Looking toward a better 2021.
With such a difficult year behind us, it feels impossible to make resolutions fearing they may jinx an already chaotic 2021, or perhaps delay the desired ‘return to normalcy.’ Personally it may feel impossible to make resolutions with so much still in flux. However, this past year has been a reckoning on how much can and should change within our cities, and governments should look toward the new year with renewed understandings of what has to change in their cities to build resilience in the decades to come.
The pandemic showed us how much space is wasted on car movement and car storage: with open air dining taking over parking spaces and streets closing down to cars and opening to recreation, we all saw how valuable and inappropriately utilized our streets have been. While much in the future remains wholly uncertain one thing is clear: we saw what can and needs to change on our streets.
Enumerated in no specific order, here are some of ITDP’s resolutions, or perhaps a 2021 wish list.
Zero Emission Areas
Low and Ultra Low Emission zones, which are prevalent across European and some Asian cities, often function on a pricing structure in which high polluting cars enter by paying a fine or toll. Cities should focus on creating Zero Emission Areas (ZEAs) also referred to as Zero Emission Zones. With the higher standards enforced by ZEAs, very few vehicles are able to enter, thus effectively creating fully pedestrianized spaces. What makes ZEAs more compelling is that they can capture many interventions such as air quality improvements, electric buses, and cycling infrastructure at the same time. In the Global South, ZEAs are not yet standard in cities, but can be.
Leapfrogging Technology Innovation
So much of our world is digitized, from how we shop for things, to how we communicate. Transit systems have not always been early adopters of specific technologies, but the pandemic pushed some adoptions of technologies, like cashless payments. Real time vehicle tracking already exists on driving apps, but can be utilized to share arrival information with transit commuters, particularly those using multi-modal systems. Technologies like dynamic pricing on roads and parking can enhance existing infrastructure, allowing systems to leapfrog ahead.
Finally Give Pedestrians the Right of Way
If the pandemic showed us anything it was the value of walkable streets. These lessons were visible everywhere: from parks being used for gatherings and recreation, to children playing in open streets – people demonstrated how valuable it is to have a place to walk, and sit, greet, and gather safely outdoors. This has been on the sustainable transportation wish list for some time now, but with the lessons of the pandemic, there is a renewed momentum and optimism. Now is the moment to seize upon temporary pedestrianized locales or streets, and make them permanent.
What else became abundantly clear during the pandemic was the value of cycling. From Jakarta, which saw in some locations 1000 percent increase in cycling, to cities all over the world and in the Global South constructing emergency cycle lanes, two wheels are better than four. Cycling is carbon free, its inexpensive, and with supporting infrastructure, much safer than driving. What is clear is that people enjoy cycling for recreation and commuting. It would behoove planners and policymakers alike to respond to this obvious need by making temporary lanes permanent and expanding and building infrastructure.
Rethink Car Culture
Car sales increased during the pandemic. Municipal leaders encouraged people to drive as the safe option. This knee jerk response: that cars are simply the most efficient and safest form of transport, has got to change. In 2020, of the top 10 best-selling vehicles in the US, seven of them were either SUVs or pick-up trucks, both types known to be more wasteful of gas and more dangerous to pedestrians. In the US as well, despite less driving, the rates of pedestrian fatalities due to cars and traffic fatalities rose. Globally, 1.35 million people die every year due to road crashes, these deaths are preventable tragedies. Cars are polluting, they are dangerous to drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. They are not more efficient, but with a deeply entrenched car culture, they remain the default mode of transport for many due to lack of viable alternatives.
The pandemic is not over, but some of its lessons are ripe to be put to use. 2021 offers opportunities to change and adapt.
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