Most of the world was experiencing an environmental and human health crisis before the onslaught of the Corona Virus. Vehicles were spewing pollution, and we were experiencing a human health catastrophe in crash deaths. Air quality around the world has vastly improved with the reduction of driving, and the crash fatality rate has plummeted. (Unfortunately entitled drivers are currently speeding more.)
Taking glimpses of cities around the world: “The skies are clearing of pollution, wildlife is returning to newly clear waters”… But “how people react to the return of normalcy after the pandemic will help define the crises racking the environment… “A key question will be do we have a green recovery, do we seize the opportunity to create jobs in renewable energy and in making coastlines more resilient to climate change?”
The plan in Milan, Italy , which will “boldly and beneficially re-imagine our lives, landscapes, and future on the other side is hailed as an “excellent example of #buildbackbetter and activists like Greta Thunberg called for “crafting similar schemes for other major cities like New York, London, and beyond.”
The World Resources Institute cites cities like Bogota, Mexico City, London, Chicago, and Philadelphia which are opening streets to people for walking and biking, and planning permanent infrastructure. “Today’s COVID-19 lockdowns could reveal solutions that have far-reaching benefits for cities long into the future, pointing the way to more resilient, accessible and safe urban transport. A city with more cycling is a city with healthier people, safer streets, cleaner air and better connectivity.”
Asbury Park’s Plan for Walking and Biking, outlines incremental development of a network of bike lanes and walking infrastructure. There are discussions about future re-allocation of road space to provide for walking and biking, and to reduce traffic and parking problems. We believe that this is the perfect time to launch some of these plans and ideas. People are walking and biking more than ever now, and we’re demonstrating the need for more space. As the weather warms there will be more walkers and people biking, and our sidewalks are too narrow, and our streets are too accommodating for cars and trucks. We can’t immediately build wider sidewalks, or instantaneously create bike infrastructure, but we can open streets to people, and reduce access to motor vehicles. Asbury Park can emulate other cities and countries where they have utilized tactical urbanism to quickly turn streets into places for people: New Zealand makes tactical urbanism a part of its national policy during the pandemic.
This is a call to action. When the pandemic is over, will streets be even more clogged with cars, risking the lives of people walking and on bikes? It doesn’t have to happen. We can start now to prioritize people, and not vehicles on our city streets. This article in The Atlantic sums it up. The Pandemic Shows What Cars Have Done to Cities.
Let’s stay safe and healthy walking and riding bikes now, and let’s work to make streets safe for the most vulnerable users for after this terrible and challenging time has passed. We can learn from life during a pandemic, and work diligently to create a new normal.
After the Covid-19 pandemic is over will Americans will acknowledge that fewer motorized vehicles on the road had a great effect on the environment and human health? Will we change behaviors and opt to drive smaller vehicles, and drive less? It remains to be seen, but “… these preliminary numbers demonstrate that this global health disaster is an opportunity to assess – which aspects of modern life are absolutely necessary, and what positive changes might be possible if we change our habits on a global scale.”
Using the Tropomi instrument on the Copernicus Sentinel-5P satellite, images taken from 1 January to 11 March 2020 showed nitrogen dioxide dropping dramatically. See the amazing video.
The situation has continued to unfold since then, so those numbers won’t stay current for long; but according to Burke, even conservatively, it’s very likely that the lives saved locally from the reduction in pollution exceed COVID-19 deaths in China.
“Given the huge amount of evidence that breathing dirty air contributes heavily to premature mortality, a natural – if admittedly strange – question is whether the lives saved from this reduction in pollution caused by economic disruption from COVID-19 exceeds the death toll from the virus itself,” Burke writes.
“Even under very conservative assumptions, I think the answer is a clear ‘yes’.”
The UK and US are similar in the prioritization of motor vehicles over other modes of transportation, including walking, bicycling, and mass transit, leading to a national health crisis in both countries. “Physical inactivity are responsible for one in six deaths, and one in four adults are obese.” The use of fossil fuels and emissions causes an increase in asthma and other respiratory health issues, and pedestrian and bicyclist deaths by automobile are at epic proportions. But in many cities these issues have not led to a sense of urgency to build more/better infrastructure for walking and bicycling, especially if city leaders and business owners promote the fear that the loss of parking and reduced flow of automobiles will negatively impact the local economy. This has been proven wrong again and again. Asbury Park’s city leaders understand the urgency and are working to create a truly walkable and bike-able city. This article illustrates how “Offering people good, reliable alternatives to the car is the key to keeping the city moving.”
Nottingham’s Workplace Parking Levy Creates Jobs, Cuts Car Use and Slashes Pollution
Carlton Reid Contributor
October 17, 2019
“Legislation passed last week will allow Scottish cities to implement workplace parking levies and spend the proceeds on cycling infrastructure and improved public transit. Glasgow and Edinburgh could lead the charge, and they would be doing so thanks to the example shown by Nottingham in England, which has had a workplace levy since 2012, a scheme which has so far raised £61 million and which the council spends on measures to reduce car use.”
“Council leader David Mellen told the Financial Times that the parking levy was controversial when first proposed: “The chamber of commerce was dead against it. They said businesses would leave Nottingham, and investors would not come.” The opposite happened. Since 2012 the number of businesses in the city has increased by almost a quarter. There has been a net increase of 23,400 jobs.”