SOUTHAMPTON is a city of heart.

The Covid-19 pandemic has really highlighted that.

People have stepped up to run errands for neighbours, to collect and distribute food for people who need it, or to put up rainbows in their windows to add some cheer to their street.

We have the opportunity to keep that going, to give people the chance to bump into their neighbours more often and say hello, to spend longer on the high street having a chat with a friend, to encourage people to shop locally to support businesses near to them.

That’s why Sustrans is calling for candidates in the upcoming elections to create spaces where people feel safe to do that.

We’re asking that candidates commit to deliver ambitious walking and cycling schemes.

And we want to see the principle of 20-minute neighbourhoods enshrined in local planning policy.

We also want candidates to commit to ensuring investment in walking, cycling and public transport prioritises those who are most disadvantaged or marginalised.

But why does this matter?

People across Southampton need to be confident that their pavements are not too narrow to be safe, that the roads outside the school gates are not chaotic, and routes to local shops and services are not too dangerous to walk and cycle on.

Studies have shown that the more traffic travels down a residential road, the less neighbours get to know each other.

And when we carried out a representative survey of Southampton residents in 2019, 58% supported restricting through-traffic on residential streets.

In that same survey, 70% said they supported more space for socialising, cycling and walking on high streets. Even before we needed space for social distancing, people wanted more space for walking, for chatting, for window shopping, and for letting kids safely cross the road to see friends.

What’s more, 71% said that they supported more protected cycle lanes that are separate from both people walking and vehicles, even when this meant less space for other traffic.

And investment of the sort we’re seeking will not just help residents, but businesses too.

High street experts across the country are sharing a clear message: to support high street recovery, we need to welcome people back to attractive places, particularly places that encourage people to walk.

Whether it’s research that shows access by public transport is more important than car parking, studies that show that business owners often overestimate how many people come by car, or data demonstrating that most cycle lanes don’t add to overall congestion, there is a lot of evidence that supports the link between economic development and sustainable travel.

And that economic opportunity needs to extend to all residents.

Apprentices need to have affordable ways to get to their training – for many, running a car is too expensive.

Health care assistants at the General, or people working shifts at supermarkets or at the docks need to be able to get to work.

So, like the residents of Southampton, Sustrans is calling for improvements to neighbourhoods, to high streets, and to key routes across the city so that they are safer and nicer for walking and cycling.

We want residents to feel better connected, businesses to thrive, and Southampton to continue to be a city of heart.

Megan Streb,

Partnerships Manager at Sustrans