Keep roads closed for cyclists and pedestrians
I run a communications and executive advisory firm; since mid-March, our
clients have scrambled to navigate the grand mess caused by the COVID-19
crisis, racing to keep pace with the needs of employees and customers while
trying to plan for whatever the pandemic brings next.
Right now the biggest anxiety for many organizations — at least those in
relatively stable sectors — isn’t about Zoom calls or work-from-home
policies. It’s fear of missing the moment. As much as COVID-19 presents
challenges, it also presents opportunity, and no leader wants their
organization left behind once the dust finally clears.
Smart companies are already scouring for opportunities, leveraging whatever
data they can gather. Not to do so is to risk being outpaced by competitors
who had better foresight and the courage to act. For businesses, COVID- 19
proves the old hockey aphorism: you need to skate to where the puck is
Governments must have the same mindset. No one has a COVID-19 crystal ball,
but in some instances the ground shift brought on by the coronavirus has
revealed policy opportunities with such clarity that they now seem obvious.
Take, as one important local example, the temporary extension of
active-transportation routes along nine of Winnipeg’s most scenic streets.
This extension should be made permanent, at least from spring through fall
— not only because Winnipeg families are embracing these routes in enormous
numbers, but because the health and economic rationale makes an indefinite
expansion objectively compelling.
Things that are easy, cheap and pay a big dividend are things we should be
pursuing. Consider four reasons:
1. Current levels of physical activity are stubbornly low, which translates
into enormous, avoidable health spending and reduced business productivity.
Federal data show just two in 10 Canadian adults meets Canada’s physical
activity guidelines. Among kids, it’s one in 10.
Health-care spending in Canada is already wildly unsustainable. The
Conference Board of Canada has noted provinces are now spending up to half
of all revenues on health care, making clear that better disease prevention
efforts and wellness promotion — such as helping people become and stay
active — are the only sane and financially sustainable options.
Right now we have throngs of people engaging in pro-health behaviours,
walking and cycling on safe, scenic, accessible streets. Bike stores are
sold out as people discover (or rediscover) the simple pleasure of gliding
along a quiet street. As any change-management expert will tell you, when
the wind is in your favour you don’t start rowing against it.
Winnipeg should be looking to embrace and build on this natural momentum
toward greater physical activity, not interrupt it. Policy change rarely
2. Macro trends tell us a significant portion of the workforce will be
working from home for the foreseeable future, and perhaps forever. This
raises an immediate need for accessible places for exercise and recreation
close to where people live. Making local active-transportation routes
permanent is a profoundly simple, low-cost means to help meet this need.
The financial benefits to business are clear. Study after study
demonstrates a link between exercise and increased productivity.
3. Mental-health needs are soaring in the wake of COVID-19. Major
mental-health organizations are already warning of an “echo pandemic,”
which will translate into enormous social and economic costs. Greater
walking and cycling options are far from a panacea, but the correlation
between physical activity, time spent outdoors among trees and mental
health is well-documented.
4. We risk surrendering our competitive edge to other cities. Across
Canada, cities are already moving to rapidly expand their post-COVID-19
walking and cycling networks, often for the reasons above. These
quality-of-life factors are a key part of the formula for what makes a city
competitive, and they’re part of the draw for the highly educated,
high-earning-potential, entrepreneurial talent we desperately need to
Other cities are moving forward right now. Winnipeg will be leapfrogged if
we let the opportunity pass us by. It’s been a joy over these past few
weeks to see local streets full of families enjoying our amazing city
together. But the policy decision to keep this important momentum going is
about more than a pleasant bike ride. It’s about simple economics.
*David Leibl is founder of OnCallComms.com, a Winnipeg-based communications
and executive advisory firm.*
Whereas the coronavirus has been disastrous for most forms of human endeavour, cyclists have never had it so good. Lockdowns have brought blissfully empty roads, which have been a boon to even the most reluctant pedaller. Residents of big cities have been feverishly reimagining their lives on a saddle, rather than behind the wheel. This is cycling’s moment, and it could have profound long-term implications for transport policy.
