For months since the start of 2020, the attention of the world has focused on immediate response efforts to contain and combat the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19. The deadly virus has pushed millions of people into isolation. This kept people in their homes for weeks and months away from their work, their friends, and their families. It is still unknown when the White House will decide that it is time to lift the stay-at-home orders in the country. Once it does, there is no concrete knowledge of how the “new world” will emerge after the havoc of the deadly virus subsides.
Work-from-home setups might indeed be the ‘new normal’ for many industries, but, surely, countless others will still be committed to going to work daily. Transportation is a huge part of the economy and it is surely one that will be affected most by the changes brought about by the virus. Experts all over the world see a significant increase in the usage of private vehicles as a primary means of movement. It is now the Federal Government’s responsibility to ensure that the surge in the usage of private vehicles will not affect people’s daily lives. Because of this, old, (yet new) means of transportation seem to be on the rise – walking and cycling.
Pros and Cons of Pedestrianization
Americans are not new to walking and cycling to work. Many people do so because of a variety of reasons. One is that people see it as a means to avoid spending too much time in traffic. Also, it may be to reduce carbon footprints or to give themselves a quick exercise. Both means of transportation pedestrianizes mass movement. However, are the current conditions of the roads all over America ready for this significant change?
In recent news, the UK has released the COVID-19 Street space Plan that provides guidelines for commuters on how to keep themselves safe and practice social distancing in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 Street space Plan includes providing temporary intervention in public transport systems to ensure social distancing in public. It also includes experimental measures to mitigate any possible surge in the usage of private vehicles, while protecting neighborhoods who will suffer from additional traffic. These actions may be similarly done in many places in the West since public transport can be a big hotspot for contracting the virus.
Concerning containing COVID-19, there are multiple benefits when it comes to walking and cycling to work. It is a good way to promote self- isolation in public spaces. Walking and cycling require a specific distance away from fellow pedestrians and might be safer than staying in cramped and crowded places like buses and trains. In addition to this, walking and cycling are the simplest and safest means of exercise for all fitness levels and body types. These are good ways to reintroduce activity to the body after staying home for months on end due to the quarantine. Physical activity also helps strengthen the body – keeping it healthy and safe from illnesses.
The main danger for pedestrians and cyclists when traveling to work would be the lack of protection against larger vehicles. Getting stuck between two buses or being thrown by a speeding vehicle can mean life or death. This danger for accidents and the unavoidable exposure to pollution pose both physical and health hazards to pedestrians.
How can the roads be safe for pedestrians?
With regards to contracting the virus, widening pavements, and increasing the number of sidewalks may be a good move. It would provide larger spaces for pedestrians to pass thru while maintaining required physical distance from each other. On the side of safety against traffic, the best thing might be to reduce the lanes for vehicles and transform these into protected lanes for cyclists. It may be a means to reduce space for cars to discourage driving and encourage walking and cycling instead. However, a strategic cycling network might also be necessary to increase road safety for bicycle users.
Is America ready for this?
It is hard, at this point, to say if the whole of the United States is ready to pedestrianize its workforce. Although many long-term benefits may solve even non-pandemic traffic issues, the change to this ‘new normal’ might meet opposition and criticism before the benefits are realized. To add to this, walking and cycling to work is still a personal decision for people to make.
Since it may be difficult for many people to ease back to cramped and crowded places like public transportation, more people will indeed decide to walk and cycle to work once the stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19 is lifted. However, there is a higher risk for people to choose to use their private vehicles. This may be especially true during the colder seasons and when people’s workplaces are not in cycling or walking distances from their homes. Also, even with rapid construction, changing pavements and sidewalks will require time to complete. Unpedestrianized places around the United States might not be ready for this ‘New Normal’ just yet.