Today, the coronavirus pandemic, in all its horror, opens the prospect of sweeping urban change. Cities suddenly see the possibility of correcting their greatest mistake of the 20th century, the surrender of too much public space to the automobile.
Cities need to seize this moment and move at lightning speed. We need to find a better balance between the cars on our streets and the bicyclists and pedestrians who have, for decades, been neglected and pushed to the margins.
All over the world, forward-looking cities large and small have already jumped into action. In Medellin, the innovative Colombian city nestled in the Andes, workers are seizing traffic lanes and slapping down yellow paint to signify a change: Cars have been evicted and the lanes are now reserved for bicyclists. In Kampala, the capital of Uganda, the authorities have closed streets, encouraged cycling, and sped the construction of new bike lanes and walkways. In European cities, “corona cycleways” have become the new norm.
In New York, the city has responded to community demands by pledging to set aside 100 miles of roads in the next few weeks for people on foot or bike, largely closing the streets to traffic during daylight hours. Letting people dine at tables in the middle of the road may help in the salvation of New York restaurants. Across the country in Oakland, Calif., the city has decided to close nearly 10 percent of its streets. And in the middle of the country, Kansas City, Mo., was one of the first to limit traffic and turn parking spots into mini-parks to extend restaurant service.
This is a golden moment for the movement known as tactical urbanism. More than 200 cities have already announced road closings in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Thousands of cities have yet to act in any bold way, however. If they do not, they may miss what could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Can’t say I am overly confident, but one can certainly advocate for this.