The temporary closure of Brighton’s Madeira Drive to enable people to safely exercise during the current pandemic has been very well received. It has also generated a lot of discussion about its future.

The lockdown has given us a glimpse of what things could be like without so much car traffic overwhelming everyday life. The lack of traffic noise has allowed people to hear birdsong, appreciate cleaner air and clearer views, while having less traffic has made walking and cycling safer and far more enjoyable.

Many people now want a different future with less pollution, less traffic and for some, less commuting and more home-working. To enable this, the Government has pressed councils to install temporary measures to make it safer for people walking and cycling. That’s why we’ve seen pavements widened and temporary cycle lanes installed.

However, this has led to a bout of grumpy responses perpetuating the usual myths about people cycling breaking the law and the council declaring a “war on the motorist”, being anti-car and loonies who will bankrupt local businesses. Quite how widening pavements and providing safe space for cycling is a “war on the motorist”, given it is hardly dangerous to drivers, is a mystery to me. However, this glib slogan hides a darker reality.

Last weekend the tragic deaths of three people stabbed in a park in Reading generated a massive amount of concern about terrorism. Yet in contrast, while receiving widespread coverage, the death of a man and his two sons on Father’s Day while walking on a pavement has hardly generated any reaction about the urgent need to tackle road safety which kills far more people every year. It’s almost as if the current carnage on our roads is acceptable.

Yet it is this fear of danger that puts many people off from cycling in particular and which locks us into high traffic and pollution levels.

To put it into perspective, 548 pedestrian deaths occurred on pavements between 2005 and 2018. Only six involved people cycling. Yet we only ever hear complaints about people cycling on pavements – a nuisance but hardly the main danger. Interestingly, a recent study in Denmark showed that cyclists rarely broke the law compared with motorists. The issue is that when a cyclist breaks the law it’s fairly obvious, but when a motorist breaks the law it’s far less visible. The obvious answer to reducing cycling on pavements is to install more cycle facilities on busier roads and to create low traffic residential streets so that it is safe for all ages to use our roads.

Roads are for everyone, not just for cars, but we had forgotten that before the current crisis. Tackling that imbalance is not being anti-car, it’s being pro-people and pro-choice. The problem is the car is incredibly wasteful of space, both when it’s moving and stationary. It dominates our streets, chokes our roads and pollutes our lungs, let alone the wider impacts it has on physical and mental health and scarring our most precious countryside.

We are currently in a climate emergency, and while Covid-19 is rightly the focus of people’s attention right now, we cannot forget this bigger and longer term threat.

If we are to play our part in reducing emissions we need more people walking and cycling and using the bus, and far fewer driving.

That’s why what the council has done at Madeira Drive and Old Shoreham Road is a good start. It now needs to improve the seafront, tackle the Old Steine and connect up with neighbouring authorities to start to create a cycle network that people can use to make everyday journeys.

It also needs to turn the city into a more attractive destination and not just some giant car park.

Every time restrictions have been proposed for cars, we have had apocalyptic predictions about killing off businesses and the death of Brighton.

The same was true in Waltham Forest when the council there cut car access and made the streets more people friendly. Yet now local businesses have realised that a better environment, not dominated by cars is better for them.

Sure, there is concern about what permanent changes in Madeira Drive might mean for events there, but that doesn’t mean we should just default back to what we had before.

What we need is a more equitable allocation of space, focused on the most vulnerable and the most efficient users of space, which includes buses. Quite sensibly, many cities are looking to redress the balance, in favour of people. Cities that do this will be much more pleasant places to live and are likely to be more economically successful in the longer term.

Chris Todd is from Brighton and Hove Friends of the Earth