Covid-19 is pressuring cities to find alternatives to physical spacing requirements for public transport that allow safe use of buses, metros and trains. Travelling by car limits contagion risks and the steep drop in road traffic during lockdown has made driving a compelling choice for those still on the road.
However during the corona lockdown and after the lockdown many people have opted to walk and cycle – partly to avoid public transport, but partly also because walking and cycling are well-suited for travel during the pandemic. Both walking and cycling limit the risk of close contact and allow adjusting trajectories to avoid close passing. As many people seek to minimise travel distances, walking in the neighbourhood has replaced cross-city travel while cycling is an effective alternative for longer trips previously taken by public transport.
Other cities aim to create city- or region-wide networks of emergency cycling and pedestrian infrastructure that facilitate socially-spaced walking and cycling against the backdrop of decreased public transport use. Most of these measures are linked to longer-term objectives to manage car traffic and provide sustainable travel options for inhabitants.
Looking at the situation in China after the lockdown we see that there is a possibility that many people will feel uncomfortable travelling by public transport or sharing close quarters with drivers in taxis or ride-sourcing vehicles. These trips will have to be catered for with other travel options.
Absorbing these trips will not be trivial, as this simple calculation demonstrates: Anywhere from 5 to nearly 10 million daily trips are taken by metro and bus (excluding regional rail) in London, New York, Paris and Tokyo. If 30% of those trips were to be replaced by telework, 4 to 7 million trips per day would still have to be handled by public transport. Two to 3 million trips a day remain if 50% of those remaining trips are no longer taken in public transport.
In the short-term, that is an impossibly large number of trips for city streets to absorb if they are taken by car. In the longer term, cities that are designed to handle such an increase in traffic may not be able to deliver other outcomes related to safety, equity, access, environment and efficiency. Walking, cycling and other forms of light mobility are much more space-efficient and could help absorb this demand. Many urban trips are made over a relatively short-distance and could easily be walked, cycled and scooted. Electric propulsion and regional infrastructure also make longer-distance cycling or scootering possible.
Public authorities will have to adjust to a new environment in which travel options, preferences and behaviour will remain severely disrupted as long as the threat of Covid-19 persists. A major part of that adjustment will be the realisation that physically-spaced Corona lanes will be part of the new normal.
City owned bike share solutions such as Smove.City could be a great alternative to cities in their search to answer the high demand of mobility. What makes Smove.City different is that Smove.City provides a fleet management platform to the city, which gives the city access to real time data and the possibility for data analysis. This data analysis helps cities in understanding the movements in their city. Smove.City can also add current and other city owned vehicles into their platform. If you are a city that is interested in in this solution, you can visit www.smove.city for more information.