Thursday, April 9, 2020

COVID-19’s Impact on Urban Transport

COVID-19’s impact on urban areas will be far-reaching as nearly every mode of transport is being affected, so municipalities need to begin planning how they will prepare for these changes to guide society once we remove the virus's choke hold. After the pandemic, traffic congestion caused by single occupant vehicles could drastically increase due to a wider preference for greater personal space. This could result in urban areas becoming even more difficult to get around and lower air quality than pre-COVID-19 years.

Mass transit is taking a big hit as reported by Transit as ridership declines with many needing to telework or loss of employment. This decline likely will continue after the pandemic as the public grapples with its post-traumatic stress of physical distancing from even friends and neighbors and not wanting to be in the close confines of a train or bus with strangers. Many former mass transit riders will turn to single occupant motor vehicles such that cities could see a huge increase in motor vehicle traffic and congestion. The use of carpooling, slugging, ride-hailing, and taxis also could decrease from pre-COVID-19 times also as people remain skittish about sharing space with even a few others.

Private bikes, bikeshare, and scootershare have the potential to replace trips from all modes without negatively impacting urban areas with greater traffic congestion. Bikes and e-scooters have physical distancing as a built-in feature that wasn’t important until the present era. 

Urban areas will see a boom in both modes once COVID-19’s infection curve has flattened and life begins to return to normal, albeit a new normal. As cycling and scootering increase, those new to these modes will have greater need for safer streets, protected bike lanes -- space that is physically separated for people who bike and scoot from people who drive -- is greatly needed. 

City and county leaders must counteract the potential for heavier motor vehicle traffic congestion than pre-COVID-19 times by providing protected bike infrastructure to those that do or will cycle and scoot to get around. This infrastructure need not be expensive or take years of planning. As reported in SmartCitiesWorld, Bogotá, Colombia recently opened 47 miles of temporary bike lanes during the pandemic. Bogotá’s mayor, Claudia López, said the bicycle “represents one of the most hygienic alternatives for the prevention of the virus." 

Use of rubber curbing, flexible posts, street markings, and/or new signage can be enough to create protected bike infrastructure on existing streets. Municipal leaders need to think big and provide this critical infrastructure on arterial streets where it's most likely to be useful and used. This infrastructure would be well-used during the pandemic as the public needs safe and healthy modes in which to travel and exercise in a way that is socially responsible and permissible by many localities’ stay-at-home orders.

The pandemic has the potential to reshape how we get around, just like other historic events have in our nation’s past. Visionary leaders should seize this opportunity to plan for how society will get around after the pandemic by creating more public infrastructure that better encourages biking and scooting. 

photo credit: Move DC

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