The Department for Transport (DfT) issued statutory guidance on Saturday to local authorities in areas with high levels of public transport use to take measures to reallocate road space to people walking and cycling.
These could include installing 'pop-up' cycle lanes, introducing more 20 mph speed limit zones and blocking off roads around schools to motor vehicles when children are being picked up or dropped off.
Other measures could include restricting access for motor vehicles to specific streets, or networks of streets, particularly town centres and high streets.
Another suggestion is the provision of additional cycle parking facilities at key locations, such as outside stations and in high streets.
The DfT's move has been prompted by the need for the government to reduce pressure on the public transport network, which will be necessary in order to enable social distancing on buses and trains, without fuelling a huge increase in car use.
The DfT guidance says the measures should be introduced as "swiftly as possible" to ensure they are in place before any mass return to work takes place.
Councils introducing the proposed measures will have access to a £250m emergency active travel fund, which is the first tranche of £5bn of new funding for cycling and buses announced in March's Budget.
In the foreword to the new guidance, transport secretary Grant Shapps writes: "In the new world, pedestrians will need more space. Indications are that there is a significant link between COVID-19 recovery and fitness. Active travel can help us become more resilient."
Responding to the announcement, POS transport specialist Nicky Linihan, said: "This is positive from a planning perspective because many authorities have policies which are trying to encourage sustainable transport choices.
"Any additional funding to go into that is welcome and also supports the climate change ambitions that local authorities have."
Phil Jones, chairman of transport consultancy PJA, said the DfT's announcement could shift the balance within some councils to support walking and cycling provision when development sites come forward.