With most of the UK now facing Tier 2 or Tier 3 Lockdown it’s worth looking back to the first reopening this summer and the measures put in place to change behaviour on our High Streets.  Streets Systems have worked in many locations across England and Wales and found wide variations in compliance with these measures.  Some never worked and should probably have been removed on Day 2.  Some did influence behaviour but compliance has changed over time.

Does compliance give us a Barometer of public attitudes and behaviour which perhaps explains why we are where we are today?

We’ve deliberately not named the location charted in the graph above as we don’t think this is about the success or failure of an individual measure or local authority.  It’s been selected because consistent data is available in a format that allows us to look at how public behaviour has changed over a period of months.

For this location the numbers tell a story of a public that back in June emerged from Lockdown doing the “Covid Shuffle”, they danced from one side to another to avoid close contact with others.

We found that in some circumstances (but not others) directional measures did have an impact.  But over time compliance has steadily fallen towards what will be nil once it hits 50%, assuming that flows were evenly split to begin with.

Work by dRISK in London points also to a similar decline in observance of social distancing at the same time as infection rates have been rising.

Does this matter?  The chances of people contracting a Coronavirus outdoors are low, but a more casual approach to distancing on the public highway may be mirrored by a more casual approach indoors.

Even with unidirectional flows the High Street above ran short of space to allow social distancing on nine days over this period.  Without a good level of compliance with directional measures then this problem is exacerbated.  What does that experience do to people’s attitudes and behaviour elsewhere?

Those responsible for managing public space will be pondering now where they go next and what measures they put in place during December.  Understanding what did and didn’t work this summer, and how that changed over time is key.

Reallocating space for pedestrians or changing how a space works can help ensure that people don’t become acclimatised to crowding.  But the design of public spaces isn’t the only influence on public behaviour and we can’t expect something that works one month to have the same impact the next.