Rebecca Bernard
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Could COVID-19 Encourage Cities to Close More Streets?

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women on bicycle cycle lane city
Photo: Pixabay

Over the past few years, there has been a movement in large cities to make streets more accessible to pedestrians and bikes. As the need for social distancing grows due to the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, some municipalities are asking residents to avoid mass transit and walk or ride bikes instead. Could the shift be permanent, and could it lead to more roads closed to traditional cars and traffic?


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Andrew J. Hawkins of The Verge argues that the need for people in densely populated areas to spread out could contribute to street closures simply because there isn’t enough space for everyone to move in a bubble with a six-foot radius. Beyond that, increased cycle traffic needs more dedicated lanes to keep them away from larger vehicles.  He reports that Bogota, Columbia, is planning on marking an additional 47 miles of bike lanes to help residents bike around and avoid crowded buses and taxis, and Mexico City wants to quadruple its bike lane space. Here in the U.S., New York City is also considering new bike lanes as it contends with a 43 percent rise in cyclist injuries from March 9-15.

While it stands to reason that any street or lane closures now will be reversed with other pandemic-related orders, Hawkins questions if that’s a good idea. Fewer cars on the road could lead to continued increases in air quality and better options for pedestrians.

The COVID-19 pandemic leading to permanent road closures seems like an unrealistic expectation to me. The fall in traffic in the world’s largest cities is not because of some big lifestyle shift but because of government orders to prevent the spread of the virus. It’s nice to think that this big pause in normal life could lead to a greener way forward, but the reality is that when we are allowed to move freely again we will go back to life as it was. We might hug people a little tighter, bask in the sun a bit longer, but we will still return to our routines to earn our wages and live.


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I’m fortunate enough to work from home during the pandemic. I own a small sedan, no bike, and there are several high-traffic and commercial miles between me and my office. While I’m walking around local parks and neighborhoods for now, when I get called to my workspace I’ll be back to driving everywhere. Nothing about my life or my belongings has changed enough for me to adopt a different lifestyle right after this is all over.

More pedestrian space and fewer cars is certainly a future to work towards, but I don’t think it will be something we will ever attribute to COVID-19.