London, New York, Paris, Bogota, Milan, Tel Aviv, Vilnius, and many others – almost every day from different cities around the world news comes about the gradual exit from quarantine and … the emergency creation of bike lanes, the expansion of sidewalks and the alteration of parking lots into verandas for a cafe. Why are they doing that? Let’s check several reasons, obvious and not so obvious, described by Arkady Gershman, urbanist, author of the “City for People” channel.
In this way, cities try to create conditions for safe movement around the city. Public transport, as a crowded place, will remain prejudiced for some time, even despite constant disinfection. Because of this, many will decide to transfer from a bus or tram to their car – for the sake of personal safety, but this will play a cruel joke on absolutely everyone.
If the townspeople en masse move into their cars, then there will be a well-known ending: traffic jams, environmental problems, an increase in accidents, and so on – cities have already experienced this in the second half of the last century, no one wants to repeat it. Therefore, two legs and a bike should be a safe and comfortable alternative for walking and riding to the desired places. The first results of temporary bike lanes are already confirming the success; in Berlin, they even set the standard for their mass adoption on city streets.
A less apparent reason is to ensure equal access to the city. Someone has a car they can use, but what if they don’t? Even in the most developed countries, the level of motorization rarely covers more than half of the population. People with disabilities, children, retirees, and other citizens who cannot drive a car live in cities.
There is a massive layer of people who simply do not need a car for various reasons, but they also need to use the city every day! The same bicycle is much cheaper and more affordable than a car: a bicycle is a more socially fair and accessible transport.
And the reason, which is not at all evident to the average man, is that it stimulates the development of business. It has long been proven that, on average, cyclists and pedestrians spend more in shops, cafes, and bars than motorists. For example, London’s Department of Transport estimates that every £ 1 invested in infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians brings the city’s economy around £ 13. In contrast, infrastructure for cars brings in only £ 4 for the city.
The cyclist is not grief for the economy but a lifeline. A person does not need to maintain a car and finance factories with corporations, but he has the opportunity to go to restaurants more often, improve his housing, travel more, and so on. The image of the bicycle as a vehicle for students and villages died back in the 1980s.
Italy has already managed to study the possible economic consequences of different scenarios to develop urban mobility after the quarantine. There are two of them:
1) Cities do not change the transport system, which leads to an increase in the number of trips by private cars – the loss of the economy will amount to more than 14 billion euros.
2) Politicians and officials implement measures to encourage walking and cycling – the public benefit will be between €9 billion and €20 billion per year.
The new coronavirus is killing people, but the consequences of the pandemic could be just as dire. Smart city leaders are preparing for this right now, taking advantage of the reduced load on the city, while the stupid ones hope for it.