The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically shifted our lives and the ways we move about our cities. Despite tight restrictions on non-essential work and outings, and on social gatherings in every state and territory, governments have listed exercise as one of four essential activities. As a result, we have seen increases in the number of people walking and cycling, including children. Physical activities such as walking and cycling are perfectly compatible with physical distancing – but only with the right infrastructure. More than 100 Australian health and transport experts have signed an open letter calling on governments to enact urgent measures to support safe walking and cycling and social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Increased numbers lead to crowdingIf you have walked or ridden around your neighbourhood, you have probably noticed more people on footpaths and shared walking and cycling paths. This increase in numbers is exposing much of our walking and cycling infrastructure as inadequate. It simply doesn’t provide enough space to follow physical distancing rules, leading to reports of overcrowding on these paths. The pandemic has highlighted the volume of street space given to motor vehicles, at the cost of space for people to walk and cycle. Given the far lower traffic volumes on roads, cities across the globe have been reallocating road space to enable people to walk and cycle safely while adhering to physical distancing. Australian cities appear to have lagged behind. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of our local neighbourhoods and the need to provide safe space locally for walking and riding, particularly for our children. As many Australians are staying home, most of our physical activity occurs on the streets and paths around our homes. Therefore, we must focus our efforts on our neighbourhoods, local streets and shopping centres, where residents need safe and easy opportunities to be active. This includes providing safe routes to children’s schools, activity centres and other hubs.
Experts call for actionThe call by more than 100 health and transport experts for infrastructure to enable safer walking and cycling has been supported by key organisations including the Heart Foundation, Public Health Association of Australia, the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, the Australasian College of Road Safety, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Trauma Committee, Kidsafe, the Australasian Injury Prevention Network, Doctors for the Environment Australia, The Committee for Sydney and The Committee for Adelaide. Across the world we see many examples of the rapid roll-out of social distancing infrastructure to support cycling and walking during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Paris is rolling out 650km of emergency bicycle lanes
- Milan has announced 35km of streets will be transformed for walking and cycling
- Oakland is allocating 10% of the city’s streets for walking and cycling
- New Zealand has announced significant funding to help councils create more people-friendly spaces in towns and cities.