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XR CHELTENHAM – No Going Back Action

XR Cheltenham demand rapid action during the COVID-19 crisis

Beginning on Saturday 16th May 2020, local Extinction Rebellion groups around the UK reclaimed the streets by stencilling bikes and positive slogans in formerly congested, polluted areas of their towns and cities. This was followed by a physically distanced bike ride around the newly reclaimed streets.

Although Extinction Rebellion welcomes the government’s announcement of an emergency £250-million fund to widen streets and introduce temporary bike lanes, Extinction Rebellion believes the current long-term spending plan isn’t enough to accommodate the considerable changes that will be needed to ensure people can safely physically distance. The actions this weekend aimed to highlight the extent of the problem.

The protest comes as the nationwide lockdown begins to ease, with toxic emissions and congestion expected to rise sharply as roads begin to slide back into business-as-usual. Extinction Rebellion is saying No Going Back to the gridlocked, toxic, polluted streets that have fragmented communities and impacted our health so badly – as is the public, with only 9% of people wanting to go back to the way things were before the pandemic hit [1].

In Cheltenham, local activists took to the streets to chalk markings on a route around town, starting at the junction between London Road, the High Street and Bath Road: an area that is becoming busier and increasingly difficult to physically distance as lockdown eases and residents attempt to do their groceries. Pink cycle markings and slogans were chalked onto roads by individuals from XR Cheltenham from Bath Road to Montpellier Terrace on early Sunday 17th morning.  

This scenario is being repeated all across Cheltenham, where residents on foot are being forced to choose between being unable to physically distance and walking directly in the middle of the road where pavements aren’t wide enough, risking their safety in oncoming traffic.

Our actions are to target local government and Gloucestershire County Council in particular, who Extinction Rebellion Cheltenham believe have not acted with the necessary resolve or speed since the Government announced additional guidance and funding for local authorities to create safer streets for their residents, including the adaptation of space for people travelling by bike and on foot, during the coronavirus crisis.

Along with other local groups such as Cheltenham & Tewkesbury Cycle Campaign and Vision 21, we believe that immediate action must be taken on busy roads to ensure people are able to shop for essentials, exercise and maintain physical distancing without risk to themselves or their neighbours: We demand the rapid installation of pop-up cycle lanes and the widening of pavements for people on foot.

However, our actions are not just to highlight current difficulties in practicing physical distancing. We are also demanding that Gloucestershire County Council continues to advance a policy of active travel in the future to ensure that our towns remain free from dangerous (and in some places illegal) levels of air pollution, a situation that is not only detrimental to our health but to the climate as we experience the climate emergency. 

Pollution, mainly from transport, is responsible for the deaths of around 40,000 people in the UK per year and has already been linked to making people more susceptible to Covid-19 [2]. Cheltenham is known for its illegal levels of air pollution.

[1]: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/coronavirus-uk-lockdown-end-poll-environment-food-health-fitness-social-community-a9469736.html

[2]: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/07/air-pollution-linked-to-far-higher-covid-19-death-rates-study-finds

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