As cities repurpose streets to meet COVID-19 demands and beyond, several of them have introduced additional initiatives to support the shift in road use, such as subsidies for bicycles and bike repairs, dramatic reductions in speed limits to protect pedestrians, and more.
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01: Help for a rainy day
To enable eateries to maintain their capacity amidst physical distancing rules, the city of Liverpool in Britain has widened pavements and pedestrianised streets to make it easier for them to set up or expand outdoor seating areas. Still, some of them may not have suitable furniture and equipment, such as heaters and parasols to keep patrons comfortable during cold and rainy days.
To solve this problem, the city launched a GBP 450,000 (approximately USD $580,000) fund in June 2020 to defray the cost of such items for small-and-medium-sized eateries. By July 2020, it had disbursed about 40 percent of the fund, which supported the recipients in adding outdoor seating for about 2,000 customers. It is currently processing applications for the rest of the fund.
02: Public spaces to the rescue
In the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, on the other hand, the narrow streets in the city’s old town has made it almost impossible for restaurants, bars and cafes there to expand outdoors. To give these businesses more space to meet safe distancing requirements, the city has offered them its public spaces free-of-charge to establish outdoor seating. As of June 2020, about 400 eateries have taken up the invitation.
03: Discounts and more
To spur people to make use of cycling lanes, residents in Paris, France, and other French cities can go to selected bicycle shops to get a discount of up to EUR 50 (approximately USD $59) on their bike repairs or for purchases of some safety equipment and accessories, including helmets, lights and locks. The initiative is part of a national programme that will also increase the number of bicycle parking lots and subsidise cycling lessons.
04: Boosting bike-sharing
The city of Madrid in Spain is also supporting a shift towards cycling, by adding nearly 5,000 electric bicycles to its bicycle sharing programme, increasing its capacity by three-fold.
Furthermore, the city is subsiding the cost of buying scooters by up to EUR 150, bicycles by up to EUR 500, mopeds by up to EUR 600, and electric motorcycles by up to EUR 750 (approximately USD $177, USD $589, USD $707 and USD $884 respectively).
05: Encouraging longer-term use
Cycling in Chicago. Photo: Chait Goli
Taking another approach to improve access to bicycles, Chicago in the United States worked with its bike-share partner to offer steep membership discounts for its bicycle sharing programme. From March to May 2020, the cost of an annual membership was halved from USD $99 to USD $49.50, while the price of single rides was reduced from USD $3 to USD $1.
06: Ride for free
To motivate people to consider cycling for everyday journeys, the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh in Scotland made the shared bicycles in their cities temporarily free to rent for the first 30 minutes. Edinburgh also launched a discounted pass to its bicycle sharing programme that cost just GBP 10 (approximately USD $12) for four months’ access.
Mr Michael Matheson, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, said at the launch of the free bicycle hire offer: “We have seen increased rates of cycling and use of our public hire bicycle schemes across the lockdown period, and this offer will help maintain this shift in travel behaviour at a critical time in our COVID-19 response.”
07: Beyond bicycles
In July, the city of Middlesbrough became the first in Britain to introduce an electric scooter rental programme after the country legalised their use on roads in a bid to reduce the return to cars in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. The scooters have a top speed of 12.5 miles (approximately 20 kilometres) per hour, and renters must be at least 18 years old.
With the programme’s success, the neighbouring cities of Hartlepool and Redcar have started similar rental schemes. Ms Rachel Maclean, Britain’s Minister for the Future of Transport and Decarbonisation, said that the government is assessing the cities’ experience: “E-scooters may offer the potential for convenient, clean and cost-effective travel that also helps ease the burden on the transport network, provides another green alternative to get around and allows for social distancing.”
08: Slow down for safety
As part of its plan to protect the greater number of cyclists, pedestrians and other vulnerable road users that have emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dublin in Ireland has proposed bylaws to reduce the vehicular speed limit across the city and its suburbs to 30 kilometres per hour, including on most major arterial roads.
The proposal is currently in the public consultation stage, and the city aims to have the limit in place by the end of this year.
09: Adjusting traffic signals
Brussels in Belgium has reprogrammed traffic lights at about 100 intersections to favour cyclists and pedestrians too, with fewer cars on the city’s roads since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Cyclists and pedestrians will have the green light longer and more often so we do not have jams at the lights,” said Brussels’ Minister for Mobility Elke Van den Brandt. Pedestrians who want to cross the usually busy Rue Belliard major street, for instance, will be able to wait up to 40 seconds less.
Crossing in Sydney. Photo: Kate Trifo
With more pedestrians in the city, Sydney in Australia has deployed automated pedestrian crossing signals to reduce their risk of contracting the COVID-19 coronavirus through second-hand contact. “Pedestrians no longer need to push a button to activate the signal, and can cross the road safely while limiting contact with high-touch surfaces,” the city said. About 270 intersections in 23 locations now have the automated signals.
The city is also trialling touchless infrared sensors for pedestrian crossings in other areas, where people can activate the crossing signal by hovering a hand over the sensor instead of pressing a button. O