Coronavirus is and will continue have a big impact on how we live, how we work …and how and when we move. This presents an opportunity to recraft our urban environment so that it safer, cleaner, greener and helps support local economies.
Already many cities elsewhere in the UK, and around the world [i] [ii] [iii] [iv] are introducing or planning, measures to make it safer and easier for socially distanced walking and cycling, as well as measures to provide more outdoor space to cafes & restaurants to enable them to trade. In all cases it means reallocating space previously devoted to cars. This is unavoidable.
Earlier in May, Welsh Government published its guidance, which encouraged local authorities across Wales to bring forward proposals[v]. In the last week Cardiff Council have announced a number of measures[vi] in this regard. The primary concern is safety.
For people to effectively maintain a social distance when walking on our streets and visiting shops, needs space. The stark fact is that in most places, pavement widths are just not wide enough to provide this safety without people having to walk in the road! This is dangerous.
In Cardiff, work on Castle Street has started to convert one east bound lane for pedestrian and cycle access. In future and when social distancing is less of a necessity, the original plans when implemented will see the introduction of a dedicated cycle route along this carriageway as illustrated in Figure 1.
Figure 1 Illustration of future cycle route on Castle Street
Wellfield Road, Cardiff…
I want to explore more broadly, the emerging proposals for Wellfield Rd in Roath – both the immediate safe social distancing measures and a possible more ambitions renewal project.
Wellfield road has a good mix of local and bigger traders, cafes restaurants, retail, hairdressers, etc; the greengrocers stall at the end is always a first port of call for fruit and vegetables and Troy is always worth a visit if you like Kurdish food.
The ambience of the road though is, in my view, seriously and negatively impacted by the amount of traffic and parked cars, with constant movements in/out of spaces adding to congestion and poor air quality; pedestrians are also squeezed onto narrow pavements. It’s not a place to linger long on the pavement.
Already one of the obvious impacts of the current lockdown and reduced traffic, is the vast improvement in air quality. We should be aware that some studies suggest that over 30,000 people die every year in the UK[vii] as a result of poor air quality.
The current crisis means Cardiff Council have to act to enhance pedestrian safety on Wellfield Rd, using the same safety principles being used to free up space on Castle Street. We all need to be able to work safely, to use/enter shops, etc whilst maintaining a safe separation.
In the absence of an effective vaccine and/or treatment for coronavirus, this maybe a requirement for many months if not longer. This unavoidably means we have to reduce the on-street parking and use the space for extended pavements. In doing so I am sure space for loading and disabled parking will be retained. But for everyone else we need to park further afield or better still walk/cycle; and in time, when restrictions are eased, use the bus.
I use Wellfield road a lot. I live about 1Km away but generally walk or cycle. Until a few years ago I had a car and drove everywhere! Then one day it hit me, that was crazy. When “We Buy Any Car” offered me £34 for my old Saab in 2016 I think, I knew time was up. I gave it to charity and now I rarely drive (but still do on occasion); walking, cycling or taking the bus instead.
I am not anti-car (we still have one car in the family); I am anti so much car. In particular, we all need to recognise that car use has significant external and societal costs (air quality, road accidents, C02 emissions, sprawl, etc) that are paid by all of us and not drivers – as much as 30% according Todd Littman[viii] of The Victoria Transport Policy Institute. It is worth noting, that cars spend probably 95% of their time doing nothing; having to design our cities around cars when they are not moving, is as bad as having to do so when they are moving! I have written about our need to reduce car use several times[ix] and I would say it’s worth a read!
Figure 2 Todd Littman, Costs of Car Use
The immediate need to provide wider and safer social distanced pavement presents an opportunity. Can Wellfield Rd eventually be recreated to become a more effective and attractive local neighbourhood centre? Can it help support local businesses, café, retailers, etc? Can it be made safer with improved air quality? Can we improve public transport access? I think it can. The council did set out some potential principles and interventions in their Transport White Paper[x] published in January 2020; I covered this in a complementary blog[xi].
The evidence from schemes such as “Little Hollands” in Redbridge in East London[xii] suggest that measure to improve the urban realm, reduce car access, etc resulted in an increase in footfall and trade for local businesses.
The place-led design approach adopted in Walthamstow considers streets as places for public life and social interaction and not simply as facilitators of transport functions, both of which are key to quality of life and wellbeing. The design provides safer and more expansive infrastructure for people on bicycles and pedestrians and encourages people to move around in ways which are better for themselves, residents and businesses.
