How our towns and cities could be permanently changed by coronavirus

People also want to continue the dramatic drop in air pollution, which has fallen 60 per cent in some cities. 

But if we are going to keep people from switching from public transport to cars in the long run, we will have to move swiftly to provide an alternative that is safe and easy, says Paul Osborne, an analyst at Systra.  

“There’s a risk that if we don’t lock-in those benefits, we’ll just see an increase in pollution, traffic danger and congestion as people move back to cars,” says Mr Osborne. “It takes ten weeks for people to change their habits, so there’s a real potential here.”

There is huge potential, says Mr Norman. In London, a third of all car journeys are for distances less than 1.5 miles. A quarter of a million morning journeys are for the school run.  “Those are journeys that could be walked or cycled very easily, by a lot of people,” he says.

Mr O’Brien says change can happen quickly. 

“In the city of Ghent in Belgium they transformed their city in one bank holiday weekend,” he says. “In three days, they made it impossible to drive through the city centre, and incredibly difficult to drive to neighbourhoods unless they live there.”

There will be other measures designed to limit crowds during the pandemic.

The same team who managed the flow of crowds through London during the 2012 Olympics are now looking at similar tactics, including marked walking routes between tube stops and encouraging people to make their journeys at different times. 

Cities also want to get their high streets back to business and that too means making space for people, not cars. Temporary measures on London’s Oxford Street will include 2m markings and more space to lock bikes. 

Manchester has pedestrianised a section of Deansgate, a previously unthinkable move, to allow shops to reopen and even to create new markets in a bid to restart the local economy.

Bradford has waived the £300 cost of the licence to allow bars and restaurants to move outdoors over the next year, as well as imposing 20mph zones. 

That reflects a new emphasis on local living, as people stick to their own neighbourhoods. 

“More still needs to be done in terms of enabling safe cycling to the high street, which will be the destination for months to come,” Giulio Ferrini, head of built environment at charity Sustrans.  

Britain is not at the forefront of this and has been criticised for being slow to react. Milan announced citywide cycle lanes and 20mph speed limits last month, while Paris is subsidising bike repairs, and accelerating plans for 650km of bike paths. 

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