Mobility during and after Covid19

April 2020

By Hilde Oudman & Rens Jonker, English adaptation by Eric van der Horst

Covid19 – to put it mildly – shakes things up. For many of us Europeans, it is the first time that we have experienced disruption on this scale. After all, for the majority of us, life has always been reasonably comfortable. No war, no scarcity, plenty of money, consumption growth, freedom to travel, study, work or love in any EU-country, and so on.

Everyday life has changed for the time being now. Many people wonder what the consequences will be of the Covid19- lock-down. Are we ‘on pause’ and will everything return to normal when all this is over? Or is the world changing drastically and are we at a tipping point?

Much has been said and written about the corona crisis. Various experts have shared their vision and have looked to the future. We bundled responses regarding mobility issues, offering an overview and analysis, with courtesy of all quoted mobility thinkers worldwide.

Big data

It should come as no surprise that lock-downs, whether ‘total’ as in France or ‘intelligent’ as in the Netherlands, has consequences for our movements. Significant changes can be seen in data worldwide.

This analysis of DAT shows that travel by public transport in The Netherlands has almost completely disappeared, while traveling on foot and by bicycle has increased sharply. The same trend can be seen in several countries, with the United States leading in data analysis. Because of the lock-down, people stay in and around the house more, which means more walking to get some fresh air. The bike seems to be gaining popularity everywhere, as roads are more quiet and thus regarded safer to use for cycling. Of course, by bike there is no risk of contamination from fellow passengers.

The effect of the lock-down is well illustrated by the data collected by the New York Times, which compared the introduction of restrictions to the spread of the virus.

More quiet roads also lead to a sharp increase in average speed during traditional peak times in the USA, according to this Quartz article. Speed violations are also on the rise in Germany.

The lock-down as a result of Covid19 also exposes social-economic differences. It appears that once the virus has ‘landed’ it is almost impossible for lower income classes to escape its spread, unlike the more affluent households that are fast moving away from the cities. On the other hand, it is also clear that lower incomes continue travelling within the cities, because these households often have work that cannot be done from home. This leads to a vicious circle: lower income classes with Covid19 symptoms often continue to work, because the loss of income has major consequences. As a result, more people become infected.

Effects on our streets

In this article, CityLab explains which measures are being taken in major cities in the USA and elsewhere in the world to provide for the sudden change in mobility choices. For example, traffic control systems are altered, so pedestrians no longer have to press possibly contaminated buttons to cross the road. Also, bike-sharing services are offered for free. Ccities worldwide seem to be seizing the moment to offer ‘clean’ means of transport. Temporary cycle paths and ‘exercise streets’ are popping up everywhere, for example in Hungary and Austria to New Zealand. An open source overview of all adjustments related to walking and cycling during the corona crisis in the United States can be found in a database created by T. Combs.

Shared mobility

Concepts of shared mobility are facing additional challenges today. Not only is the use decreasing sharply, it is also necessary to think about how the services can be offered in a safe way. A worldwide open source overview of this has been made by A. Friedel.

Social distancing

A longer period in which people will have to accustom themselves to keep considerable distance to one other is likely, even after the current lock-down periods. But how is that possible in a crowded city? Newly developed technology could offer solutions.

At the same time, the good old bicycle as a means of transport is scoring high when it comes to social distancing. There are reports in The Netherlands that employees who normally carpool (such as construction workers) now travel alone with their own car. To make this more sustainable, the (e-) bike or cargo bike offers enormous opportunities. In any case, the bicycle is likely to play a greater role in the future.

Keeping key workers on the move!

While not everyone can take to the streets freely anymore, there is a large group that even has to take to the streets: the so callled ‘key workers’. Support is coming from all sides to get these people to their destinations safely and as cheaply as possible. For example, Barcelona and Manchester offer free public transport to people in (social) care and health care workers in Munich can take a taxi for free. Various governments in England ensure that care workers can park for free, and in the Netherlands there is of course the ‘health workers’ hero car.

Where do we go from here?

Of course no one knows what the (mobility) world will look like after corona.

The Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure predicts a significant brake on the growth of road traffic until 2025, but it expects car traffic to (partly) increase again. Many companies and governments have now experienced the advantages and disadvantages of working from home. This will lead to people being able and allowed to work from home for one or two days more often. At the same time, it is now becoming clear how indispensable social contact with our colleagues is, we wouldn’t want to miss them 5 days a week!

A certain reduction in car traffic could mean that Loendersloot will be less active on traffic management in the future. At the moment traffic jams in The Netherlands are becoming rare. Radio traffic information presenter Arnoud Broekhuis says jokingly about this: ‘But the day traffic news presenters are just playing ludo in the office is not there yet’.

We hope that in these times people will think more consciously about their mobility choices and the consequences for the environment. Do you want a parking space in front of your home or do you prefer pleasant public space with wide sidewalks and lots of greenery in the future? Such questions are becoming increasingly relevant.

The social distancing economy will also raise new issues for entrepreneurs. You may be able to receive fewer customers in your store, making it more important to serve them quickly and easily in an environmentally friendly way at home. Our colleague Jesse van Hulst has years of experience as a bicycle courier and now uses this as input to give municipalities and companies a flying start with city logistics.

Mobility is clearly a result of the choices we make as a society. In short, although there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding all the trends and developments described, we are looking forward to the future! Do you join us?