Figure 3 Mini Holland schemes in Walthamstow Village (Orford Rd) Waltham Forest
Figure 4 Orford Road at night
Orford Rd in Walthamstow Village in London was one of the first project to be enhanced by Redbridge Councils Mini-Holland Programme. The scheme incorporated a series of traffic management measures to create a more pleasant, quiet and green neighbourhood which has transformed the high street from a vehicle rat-run, clogged with parked cars and traffic congestion, into a tree lined cycle street linked to a new green village square. The design included some separated lanes on roads and streets with access-only for motor vehicles while maintaining through routes for bikes. Post implementation surveys indicate that visitors on foot typically spend an extra 32 minutes a week on average whilst visitors by bike typically spend 9 more minutes.[xiii]
Figure 3 and Figure 4 brings back memories as my wife and I enjoyed a pint in the The Village pub and a family dinner in Trattoria La Ruga on Orford Rd after our wedding at Hackney Town Hall in 1993. Orford road looks a lot nicer now!
In developing an ambitious scheme for Wellfield Rd, which I am convinced will accrue similar benefits, it is vitally important that the views of local businesses as well as customers are sought. This is important as in my informal discussion inform me there is still work do do– not least in respect of the perceived negative impact of the interventions on Clifton Street.
However, given the climate change emergency, we all have an obligation to reduce car use. We have to make choices, and each comes with benefits and costs. It is worth noting that Wellfield road is located in the middle of one the most densely populated pats of Wales. There is clearly plenty of untapped walkable and cyclable demand. If we can’t make improvement here, then we are a pretty poor bunch!
So, what might work on Wellfield Rd?
An Active Travel Zone
Based on London’s ‘Mini Holland’ zones described above; we can convert Wellfield rd. and designate it as a place where walking, cycling and non-motorised transport take priority to achieve cleaner air, a healthier lifestyle, safer, quieter street and more lively, sociable spaces.
This will make the environment more attractive and amenable to local businesses, esp. with potential for more outdoor uses especially for cafes and restaurant (cf Mill Lane).
Children are more likely to play outdoors, cafes can place seating outside, and there is space for plants, trees and benches. In developing schemes, we of course need to secure a minimum number of parking bays for those people with restricted mobility and test schemes to ensure there are no detrimental impacts on local businesses.
Figure 5 ‘Parklet’ examples (various sources)
There is also an opportunity to make Wellfield Rd Bus only, except for access and loading. So yes, normal car traffic would have to be diverted onto other roads. To augment the current mismatch of local bus stops, we could consolidate and replace with just two new bus stops on either side of Wellfield road. All the bus services (ideally electric in future) that go through the area could route through these stops, so they also perform an interchange function. More importantly the stops will deliver more footfall directly to the businesses on Wellfield rd.
Remove some Right Turn Lanes & 20 MPH Everywhere
I think we have unconsciously accepted the amount of road space needed for cars. In reality much less space is need as this picture demonstrates Figure 6.
Figure 6 Car patterns in the snow show how much road space is “wasted”
For Wellfield rd. I suggest the all the right turn lanes at that junction of Ninian Rd and Penylan Road are removed and the pavements around the corners widened. In fact the whole junction needs to be re-designed to give more space and priority to pedestrians and cyclists.
More generally we need to lock in 20mph everywhere. In the current crisis too many of the fewer people driving are going too fast – often well in excess of 30 mph! This is dangerous. Let’s increase MTO penalties?
If, as I suspect, a scheme on Wellfield Rd is successful, then I think there are many other parts of Cardiff that can also benefits. For example: extend along Albany road, Wilson Rd, at the district centre on Newport Rd in Rumney, Cowbridge Rd, etc.
Yes, there clearly is much more detailed work and consultation required. However, let’s move quickly, the evidence of the benefits is out there, and we need to embrace such changes if we are to deal with the threat of climate change, deal with our urgent air quality issues as well as responding to the immediate need to safeguard more space for active travel given the corona virus.
This is not rocket science with many cities around the world already acting. Cardiff needs to make sure it is not left behind; Wellfield Rd is a good place to start and test some ideas.
[viii] Todd Littman, Executive summary of Transport Costs and Benefits, Victoria Transport Policy Institute
[xiii] University of Westminster 2018,