The voice of pedestrians is rarely heard.

But especially during the current pandemic, when we are advised to keep a two-metre distance from one another,attention needs to be focused on the needs of people who walk or use wheelchairs, for everybody’s safety.

Watching a person vaping, it is very clear that a person is surrounded for a good distance by exhaled breath, which is full of micro-droplets, easily inhaled by others.

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But safe distancing is impossible to observe when we look at people walking on very narrow foot ways, in particular on the main walking routes into and out of the city centre, where there is no alternative direct route.

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Taking Hythe Bridge Street, the main (and heavily used) walking route between the rail station and Oxford city centre, the pavement narrows to 1.3m (52”) over the bridge, meaning wheelchair users cannot pass one another at all, and pedestrians are forced to step into the road to avoid coming too close to one another.

Hythe Bridge Street in Oxford

Hythe Bridge Street in Oxford

Combine this with traffic now often speeding due to fewer vehicles, and there is no way at all to keep safe, even if people really need to do so.

The remodelled Frideswide Square, designed with buses, coaches, and lorries in mind, has lanes of 3.3m (130”) wide.

Such big vehicles manage the roads without coming over the pavement edge.

Hythe Bridge Street, where buses and coaches do not drive, has motorised traffic lanes of 3.43m (135”), wider than Frideswide Square. Parking spaces, which motorised vehicles easily fit into, measure 1.83m (72”).

Thus the argument becomes obvious for widening pavements.

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After the first lockdown, Oxford Pedestrians Association was full of hope that emergency health measures would include thinking about the safety of people walking.

It did, but only resulted in one-way arrows painted on pavements, which assumed that all walkers and wheelchair users go at the same speed in single file, do not need to cross roads or pass one another, or stop.

On Cornmarket Street the arrows resulted in confusion as pedestrians were relegated to the sides of this pedestrianised street, and other modes of wheeled transport seized the opportunity to whizz along the middle.

Shoppers in Cornmarket in 2016

Shoppers in Cornmarket in 2016

Other towns and cities took more creative approaches. In Bangor, Wales, pavements were inexpensively widened using painted lines, whilst many cities across the UK and the EU closed off streets to motorised traffic completely.

Currently, in the third lockdown, there is less, but faster motorised traffic using Oxford’s streets.

Almost no pavements are wide enough or obstacle free for those using them.

Sushila Dhall, chairwoman of Oxford Pedestrians Association

Sushila Dhall, chairwoman of Oxford Pedestrians Association

Some of us have enjoyed walking in the middle of roads during the lockdown.

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This is the smoothest, best-drained part of the highway, with the best views of Oxford’s beautiful buildings, and the safest place from the perspective of distancing safely from other walkers.

But this cannot be the solution; we wheelchair users and walkers very urgently need to be attended to, as a major mode of transport, in our own right.