One of the most noticeable—and, to many, positive—consequences of the coronavirus pandemic has been the significant decrease in car traffic across the country. A recent Department for Transport report found that car traffic decreased by 20.9% from the year ending September 2019 to September 2020. For much of the British public, this decrease has been a welcome silver lining of the pandemic, prompting questions as to whether lower traffic levels could continue beyond the pandemic and how this goal could be achieved.
One possible method would be to reallocate road space: the latest poll by Redfield & Wilton Strategies shows 44% of Britons said they would support the reallocation of road space in their local area to cyclists and pedestrians. A quarter (24%) of respondents said they would oppose reallocating road space, while 27% neither support nor oppose it.
The proportion of respondents who said they would support reallocating road space to cyclists and pedestrians in their local area has decreased slightly from 47% in November 2020, but the proportion who said they would be opposed has not changed (24%).
In our latest poll, half (50%) of respondents aged 25 to 34 said they would support reallocating road space, compared to 41% of those aged 65 and over. Indeed, opposition to the idea is highest among those 65 and over (29%) and 55-to-64-year-olds (30%), which could be due to an increased reliance on vehicles.
Opposition is also heightened among respondents who voted Conservative in the 2019 Election, as 39% of Conservative voters said they would support reallocating road space to cyclists and pedestrians—substantially lower than the 55% of Labour voters who said they would support reallocating road space. This variation could relate to the average age of each party’s voters.
Although a greater proportion of respondents who do not own a car (51%) said they would support the reallocation of road space to cyclists and pedestrians, a plurality of car-owners (42%) also said they would support reallocating road space as well. Still, car-owners (29%) are significantly more likely to oppose reallocating road space when compared to respondents who do not own cars (14%).
Reaffirming results from our poll of Londoners on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, there are considerable doubts about the efficacy of pedestrianisation in reducing overall traffic. Britons are split on whether they believe Government policies that block motorised traffic from entering through roads to allow for more cyclists and pedestrians would be ineffective (37%) or effective (30%) at reducing car traffic in their local area, while a third (33%) said they don’t know.
While a minority of respondents believe reallocating road space would be effective at reducing traffic (30%), there has been a significant increase from just 17% in November 2020. The number of Britons who believe in the efficacy of blocking cars from certain roads in reducing overall traffic therefore tentatively appears to be increasing.
Car-owners are substantially more likely to say policies that block motorised traffic from entering through roads are ineffective (41%) rather than effective (29%) at reducing traffic, while respondents who do not own cars are more divided (31% said effective and 29% said ineffective).
Belief in the efficacy of such policies is strongest among the age group that most supports them: a plurality (39%) of 25-to-34-year-olds think blocking cars from entering through roads would be effective at reducing the number of cars on the road. Meanwhile, 44% of respondents aged both 55 to 64 and 65 and overthink these policies would be ineffective. Importantly, the proportions of respondents aged 25 to 34 (72%), 55 to 64 (75%), and 65 and over (71%) who own a car are similar, suggesting these age groups’ differences in opinions are not wholly based in their ownership of cars.
Indeed, large majorities of respondents—ranging from 71% to 75%—in all age groups said they own a car except 18-to-24-year-olds, 56% of whom own a car. Overall, 30% of respondents do not own a car, whereas 70% do own one.
Of the respondents who own a car, 88% said they consider ownership of a car to be essential. Just 12% said owning a car was not essential for them.
The sense that owning a car is essential is widespread across all age groups, though lowest for 25-to-34-year-olds at 85% and highest for 35-to-44-year-olds at 91%.
While opinions on introducing ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’ or similar policies have consistently proven to be largely supportive in London and Great Britain at large, considerable concerns about their efficacy in reducing overall traffic persist.