Increased space for pedestrians, an extension of the bicycle network and touchless traffic light buttons: Cities around the globe have shown themselves to be adaptable and forward-thinking with their efforts to ensure the spread of the COVID-19 virus is limited as much as possible. The ERTICO City Moonshot survey has already gathered crucial data from 50 cities, which has led to the conclusion that these measures are here to stay. Almost half of the interviewed cities have the intention to keep certain COVID-19 prevention measures implemented long-term.
With its City Moonshot initiative, ERTICO-ITS Europe contributes to a better understanding of the transport measures implemented in cities around the world. The first 50 interviews have provided innovative insights on how cities manage their traffic management systems within the extraordinary circumstances of a pandemic. While the type and degree of adjustments vary, one trend is noticeable: the use of alternative modes of transport and the encouragement and promotion of active modes, such as cycling to avoid going back to cars.
To illustrate, as a complement to the emergency measures on ‘tactical urban planning’ set up in the context of COVID-19, the Metropolis of Toulouse, with the support of local associations, has launched a campaign to encourage citizens to change their mobility habits in favour of cycling (training sessions, electric or cargo bike testing, awareness of road safety, personal equipment etc.). The Metropolis has invested 7.5 million EURO in a cycling programme, implemented in 2020. This includes several activities such as the installation of bicycle streets ‘vélorue’, putting up ‘give way’ signs to give priority to bicycles, and creating several ‘meeting zones’ in the city centre, where the speed is reduced for all vehicles to 20 km/h maximum, to facilitate and encourage active modes over the long-term. Toulouse Métropole starts to deploy bicycle services in areas of the territory that are currently the least well-equipped (the metropolitan area including 37 municipalities).
The COVID-19 context has revealed a strong difference between the knowledge of road traffic flows and the reality of the practice of active modes of transport. In fact, the Metropolis had very little baseline data, which made it impossible to have a precise measurement of the evolution of habits. The Metropolis has begun to deploy solutions and technologies for measuring bicycle and pedestrian flows. The evaluation of emergency actions is in progress and will make it possible to arbitrate on their sustainability. Nevertheless, for the area of Toulouse Métropole, which lends itself quite well to cycling, the COVID-19 context will have accelerated experimentation and the large-scale deployment of public policies that were planned for a later date.
Other cities have also adjusted to the new normal. ‘At Trikala, we understand transport emergency to be a test for the transport system resilience as a whole. We have implemented actions promoting micromobility and multimodality while we have also enlisted drones to conduct medical deliveries to those groups that would be most vulnerable to travel and be exposed to unsafe environments during this pandemic. With drones taking routes that are safe and efficient, we are protecting our elderly and those in most need and using automated vehicles for the benefit of society. We have a very positive reaction from our citizens who have embraced the initiative,’ says Efrosyni Braki, the representative of the Municipality of Trikala in Greece.
While introducing the implementation of safety measures may be one thing, encouraging a change of behaviour is another. Looking East, the City of Belgrade has rolled out an exceptional mass media campaign to support a quick, smooth and above all safe transition. As part of this, a promotional video by the Secretariat for Public Transport promotes measures such as the wearing of gloves, masks and keeping social distance with the help of visual markings on the floor. ‘Introducing such radical changes in the way we use public transport in the short amount of time given was a challenge, especially in a capital city like Belgrade. With the help of our mass media campaign public transport users adapted rather quickly to the new measures and thus contributed to keeping Belgrade’s citizens as protected and as healthy as possible,’ says Dr. Jovica Vasiljević, Secretary-General of the Secretariat for Public Transport from the City of Belgrade.
Looking outside Europe to the African continent, in Ethiopia, the challenge of a pandemic is also seen as an opportunity. Its capital Addis Ababa is not only committed to stopping the spread of COVID-19, but at the same time uses newly introduced measures to tackle pollution. Cars are discouraged from driving in the centre by introducing vehicle access restrictions based on odd and even days that allow access according to vehicle license number. By dedicating some streets entirely to pedestrians, walking is encouraged and emission-related pollution has already decreased.
The long-term impact on Urban Mobility will become apparent only as time progresses. Already 40% of the interviewed cities stated that they wish to keep adjustments introduced during the pandemic as permanent. With the world adjusting to its new normal, so is public transport.
The ERTICO City Moonshot continues to consult with cities around the globe about their smart mobility challenges, needs and trends. This initiative was also recently launched to the Russian-speaking smart mobility community. South America is next!