Oxford City Council says air in the city is the cleanest it’s been since ‘the days of the horse and cart’ – and they want it to continue as coronavirus lockdown restrictions are gradually lifted.
Since the start of lockdown at the end of March, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels have fallen by 59% compared with pre-lockdown measurements, and the local authority is looking at several options to keep polluting vehicles out of the city centre.
These include reallocating road space to pedestrians and cyclists, suspending all loading bays during the day, pedestrianising certain city centre streets and closing roads for outdoor cafes.
They say the measures being considered would be designed to help kick start the city centre economy, encouraging people back in as the lockdown is progressively lifted.
Some might also be sustained beyond the coronavirus pandemic, to ‘transform’ the city centre and maintaining Oxford’s improved air quality.
The city council says it is in discussions with its partners, including transport authority, Oxfordshire County Council, as well as University of Oxford to consider a full range of temporary and more permanent measures for the coming months.
Whilst air quality has improved in Oxford during the lockdown, the proposed Zero-Emission Zone, which was due to begin in December, has been postponed until further notice.
Cllr Alex Hollingsworth, cabinet member for planning and sustainable transport said: ‘At a time when our daily news is filled with stories of heroism and tragedy it seems strange to be thinking about what Oxford and Oxfordshire might be like when we finally emerge from lockdown. Even so, things will be different. And if things are going to be different, we need to start thinking about how they might be better.
‘When it comes to our roads, the COVID lockdown has brought unforeseen benefits. As so many people have said to me, without most of the traffic, streets that are usually noisy, fume-filled spaces dominated by motor vehicles are now places where pedestrians and cyclists can enjoy clean air and hear birds sing.’
‘This is a once in a generation opportunity to transform our city centre towards a cleaner and more pedestrian friendly environment whilst allowing us to support businesses and the local economy to return to operation. I look forward to working with our partners on continuing to develop our current projects, as well as exploring new ideas which will help to make our roadways and public spaces safer and cleaner after lockdown.’
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