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Weekly: making the post-apocalyptic more palatable

The opening up of a city to cyclists is one of the best ways to enforce social distancing, increase public health and also change a citizen’s relationship with their city.

Cycle-friendly Copenhagen
Cycle-friendly Copenhagen
I’ve realised I have a love of watching empty cities. The coronavirus has led many of us with more time on our hands to embark on new hobbies – baking bread, learning languages, even starting that novel you always wanted to work on
My own has been watching YouTube videos of what were wonderfully chaotic cities reduced to eerie near silence. Many have compared the images as being real-life examples of post-apocalyptic science fiction, where the contrast between the massive infrastructure of buildings, roads and public transport overshadowing the absence of people beside them is unsettling but also beautiful.
You can watch New York and Shanghai through these links but it is very easy to fall down a rabbit hole of others.

When we think of 2020 in the years to come, the phrase "social distancing" will immediately spring to mind. Those videos take the concept to the extreme but many cities are already at work making sure their citizens can travel as life gets back to the new normal.


Smart transport networks have been central to smart cities for some time and an area of great focus for us at SmartCitiesWorld. But it is clear that innovation in this area will have to speed up in order to meet health needs. Images of packed tube trains and buses will have to be a thing of the past if governments want to avoid coronavirus spreading through its population as quickly as it has been.


What’s the answer? Reducing congestion is the obvious one. Less traffic on the roads opens up the opportunity for more frequent bus services with fewer passengers. We’ve recently seen two projects aimed at helping cities avoid gridlock - downtown Miami using e-cargo bikes for delivery and Gwinnett County (also in the United States) test e-scooters.


The European Union also lauded four cities for various initiatives aimed at reducing traffic. To give one example in a fascinating article, Krusevac in Serbia banned cars in the city centre for a week last year.


Vehicles were replaced by bikes and I think this opening up of a city to cyclists is the best way to enforce social distancing, increase public health and also change a citizen’s relationship with their city.


Many cities have known this for time; the Copenhagenize Index is an annual look at the most cycle-friendly cities across the world, with Copenhagen currently at number one. But cities like Sydney are fast-tracking cycle lane plans with a view to help citizens maintain physical distancing.


Cycling also gives its citizens a fresh perspective on where they live. I lived in London for many years and cycled to work each day. While it is trying to change it through developing cycle networks and lanes, London is still not what I’d describe as a cycle friendly city in the same way Strasbourg or Utrecht is.


But each year the city holds a FreeCycle event, when the city centre is emptied of cars and buses and people are encouraged to take to their bikes to explore the city. It’s hard to describe the feeling you get travelling past some of London’s iconic buildings without fear of a psychotic middle aged cyclist or lorry making you fear for your life. It gave me a different perspective of London and changed my relationship with where I lived.


Of course, cycle lanes are not a panacea. More frequent public transport services with fewer passengers will create a fiscal headache for cities. And a city will be unable to undergo essential construction work without access to lorries carrying essential materials. But as the Copenhagenize Index shows, there are existing ways of making cities cycle friendly, emptying our roads but without making the cities look post-apocalyptic.


What I’m reading


Taking stock of Covid-19 (ABI Research)

Sundar Pichai on managing Google through the pandemic

The Zoom Boom: how video-calling became a blessing - and a curse (The Guardian)

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