Healthy Streets: The Elastic Street

Chapman Taylor’s Transport & Infrastructure team provides support on many of our mixed-use urban development projects, which require a progressive, joined up, multi-sectoral and multidisciplinary approach.

COVID-19 has triggered a step change in how we design the urban public realm and how that interfaces with transport infrastructure and functions. In a new series of Insight papers by Chapman Taylor UK Associate Director Luke Kendall, we explore five interlinked aspects influencing our approach:

  • Rebalancing the street: a shift in street priorities
  • The “Elastic Street”: the need to reconnect with our environment and transport options (this paper)
  • The new wave cycling boom and its impacts
  • The street and buildings: new demands of the interface with the public realm
  • Street charging: accommodating e-cars and bikes in urban residential streets

In this second paper, we explore the principles of adaptive measures in our streets, focusing on the concept of the “Elastic Street”.

The lockdown experiment

COVID-19 has highlighted the potential and desire to rethink how we use external spaces, including areas previously given over to car priority. With leisure and hospitality venues being shut or restricted, people who live and work in particular areas have moved into and, in some cases, reclaimed some of the external spaces within and around them.

As we have seen in our previous paper in this series, our attitudes towards our urban streets are changing. The shift is a result of pressure from political and technological developments, such as the government’s policy of reducing carbon emissions and the need to accommodate electric vehicles. It is also a result of social change and a desire on the part of many to reclaim the public realm. This phenomenon has been accelerated by COVID-19.

In this paper, we explore schemes to make our streets more flexible or “elastic” and how, while some such schemes are facing opposition, it is likely that many will be here to stay as national and local governments move towards low-carbon neighbourhoods.

During lockdown, while social and entertainment venues were shut down, people turned their attention to streets and public spaces. Local government responded by “temporarily” increasing provision for pedestrians and cyclists. The question now is whether we will revert to the pre-lockdown situation and how many of these new initiatives will stay in place.

The answer to this will be partly down to how quickly we return, if ever, to what was considered normality. A recent BBC Radio 4 programme[i] upon the long-debated closure of the north side of London’s Trafalgar Square noted that, after relatively few months of disruption, there is now common acceptance of the closure as creating a significant improvement of the area’s urban environment.

The principle

The primary idea, and the one repeated throughout this Insight series, is to change the designation of spaces within a street to remove domination by private cars and to allow other activities to flourish, as part of either permanent or temporary arrangements. Such temporary arrangements could be one-off or seasonal, or could recur regularly, diurnally or nocturnally.

The kinds of activities that have moved into these spaces range from the more obvious, such as creating car-free areas around schools at drop-off and pick-up times, to the less obvious, such as the socially distanced discos which took place during the later lockdown period.

A truly “elastic” street might be one where a section of road is taken over by stalls once a week to form a market. While often combined with road closures, the presence of market stalls on or by the sides of a road would act as a signal to motorists to slow down significantly and to be alert to the presence of pedestrians. Once the market would finish, the stalls would be removed and the street would return to prioritising cars.

Such events tend to be scheduled and widely advertised, helping to avoid confusion. However, we are also seeing demand for more flexible and regular street events as well as for one-off or spontaneous activities.

There has been a significant increase in schemes that involve a mix of permanent and elastic measures. The permanent measures usually require the restriction or prevention of through-traffic while allowing car access to residents and the street to flex to meet demand.

The current trend for urban car ownership is helping with this move. In London, for example, ownership has fallen by 4% in the last 10 years[ii].


Streets should be planned to allow this flexibility, with fixed elements, management tools and the use of flexible interventions all planned around the needs of the street.

We need to determine the type and uses for these public spaces, what the dominant use type is and the nature of the spaces we are seeking to create. Then we can start to layer uses, set priorities and introduce facilities and controls. In doing so, we need to appreciate how people use and behave in these spaces, both now and as they develop.

The school drop-off and pick-up can be planned around giving complete priority to pedestrians around the school at those times. The free movement of private cars at certain times of the day can be accommodated, as can access for refuse vehicles, while we can turn a street, or part of a street, into a dedicated play space on Sundays. Temporarily placing street furniture at strategic parts of a street can change its character and use. This in itself can reduce car use and speeds, although it shouldn’t be relied upon alone.

Deliveries are a bit more of a challenge. Small ad hoc deliveries may have to be directed to a dedicated location, with larger ones being restricted to scheduled times. Such measures may impact our independence and freedom, but this may be worth it for the significant social and environmental benefits.

We should first decide what the permanent measures will be, and this then provides the framework around which the temporary measures can flow, all following the fundamental principle that the spaces need to be safe and healthy.

The “Elastic Street” concept can be introduced at a low cost and potentially be used to test ideas that, if successful, can be introduced permanently.


Permanent measures could include closing the ends of some roads or introducing one-way systems to remove cut-throughs. Such measures obviously need to be considered carefully within their wider contexts.

