Coronavirus restrictions around the world may be beginning to relax, but undoubtedly some impacts of lockdowns will be long-lasting.
One of the pandemic's significant consequences was the drop of classic modes of travel (such as private vehicles and public transport) in favor of active mobility. In Australia, the crisis caused bicycle sales to rocket with retailers struggling to keep up with increased demand, and some areas of Melbourne saw bike traffic increase by 79%. As cycling numbers have risen, road traffic has fallen. In Barcelona, traffic reduced by 80% at the height of the pandemic, and in Israel too, navigation app WAZE reported a drop of 70% in traffic.
The decrease in vehicles on the road caused a marked improvement to air quality, with many cities reporting significant reductions of toxic nitrogen oxide levels. Less traffic also had an impact on road safety, and according to reports, traffic accidents in California fell by half, saving the state a reported $40 million per day.
Such impacts are not going unnoticed, and as life returns to normal, what can city planners do to keep these changes permanent? This article will look at the measures cities are introducing to encourage sustainable travel in a post-COVID-19 world.
In this article:
- Changing infrastructure
- The impact on public transportation?
- Looking to the future
In recent years many cities have introduced measures to reduce road traffic and make sustainable travel like cycling and walking safer. However, worldwide the outbreak of coronavirus has seen cities rapidly introducing infrastructure to separate vehicle and non-vehicle traffic. Bogota, Colombia, added 76km of temporary bike lanes to prevent overcrowding, and in German cities, "pop-up" cycle lanes were created to help with distancing regulations. Other cities around the world, such as Mexico City, have too installed similar temporary cycle lanes, and in New York, the city also plans to widen sidewalks.
As distancing regulations lessen, cities are looking for ways in a post-COVID-19 world to improve cycling and walking to encourage a sustainable recovery. In London, extensive measures to enlarge its cycling network and to create low-traffic corridors on residential streets are being introduced to make it "one of the largest car-free capital cities,"
In the Italian city of Milan, lockdown restrictions caused air quality to substantially improve. Officials in the city now intend to retain these improvements by introducing a major and permanent expansion of cycle and walking paths. These changes are hoped to discourage road traffic and permanently reimagine what mobility looks like in the city. Similarly, in Paris, the planned construction of permanent cycle highways has been accelerated by the crisis.
The Impact on Public Transportation?
It's well documented that the coronavirus pandemic has caused public transportation use to significantly reduce. However, in a post-COVID-19 world, improved infrastructure supporting cycling or walking could enhance rather than negate its use. For public transit users, the introduction of more cycle lanes or wider sidewalks may make it physically easier to get to stations and stops, and shift them away from the appeal of private cars.
Undeniably, in a world emerging from the coronavirus pandemic, public transport faces several challenges. A recent UK survey highlights passenger safety concerns, with 83% of respondents believing hand sanitizer should be readily available and 62% stating they wouldn't use services unless social distancing is in place. Evidently, meeting some of these requirements will be easier than others.
To lure users back to public transport, operators and cities will have to work together to alleviate safety concerns. In Australia, Brisbane City Council has already announced it will keep initiatives such as more thorough cleaning and rear-door boarding. In a similar move, Auckland's City Council has announced that at this time, cash will still not be accepted, and passengers will be required to maintain a 1-meter distance.
Looking to the future
In a post-COVID-19 world, social distancing is likely to be the norm for the foreseeable future. The initiatives that cities have adopted - or plan to take, show how quickly they can adapt to the new requirements. The recent focus on active mobility and micromobility, in particular, suggests these modes will become increasingly dominant.
In the near future, it may be challenging for public transit to regain ridership numbers. For example, in Wuhan China, after the lockdown ended, car traffic doubled compared to pre-outbreak levels due to safety concerns surrounding other modes. However, public transportation has long been considered the lifeblood of cities. It is, and will remain a necessity, and through appropriate modifications, passenger confidence should return.
In conclusion, it seems that the coronavirus pandemic has had an impact that can positively affect the future urban transportation ecosystem. With multimodal and active mobility becoming increasingly prominent in users' habits, we may now be at the start of a more sustainable time for transportation.