Early in the pandemic governments latched on to cycling as a healthy way for people to move around safely, exercise and keep reasonably sane. Thus in most American states, for instance, cycle-repair shops were allowed to stay open as essential businesses. Italy’s government offers 60% reimbursements, up to a maximum of €500 ($545), to any city-dweller buying a bicycle, or indeed any sort of motorised two-wheeler. City leaders, from Bogotá to Berlin, have helped by turning over their tarmac, or bits of it at least, exclusively to bikes. Milan converted 35km of its roads into cycle lanes and the Big Apple 100 miles (160km) for the use of both pedestrians and cyclists. Oakland, California, closed 119km of road to cars. Cycling has thus become easier, and safer.
Now Western governments are seizing on cycling’s big moment to try to make such temporary measures permanent. Because social distancing is likely to endure for months, or even years, public transport won’t return to normal soon; it may never do so. So the bike will remain an essential tool in many countries’ strategies to taper their lockdowns. As the French environment minister, Elisabeth Borne, put it, “the bicycle is the little queen of deconfinement”; poetry in motion. Paris has been preparing 650km of cycleways to help the city gradually open up.
Politicians hope to persuade people of the virtues of cycling beyond the end of this particular crisis. Cycling has well-advertised, longer-term gains: less pollution and a healthier population. The gains from having fewer cars and lorries on the road are already evident. Global carbon-dioxide emissions in early April fell by 17% compared with the mean 2019 levels, according to a study in Nature Climate Change, and “changes to surface transport” made the largest contribution to the reduction.
National and city governments are fizzing with new, or revamped, schemes. Grant Shapps, Britain’s transport minister, in a speech on May 9th , promised to make “a ‘once in a generation’ change to the way people travel in Britain.” He announced a £2bn investment in more cycling infrastructure and better pavements. Manchester has plans for the country’s “most comprehensive” integrated walking and cycling network. France wants to spend €20m to subsidise cycle training and more parking spaces for bikes. Bologna is bringing forward its plan for a Bicipolitana, 493km of cycle lanes, from 2030 to later this year, when 60% of it should be finished. Seattle plans to shut 20 miles of streets to most cars permanently.
But a two-wheel revolution cannot be taken for granted. Cycling novices in the northern hemisphere have been lucky to enjoy most of the lockdown in fine spring weather; just wait for winter. And some evidence indicates that many people are yearning to get back in their cars, also handy as lockdowns end but social-distancing rules remain. In China, for instance, one survey concluded that the proportion of people who want to use a car would surge from 34% to 66% after lockdown ends; the same survey showed that more Chinese were now keen on buying a car. Other surveys suggest huge drop-offs in enthusiasm for trains and buses.
A country’s legal framework can encourage cycling too. Most European countries, with the notable exceptions of Britain and Ireland, have presumed-liability laws, under which the burden of proof in any collision between a motorist and a cyclist is borne by the driver. Proponents, such as Road Share, a British lobby group, argue that countries with these laws, like Denmark and Germany, enjoy much more, and much safer, cycling than those without, because they encourage motorists to be more cautious.
But turning cities like London or New York into so many Copenhagens will be less of a sprint, more several Tours de France. In the Danish capital over 60% of commuters cycle to work (or study). The figure is in the low single digits in most American cities. But at least for now cyclists around the world can demand more of their governments, knowing they have a tailwind of public goodwill.
11 Harvard Ave
Winnipeg R3M 0J6
Share the Road and The Centre for Active Transportation [in Ontario] have
been co-hosting a series of webinars on rebalancing streets during the
COVID-19 pandemic and recovery.
*The next webinar is on **June 10th at [1pm CST]. *
Jessica Roberts leads Alta's programming group out of Portland. Her
presentation will focus on what we can be doing to support, encourage and
incentivize sustainable mobility. Isooda Niroomand is a School Travel
Planner with Green Communities Canada. She will speak specifically to the
issue of returning to school. After brief presentations, Jamie Stuckless
and Nancy Smith Lea will join the others to explore what we should be doing
now, and what we should be planning for, related to walking and cycling, as
we emerge from the pandemic.
*Registration for "Making Space: Biking out of a Pandemic" *is available
here: *sharetheroad.ca/webinars* <http://sharetheroad.ca/webinars>.
Alta Planning + Design