because this harms others. So we take space from vehicles - protecting space for essential trips - and give it to walking and cycling in ways that add colour, life, vibrancy and joy.’


Scott Elliott Adams  Urbanist (Urban Design Group Exec Committee)

‘Let's be bold, let's be creative. Our streets can and should work to deliver economic, social and environmental benefits as people-friendly spaces. Now is the time to act. We know what to do, we just need the will.

As we ease lockdown measures across the UK in the coming weeks and months, we have a short window of opportunity to best help facilitate the recovery.  It is critical to enable sufficient space for people to move around for commuting, errands, exercise and daily life.

Our streets are too small to accommodate significant growth in car usage, but we are able to facilitate substantial growth in the number of people walking and cycling by temporarily re-allocating road space. We can create Life-Saving Streets quickly, efficiently and affordably whilst also delivering more vibrant and friendly streets and spaces that will benefit local high streets.’ 



Image designed by McGregor Coxall design studio (not to scale)

A reimagining of Westminster Bridge can be introduced quickly to bring additional walking space, protected cycle lanes, and bus lane as well as extra space for people to enjoy the views, fresh air and planting, while maintaining physical distancing as lockdown measures are eased in the coming weeks and months.

The artist impression maintains traffic lanes for essential vehicles, however space for non-essential traffic is given over to pedestrians and cyclists. This will assist with a likely significant increase of people choosing active transport modes as the Government suggests people should choose to walk or cycle due to limited capacity on public transport as physical distancing measures are introduced.

These sorts of measures require minimal physical intervention – lines can be painted, coloured surfaces can be quickly overlaid on the existing tarmac, planters can be placed in position. Legal processes can be completed in a week or less.


Notes for Editors

The Urban Design Group is a 1000 strong membership organisation which works to improve the quality of new housing and urban development in the UK and internationally.

Press enquires: