“A lot of our habits have changed – where we work, how we work, how we travel. Some of what are seen as temporary changes need to be made permanent. Covid-19 has significantly sped up the shift in mobility”. In summing up his contribution to the fourth episode of Intertraffic’s webinar series, Breda University of Applied Science’s Don Guikink made a powerful point.
We’re all trying to search for any semblance of something positive from the coronavirus pandemic but a worldwide shift in mobility habits could well be one of the more sustainable ones. “Health has always had a relatively small role in the world of sustainable mobility but now it’s huge,” he insists. And he has a point. Even though we are now emerging from months of lockdown when travel for all but a handful of reasons was not permitted, many are still, in essence, avoiding travel and avoiding the need to travel. Defining the term “necessary movement” is crucial to ensuring this modal shift does not become a temporary measure.
“The time is now to engage in sustainable urban mobility. The pandemic brought a perfect momentum to push forward a sustainable mobility agenda as many people worked from home, micro-mobility became the only type of mobility for many, and authorities encouraged people to consider riding bikes and walking whenever feasible. With mass transportation being considered a risky space for infection, local governments decided to pedestrianize streets, create temporary bike lanes or broaden existing bike lanes,” he said, citing huge drops in public transport ridership in cities such as Toronto (down 71%), San José (down 73%) and Madrid (down 63%). New York, Milan, Brussels and Paris are but three examples of cities that have introduced “coronalanes” to facilitate an increase in cycling. The question now is whether those cities will maintain these new schemes after lockdown restrictions are largely lifted –and for how long will these typically car-centric authorities be willing to give walking and cycling priority?
“What's needed,” concludes Guikink, “is long-term vision.”
Jill Warren, co-CEO of the European Cyclist’s Federation was, unsurprisingly, in full agreement with Guikink’s assertion that priority be given to cyclists. The pandemic has somewhat inadvertently promoted safe cycling and renewed interest in the activity but the idea of an uptake in cycling being temporary and society returning to congested streets would suggest a lot of effort would have gone to waste. “People have dusted off their old bikes or taught their children to ride on far emptier streets.”
The pandemic, says Warren, has led us to “Rethink mobility and encouraging cycling as resilient and healthy mode of transport.”
“The world has changed. The coronavirus pandemic has hit our lives and our economies, forcing us to question the way we live. Social distancing measures have shed light on how crucial cycling is for providing a healthy, safe, reliable and fast transport option both for essential trips and outdoor exercise. With the progressive lifting of lockdown measures, more and more cities are showing strong leadership by reallocating public space to active mobility and governments around Europe are offering financial incentives to encourage cycling,” Warren points out. But this is just the beginning and governmental support, not just for new cyclists, needs to be implemented on a permanent basis. She highlighted several cities in Europe that have built bike lane networks of some significance, including Rome (150km), Bologna, Turin, Barcelona and her adopted home city of Brussels.
“If we want these changes to be a permanent part of the post-Covid-19 world, collaboration, strong political will and concrete action will be necessary."- Jill Warren.
For Jill Warren, advocacy is key. “If we want these changes to be a permanent part of the post-Covid-19 world, collaboration, strong political will and concrete action will be necessary. Policy-makers and decision-makers need to be pushed into taking action but they’ll only do so if it's backed up by tangible evidence.” To that end, the European Cyclists’ Federation has issued a set of recommendations for European, national and local authorities to promote cycling, and has been tracking Covid-related cycling improvements in cities, regions and countries throughout Europe in a dashboard, available from https://ecf.com/dashboard.
Giles Bailey, partnerships director for mobility data platform providers Vianova, was at pains to point out that micromobility options were not there to compete with public transport modes, but to complement them. “It’s not a fight – what has happened is that the pandemic has accelerated the number of transport options that are available to us, not solely e-scooters and e-bikes. We’re now seeing an increase in localised travel and shorter journeys which of course were the only trips permissible during lockdown.”
Key for Bailey and Vianova is that public transport modes, micromobility and the road network must work together in an integrated fashion to maximise the impact of micromobility solutions., although he was at pains to point out that micromobility was not considered as Mobility as a Service. “Shared micro-mobility services should be measured and monitored by agreed KPIs by the operator and city authorities. Data standards need to be appropriate for the management of a mobility system and thus, device-specific and real-time.”
Cities and operators should develop best practice guidelines to be used in public communication and promotion as well as key statements on critical behavioural issues such as maximum speed limits and use of pavements versus roadways, particularly appropriate for e-scooters. Cities and their citizens will need to understand the “proper” uses of these services as well as for enforcement action by local authorities and operators.
“Cities should use enforcement to create trust and fairness across the micro-mobility ecosystem. Improvements in device tracking will make this enforcement more effective over time,” he explains, with data limitations and local legal requirements likely necessitates some on-street human interface to support the enforcement process. Ergo, a requirement for manpower to regulate the use (and return) of micromobility vehicles.
"Cities should use enforcement to create trust and fairness across the micro-mobility ecosystem."-Giles Bailey
In summary, Bailey suggested that the pandemic has proved that transport policies can be changed far more rapidly than previously thought possible and that the key to the long-term success of micromobility schemes (such as those in Brussels, Faro, Marseille and Zurich) and for them to part of the overall transportation ecosystem was engagement. “Speak to the city and listen to what they have to say,” he concludes. “As shared mobility has become an immediate user case, issues were being raised about real-time management, development and then enforcement of regulations, and an understanding of how the market is changing. Vianova will share their vision on how to address these issues and develop policies based on the need for cities, operators and residents.
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For more information go to www.intertraffic.com/webinars