According to the latest TomTom Traffic Index, 75% of cities included in the report had either increased, or the same amount of congestion from 2017 to 2018. This is in spite of many countries’ efforts to try to reduce congestion levels. While this is an issue that requires ongoing attention and innovative thinking, it could be that there is no better time than now, to put real, effective solutions into place. While most of the world is experiencing coronavirus lockdown restrictions, could this be the perfect opportunity to make lasting changes?
How lockdown restrictions have affected congestion
Congestion levels in cities all over the world have reduced dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic. With global lockdown restrictions varying from evening curfews, to strict limitations regarding reasons for travel, the number of vehicles on the road has significantly dropped.
As shopping centres, attractions and other places of interest have closed, and individuals encouraged to take outdoor exercise such as walking and cycling, there has been little need for the use of a car other than occasional trips to the supermarket. This, unsurprisingly, has led to a huge change in congestion levels all over the world.
The folks at TomTom have taken a close look, and reported on the differing levels in some major cities before the pandemic began, compared to during the height of their lockdown. See the top traffic reduction rates according to city:
- Milan – 85%
- Paris – 84%
- Rome – 84%
- Madrid – 83%
- Barcelona – 81%
- Monaco – 79%
- Manchester – 76%
- Lisbon – 76%
- Lyon – 74%
- Boston – 73%
As traffic is so greatly reduced, this seems like an ideal time to examine what can be done about the world’s ongoing congestion (and pollution) problem. While there are fewer vehicles on the road, this is a prime opportunity to enforce changes that can be maintained in the long term.
Capitalizing on the current lower congestion
Acknowledging the decreased need for roads, and the increased need for safe spaces for pedestrians and cyclists, a number of cities all over the world have made changes to their urban landscapes. In essence, space has been taken away from motor vehicles and given to walkers and bicycles. Take a look at some of the global initiatives that have been seen:
For the duration of the lockdown in Berlin, ‘pop-up’, temporary cycle lanes were put into place across the capital. The space for these was taken from existing vehicle lanes.
A network of temporary cycle lanes has been set up throughout the city to accommodate more bicycles during the lockdown period.
Vancouver, Calgary & Winnipeg Canada
Some of Vancouver and Calgary’s roads have been changed to one-way streets, allowing for the additional lane to act as a safe zone for walkers and cyclists. In Winnipeg, a number of central streets have been closed altogether.
Oakland, California, US
In Oakland, 74 miles of roads have been closed so that they are safe for use by cyclists and pedestrians.
Mexico City, Mexico
An ‘emergency bike lane’ in Mexico City has been opened up for users during the coronavirus pandemic.
47 miles of temporary cycle lanes have been opened up in Bogota to encourage residents to cycle as much as possible, instead of using public transport in which coronavirus is more likely to spread.
Why changes to urban planning should be made
There are a number of reasons why city planners and councils should take this opportunity to reconsider their urban environment.
While there are more cyclists and pedestrians on streets all over the world, it’s never been more important to consider the safety of those using traffic-free streets. In cities where people have been encouraged to walk or cycle to help limit the spread of the virus, there are many which have not been adapted to help facilitate this. In many cases this has led to an increase in accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists.
In addition to simply making it easier and more attractive for people to walk and cycle during the pandemic, city planners can take this opportunity to encourage people to continue living a more active lifestyle going forwards. Offering a safe environment in which to take outdoor exercise like walking, running and cycling, will likely lead to residents choosing to do so more regularly even after lockdown restrictions have lifted – especially if this is a new habit they have enjoyed.
- Lower pollution
A prime reason for many councils to look into ways to reduce congestion, is their city’s pollution levels. Having more bike lanes and pedestrian paths will lead to fewer vehicles, which will consequently lead to better air quality. The difference in air pollution all over the world since the coronavirus pandemic began has been remarkable. While it’s unlikely that these new levels can be sustained altogether, a reduction in space for road traffic should lead to a significant difference.
While the impact of COVID-19 has had severe, detrimental effects on a range of societal aspects, the reduction in road traffic and pollution can be seen as something of a silver lining. We’ve all seen the incredible images of wildlife roaming now-safe streets all over the world, which act as a stark reminder of the impact that vehicle traffic has. To reduce congestion going forward it is imperative to act now, while the public has become more accustomed to a world that runs with fewer vehicles.
The article was produced in collaboration with Keith Michaels, business car insurance brokers with over 30 years’ experience.
Header image: Alexander Popov.