Dear Cllr Innes and Ms Patterson
Firstly, I’d like to thank you on behalf of my family for the work that you and colleagues are doing to ensure the safety of East Lothian’s population during the Covid19 crisis. I know you must be working around the clock to protect our elderly and vulnerable residents, ensure that our schools continue to provide education online and maintain all the lifeline services that are so desperately needed.
Now we have adjusted to the immediate crisis situation, we are already thinking ahead to a world beyond the lockdown; we know there will be different challenges as people try to re-establish connections with friends and family, get back to work and education within continued social distancing restrictions. It’s vital that decisions are made now that will safeguard residents, and reduce our impact on the NHS, over the coming months.
I’m writing to ask you to consider measures that will create and maintain safe spaces, particularly in our towns, for people as we start this next ‘new normal’ for the following reasons:
Air pollution will impact those already most vulnerable to Coronavirus
During lockdown there has been a reduced level of motorised traffic, and consequently reduced levels of air pollution. Evidence suggests that our shielded communities and most vulnerable residents are likely to be at more risk if air pollution starts to increase, with emerging evidence suggesting that Coronovirus could be transmitted in pollution particles. This new information only adds to the body of research that shows the negative impact of air pollution on human health.
Maintaining low levels of motorised traffic will be vital in enabling our most at risk residents to come out of isolation. In addition, there is evidence to suggest that low levels of car use has enabled more people to cycle safely for essential journeys, as well as their daily exercise, which will have a positive impact on all our health and wellbeing.
Additional space is required for those with impaired mobility to have equal and safe access to services
Decades of land use decisions have lead to prioritisation of motorised transport in our towns and cities, with limited street space dedicated to pavements and separated cycle lanes. Whilst this has always been a challenge for people that walk and cycle for transport, the need for social distancing means it is now particularly difficult for people that use wheelchairs, older people and blind or visually impaired people. Whilst we all have responsibility to be considerate and reduce the risk of close contact we do now need reallocation of road space to provide more room for safe walking, cycling and wheeling, particularly in town centres and along popular leisure routes.
We risk exacerbating existing socio-economic inequalities
It’s true, as the First Minister stated, that ‘we’re all in this together’, but it has been widely recognised that we’re in the same storm, not the same boat; we know that those who are already most disadvantaged will have worse outcomes from this crisis. We know that women and in lower income households are more reliant on public transport, which may carry an increased risk of infection if we do experience a ‘second wave’. Families without adequate space for children to play, people with no private outdoor space and families that do not have access to a car will benefit from additional safe public space to exercise and access services within walking, cycling and wheeling distance from their homes.
Towns and cities across the world are using temporary measures to enable key workers to cycle safely, and others are already looking at a road reallocation revolution instead of returning to ‘normal’.
There are no silver linings to this crisis, but enabling more people to walk and cycle safely, accessing shops and services without the need for a private car would be a long-term benefit to people in East Lothian.
It’s been reported that traffic is starting to return to our roads in some areas of Scotland, and it’s certainly felt that way on my regular cycle routes between Dunbar, Haddington and North Berwick this week.
I appreciate that you have competing priorities, limited resources and are no doubt worried for your own families as well as our communities across East Lothian. But now is the time to act on measures that are preventative and will make a significant difference to the health of our population in the weeks and months to come.
Yours sincerely, and with very best wishes to you and your families
The Forup Family