These schemes can be very controversial, as we have seen at “Mini-Holland” in Walthamstow. However, one year after implementation, the “Mini-Holland” schemes were said to have increased walking and cycling by 41 minutes a week per person in the boroughs which use such road systems compared with those that do not[iii]. Six years on, the area has seen an uplift in cycling and walking, according to the first study into their impact[iv]. Motor traffic levels fell by over half inside the area and by 16% when the main roads are included. Motor traffic levels went down by more than 5% on the nearest main road when the second scheme was complete[v].

In addition, measures such as making streets one carriageway wide, with passing places and reduced junction corner radii, achieve more considered and slower driver movements. As well as movement restrictions, lowering speeds is key. This can be achieved by reducing speed limits, but also through other traffic management measures, which may be “elastic”, temporary, timed or permanent. The tools we use can be grouped as follows:

Signs and lines

Signage and road markings can be used in a variety of ways and they can be reactive, managing timed and temporary arrangements. We would include varying surface treatments here.


Vertical treatments include measures such as humps, cushions and raised tables as well as devices such as gateways.


These measures include chicanes and reduced corner radii to reduce speeds and increase safety.


Such measures include lane narrowing or removal, if feasible, space for cycling lanes and widened footways. These not only reduce speeds and vehicle dominance, but also enhance safety and comfort for pedestrians and cyclists.

The “parklet”

A “parklet” is a temporary pavement extension into existing parking bays, which can eventually become permanent. The creation of “parklets” are another way to re-energise neighbourhoods while also supporting local businesses and encouraging walking and cycling. They help to reclaim streets and shift the balance away from motor vehicles.

With the desire for more space on streets, interest in parklets has grown, even prompting some residents to take matters into their own hands. One woman, Brenda Puech, turned a parking spot outside her house into a tiny garden[vi] and, although determined to be illegal, the experience prompted her to set up People Parking Bay[vii].

An approved, well-designed and coordinated parklet can reclaim space as an accessible, flexible, small-scale urban design solution that provides more pavement space for pedestrians, promoting active travel, stimulating economic growth and encouraging community engagement[viii]. They can be quick, low-cost and flexible initiatives that exemplify the “Healthy Streets” approach.

Other temporary components can be used to close off, or redesignate, part or all of a street, including bollards, gates, barriers, movable planters, lighting and signs. Local authorities may wish to consider developing an “approved” kit of parts for residents to call upon to facilitate these activities.

Low-cost, temporary materials can also be employed to pilot a different road layout and help make the case for a permanent scheme. For example, sustainable transport charity Sustrans worked with the local community in the London Borough of Lambeth to develop a temporary traffic calming scheme outside a school on New Park Road, Brixton. Hay bales were used to create a prototype that would slow down vehicles and relieve the concerns of local residents. Vehicle speeds were slowed by 70 per cent to an average of 9-11mph[ix].

A temporary change of use can give back all or part of the carriageway to the community and reduce or stop traffic running through a street at certain times. The change of use can be for markets on weekends or bank holidays, for “Play Street” schemes, Christmas markets or other events. When the street reopens, motorists may associate pedestrian activities with the street and continue to drive slowly.


Schemes that reduce the free movement of motor vehicles and, in particular, the private motor car are always controversial with some residents and local businesses. Businesses are largely yet to appreciate the potential benefits of a more pedestrian- and micro-mobility-friendly environment.

The COVID-19 lockdown brought about a new focus on our immediate living environments. Among many changes which occurred, remote working, which allowed many to spend more time at home, made people want more from nearby public spaces. During this pandemic, our streets have offered crucial stages for daily life, spaces where people can exercise and do essential activities. Mixed-use neighbourhoods provide the necessary diversity and can support the local character of an area.

At the heart of these designs until the COVID-19 pandemic began was an aim to aid a strong sense of community and the development of close social relationships. The pandemic will probably tip the balance in favour of the elements that already made that approach work, while presenting opportunities for mixed-use design to adapt to the new normal.

Success depends upon community engagement as well as the strength of will of local authorities. However, as well as redesigning many existing streets, from now on we will be certainly be designing the spaces between our homes and businesses with very different, much-needed priorities.


[ii] Reclaiming the Kerb: The future of parking and kerbside management, Centre for London, 2020.



[v] Achieving lower speeds-toolkit, TfL



[viii] Parklets: Your guide to creating a pop-up park on your street, Living Streets, 2020.

[ix] Achieving lower speed -toolkit, TfL

About the Author

Luke Kendall (BA(hons) )

Director, UK

Luke joined Chapman Taylor in 2006 and has an established track record having worked on a number of award-winning high profile projects from conception to delivery.

Luke became a Director in 2023 and has strong expertise in leading and managing large design teams on major projects.

Areas of expertise:

Transportation / Retail / Mixed-use / Delivery

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