Lockdown is almost over – here are 3 ways UK roads are changing

26th Jul, 2020

After a nationwide lockdown unlike anything else in living memory, the UK is finally starting to ease restrictions, as the nation returns to work. But things aren’t quite the same as they were the last time we were all behind the wheel. We’ve already recently talked about how some people have slightly forgotten how to drive, but there are other changes on the way too; ones which might have even more lasting effects on society. We’ve grouped some of the biggest into three main sections below – so here’s what the future may hold!

Roads will probably get busier (at least temporarily)

You probably know by now that enclosed public spaces have been identified as presenting the highest Covid-19 risk, and although the government recently encouraged the general public to start using buses and trains again, understandably the majority are still very wary.

According to a study of 2000 adults by breakdown recovery firm Green Flag, about 60% of the general public will still try and avoid public transport for the time being. What’s more, a third of respondents (32%) said they’ll be getting a car after the lockdown was lifted, and judging by the resilient state of the used car market at the moment, lots of them are sticking to that resolution!

It probably won’t shock you to find out that certain demographics were particularly wary of public transport, including city dwellers and young people. In fact, more than 75% of 18-34 year olds were planning on finding alternative transport. We should say: not all of them meant buying cars. And that brings us neatly onto our next point…

traffic jam

Traffic levels may eventually start dropping inside major cities

There’s been lots of news recently about the positive environmental impact of the lockdown, even though it did come at a heavy cost. Lots of people reported enjoying cleaner air across the UK, linked largely to a decrease in traffic. So, thousands of people pledged to do their part to keep it that way. A fifth of Londoners, for example, told Green Match that they intended to get themselves a bike as an alternative to public transport.

What’s more, city authorities and councils are taking more concrete steps to support these decisions as they scale up their on environmental targets. Take Manchester City Council for example, which is looking at closing some roads permanently to traffic, potentially opening up that space for pedestrians and cyclists. Brighton, Glasgow, Liverpool, Leicester are all amongst cities that are all considering similar changes.

Smart motorways could see a re-think

We’ve spoken before about smart motorways, and the technology they brought to some of the UK’s biggest highways. But they’ve also been dogged by increasing safety concerns about them in recent years, and now a new study suggests those fears are likely well-founded. It’s the only published five-year study currently available to the public, and its findings indicate that collisions on a smart motorway across the M6 rose by 50% over the last three years, and by 34% over the last five years – a ‘statistically significant’ figure, according to experts.

Busy UK Motorway

The government’s taking a number of steps in response, including:

  • Scrapping ‘confusing’ Dynamic Hard Shoulder lanes on motorways
  • Increasing the number of Emergency Refuge Areas, and decreasing the distance between them
  • Taking steps to better highlight ERAs to drivers
  • Fast-tracking the installation of ‘stopped vehicle detection’ technology
  • Increasing the number of officer patrols along stretches of smart motorway
  • Improving the signage
  • Committing a £5 million fund to improve public awareness and knowledge of the systems on smart motorways

Obviously, the next question is: will these measures be enough? Unfortunately, it’ll be very difficult to tell until we’re another few years down the line, at which point our roads may well look very different anyway. Really, lots of it is speculative at this stage!

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