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A Potential Bright Spot for City-Planning in a Post-Covid World

The impact of Covid-19 has been global. One of its effects has been a dramatic shift in transportation behavior in cities as they have experienced peacetime lockdowns. This large-scale impact may mean that a trend in city-planning, creating car free streets, may gain wider acceptance. [1,2] 

The idea of creating walking districts, or car-free streets, is nothing new. However, the trend in city-planning has shifted in the last few years to focus on an expanded conception of the street, which generally means to plan streets around people instead of the automobile. [3] Major cities like New York, Madrid, and recently San Francisco have been putting these ideas into practice. [4] These have been generally successful, with the San Francisco redesign of Market Street having a significantly positive impact. For instance, the redesign, which prohibited private and ride-hailing cars from the street, led to a 25% increase in bike trips and a 12% reduction in time on some public transportation lines. This adds up to significant numbers considering the 75,000 daily users of public transport on Market Street. As in a similar project in New York, the removal of private and ride-hailing cars from the street did not significantly impact nearby streets. There was a slight increase in travel times, but it was a negligible amount, especially considering the volume of people whose travel time was decreased. [2] 

Both the Better Market Street project in San Francisco and the 14th Street Busway project in New York happened before Covid-19 and took years of planning. The global pandemic has forced many more streets in cities around the world to experience something like a car-free policy. What remains to be seen is whether this will make the process of putting car-free street planning into practice easier and more permanent. Only time will tell. 

Personal comment

Technology is complex and its impact is unpredictable. Cars have shaped our cities in positive and negative ways. For many years we have designed cities around cars, but that may be about to change. Some, as the Drive Sweden-sponsored movie production Life on Wheels implies, are arguing we are on the brink of an emerging new urban city design. [5] The rise of new micro-mobility solutions and an increased need for dealing with pollution and congestion may well mean that our vision for cities will change. Walking streets alone, of course, won’t address the many problems facing cities, but it may be a part. Will we manage to have cleaner, calmer, and more human scale design in our cities in the post-Covid world? I hope so. 

 

Written by Joshua Bronson, RISE.

 

Sources

1. 2020-05-01 The Impact of Covid-19 on future mobility solutions

2. 2020-06-18 Why Car-Free Streets May Be Here to Stay

3. 2016 Global Street Design Guide

4. 2020-03-10 What Happened After Market Street Went Car-Free

5. 2020 Life on Wheels - Transportation for a New Urban Century