As the world works towards a ‘new normal, New York is just one of the latest cities to close roads to cars; there is now a serious argument for every city should be pedestrianised.
Like many things right now, this is a trend that could be expedited because of the virus. Governments have a duty to help citizens and businesses, and by blocking large parts of cities to road traffic they could have some quick wins. Some of the benefits of pedestrianising cities for the short-medium term include:
- Make more space to help social distancing.
- Help restaurants, cafes and bars gain more capacity via outdoor sitting.
- Cut down on emissions.
- Help people return to a healthy lifestyle with extra walking/cycling paths.
- Cut down overcrowding on public transport, like subways.
Europe has some great examples of cities where this already works, especially in the warmer southern countries. In fact, the city of Pontevedra in Spain pedestrianised the entire city centre in 1999, and it’s a beautiful space to wander through. Many other cities in Europe block off car access, allowing locals and visitors to enjoy the city space freely. The fact that it is currently summer in Europe and the USA, which are two of the worst hit areas, could allow something like this to be trialed on a larger scale for 6 months.
Make more space to help social distancing
Social distancing has been extreme, with people mostly confined to their homes. A mixture of the good weather and human nature will see people emerging for fresh air.
Instead of having people waiting in large groups at pedestrian crossings and crowding into small spaces to avoid cars, why not just take the cars out of the equation?
The more space people have, the better. The less the virus spreads. Losing access to our cars in city centres seems like a very small price to pay compared to some other measures right now. We might never see scenes like this again…
Help restaurants, cafes and bars gain more capacity
As we’ve been covering in great detail, restaurants are going to find it close to impossible to make a profit with social distancing. Why every city should be pedestrianised is that it would…
- Welcome people back into city centres where many establishments are located.
- Allow extra outdoor seating with social distancing.
- Help drastically increase capacity.
- Bring a wonderful sense of community to streets again.
It would probably need emergency legislation in many countries to force it through, but this is an emergency, so there is no reason why that can’t happen.
Colder months will change the dynamic, although outdoor heating or semi-covered areas could be an alternative.
Cut down on emissions
Air quality is improving all over the world with less cars on the roads. We are also in a climate emergency, so why not use this as a chance to kill two birds with one stone?
Simply block off a couple of hours for vital deliveries and have pick up areas for taxis. It can be done.
Help people return to a healthy lifestyle
You can imagine that people will want to get outside to walk, cycle and jog as soon as they can. With more space this is going to be so much easier. You don’t want people jogging and sweating passing you by with inches to spare. Give them the whole street and plenty of routes instead.
Walking or cycling to work (if you do have to go to the office despite the emergence of remote working) could be the new norm. Berlin have started to remodel the city with this in mind and Britain will invest £2 billion in cycling and walking in response to the coronavirus.
Cut down overcrowding on public transport like subways
Public transport is obviously still necessary for longer commutes. It can’t be cut out completely, but there will be a natural aversion to small spaces.
People are still going to have to move around to work, socialise and meet up, but with open streets and more space they could find safer ways of doing so.
The coronavirus has had a destructive effect on the world, but the ‘new normal’ might just lead to healthier lifestyles and more people-friendly streets, with an added benefit reduced emissions. As our freedom of movement comes back, cities should be a welcoming space to freely move.