One of the potential rays of sunshine that people have grasped at during the pandemic era is that post lockdown will herald a time of stronger and greater unified community spirit. The prolonged disruption to everyday life has given us the chance to identify what is important to us and recalibrate our lives accordingly.
City planners around the world have been given carte blanche to apply the lessons learned: that we need to encourage fitness of mind and body to build resilience against this virus and future mutations; and that we need to evolve our transport systems and infrastructure to provide residents and visitors with the ability to adopt sustainable modes of travel which will minimise the impact on our fragile environment.
In our own relatively small community we were given the chance to experience life without non-essential traffic. Roads and the air cleared to reveal a city that was a delight to walk through and cycle around. Bicycles were bought, rediscovered and repaired, and used by all members of society on trips of discovery around their home on the freshly vacated streets.
Forward thinking cities leapt at the chance to repurpose sections of their road networks to ensure their communities were able to continue with this utopia post-lockdown. Realising that being confined on public transport was not an option commuters would be rushing back to, decisions were made to implement cycle and walking infrastructure which would give people the option of traversing cities unenclosed and under their own steam. On-street parking has been stripped away and traffic flows have been redirected to make way for cycle lanes and in some cases ‘cycle super highways’. Some councils have gone further, installing traffic enforcement cameras and blocking streets to create ‘low traffic neighbourhoods’.
All these measures are fine when the majority of people are confined to the home. But what happens when people need to get back out there, get their children to school, themselves to work and the shops, and continue with their lives?
The fall-out from refocusing road networks to more sustainable transport modes is now being felt. Low traffic neighbourhoods are said to be creating more conflict between neighbours than the mega issues of the day such as Brexit, and who to believe in the ‘Ginge and Winge’ saga. In Gibraltar, the backlash against trialling alternative flow options for Line Wall Road was fierce and relentless. We all know how that ended.
We also know, from a report in 2017 by Jonathan Scott for GBC using figures from 2015, that Gibraltar has the highest number of cars per kilometre of road network in the world. Since that date, the road network has not expanded as quickly as the number of vehicles being licensed. It might be telling that government statistics on vehicle licensing have not been updated in the past 12 months. Some estimates put the number of licensed vehicles in Gibraltar now as high as 45,000, an approx 30% increase since last official figures were revealed.
So have we concluded that we will ignore the opportunity to take anything positive from our COVID induced misery; that we will return to our previous ‘Car is King’ culture and accept that heighten pollution and congestion are just part of everyday life on the Rock? It is noticeable that people have flocked back to their cars since the ban on non-essential vehicle journeys has been lifted; and rainy days have demonstrated the extent of the gridlock we can look forward to when visitor vehicles return.
What we must learn is that people do not like being told what they can and can’t do. It is unrealistic to encourage vehicle ownership on one hand with import duty embargoes, and then tell those people that they cannot use the vehicle they have just bought. In an area as small as Gibraltar, new solutions are sought.
Somehow we need to find a happy medium. We need to make transport modes that contribute to lower congestion and pollution more appealing and convenient, and avoid the conflict caused by dictating restrictions on non-essential vehicle use. Ultimately this means we need to learn to share the limited transport infrastructure that we have.
A Good Friday Cycle is the first initiative that hopes to begin building a unified approach to achieving this outcome. Public and private sector organisations, including the Transport Ministry, have flocked to show their support.
It is understood that battling COVID has drained our Government’s financial resources. We must therefore be realistic with our suggestions on how we can begin to achieve our goals. Initial suggestions that can be implemented in the short-term at minimal cost include advanced stop boxes at traffic lights, and the introduction of cycle stencils and ‘Share the Road’ signage on the busier cycle routes. Educational advertising increasing the awareness of all road users and promoting road etiquette would also be most beneficial.
On Friday 2 April, the community is encouraged (in groups of up to 12 people to comply with current COVID mandates), to take a bicycle ride around their city. During their ride they have been asked to take a group selfie at their favourite location or landmark and submit these photos which will then be collated and showcased. The point of this exercise, as well as being a fun activity, is to demonstrate how many cyclists there are now in Gibraltar.
The escalating number of cyclists need bicycle infrastructure that will make them feel safer on the road now, and, very importantly, will encourage more people to choose cycling as their primary mode of transport. More cyclists on the road will lead to less car and motorbike use. An outcome which is in the interest of all.
For more details on A Good Friday Cycle visit: https://ebike-gibraltar.com/a-good-friday-cycle/.