Rethinking mobility in times of COVID-19… and beyond
The coronavirus crisis has forced major changes and restrictions in mobility across the world.
In Lebanon specifically, the lockdown has highlighted challenges the country faces in terms of public mobility, with restrictions dealing a heavy blow to Lebanon’s bus drivers and seriously impeding mobility for households who cannot afford their private car.
The Chain effect has reviewed initiatives led by different cities globally, and identified approaches that could be transposed to Lebanon, to rethink mobility in and between our cities — starting with the pandemic lockdown, but most importantly, beyond it.
Why is cycling important during COVID-19?
In the context of COVID-19, cycling & walking have become the safest and easiest ways to get around and exercise during the pandemic: they allow safe physical distancing, and are accessible, and affordable to a diversity of people.
1Cycling allows people to remain active and healthy during lockdown
2Cycling allows people to move around safely while maintaining social distancing, and avoiding public transport
3 Cycling can tackle inequality speeding delivery of food and medicine for households without a car
4 Cycling helps avoid car trips, cutting air pollution
5 Networks of emergency cycleways can be built quickly and cheaply
So how are cities facilitating walking and cycling during the pandemic? and what can we learn from other cities on mobility during the pandemic?
Wuhan, China: a false victory for soft-mobility & a lesson for other cities
When Wuhan became the first city to lock down, air pollution significantly improved, and Bikeshare provider Meituan made its bicycle services free of charge for volunteers delivering necessities to confined residents.
From January 24 to March 12, 2020, residents cycled more than 2 million miles — equivalent to 81 laps around the equator! China’s lockdown brought about a significant decline in air pollution nationwide.
However, the positive environmental impact is now reversing with the end of the lockdown: car usage soared from 24 to 66% as people abandon public transport for fear of infection.
Furthermore, across China, new car purchase intention has increased as a result of the pandemic. In a survey conducted by Ipsos in March 2020, 72% of consumers who currently do not have a car expressed their intent to invest in one, due to the lack of trust in public transportation.
Other cities are focusing on making cycling and walking a priority to avoid a spike in car-driving, remain as human-centric as possible and keep air pollution from returning to pre-lockdown levels.
Bogotá, Colombia: pop-up bike lanes & bike-share accessibility for health workers
As Bogotá shut down all non-essential travel, medical personnel, heavily reliant on public transit and shared micro-mobility services, experienced significant mobility challenges.
As a solution, operator MUVO provided medical workers with free access to its entire fleet of 400 e-bikes across the city to facilitate their mobility and ability to provide life-saving services.
Meanwhile, the city focused on creating alternatives to public transit: Bogotá’s famous Ciclovía was closed to cars and opened to cyclists and pedestrians during weekdays too, and overall, more than 76 kilometers of street closures have been implemented, adding to the city’s 500 kilometers of permanent bike lanes.
NYC, USA: emergency bike lanes & open streets for recreational purposes
With COVID-19, riding NYC’s public transport has become a health risk but many cannot afford to quarantine & must continue to work. New Yorkers have resorted to cycling, with a +67% bike share usage increase in March 2020 versus last year.
Transportation advocates asked for official intervention to make streets safer: in response, NYC Mayor created emergency bicycle lanes on the city’s major corridors.
More interestingly, the city also committed to 160km of ‘Open Streets’ for distanced recreation, by closing streets to cars.
Milan, Italy: permanent reallocation of car space to walking and cycling
As one of the cities most affected by COVID-19, Milan is rethinking mobility post lockdown.
As Milan’s Deputy Mayor highlighted, the city “worked for years to reduce car use. If everybody drives a car, there is no space for people, there is no space to move.”
With the average commute under 4km (15 min by bike) Milan is introducing an ambitious scheme reallocating car space to walking and cycling.
The plan includes 35km of low-cost temporary cycle lanes, wider pavements, 30kph speed limits and pedestrian/cyclist priority streets.
Paris, France: connecting suburbs to city center with transitory cycle lanes along major city axes
To create alternatives to individual car or metro commutes, Paris is creating new cycling lanes that strengthen the connections from the city’s suburbs to its center.
New transitory cycle lanes will go along major metro lines 1, 4 and 13, as an alternative to metro-riding.
Overall, plans include an 50km of new cycling lanes within Paris and 100km+ in the suburbs.
Berlin, Germany: fast-tracking long-term plans and quick implementation of temporary lanes
Despite Germany’s nationwide restrictions, cycling has been encouraged, and bike shops remained open for business.
German cities have led the way with emergency bike lanes and fast-tracked the implementation of long-term plans.
Berlin’s transport department even produced an official guide for municipalities on implementing quick and inexpensive temporary lanes.
Since then, residents from 133 other German cities submitted applications to local authorities for similar pop-up bike infrastructure: it’s inspiring to see bottom up requests for change from residents from various cities.
Conclusion: big changes start small — and in Lebanon too!
The pandemic context has seen cities around the world responding swiftly to contain the spread of the virus: improving urban spaces for soft-mobility purposes through simple, easily deployable and affordable solutions.
Whether pilot bike lanes, street closure for recreational purposes, or reallocation of car space for pedestrian use, these are simple fixes that could apply to Beirut, Tripoli and all other Lebanese cities — and that would go a long way in making them more sustainable in the long term.
In the current context, do you think Lebanese cities should focus on soft-mobility, and which of the initiatives above would be the most appropriate for your city?