Milan, one of Europe’s most polluted cities, has announced this week plans to transform 35 kilometres worth of vehicle street space over to cycling and walking, a move intended to extend the lull in car use resulting from the current Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.
According to a report from The Guardian in the UK, Milan’s new Strade Aperte plan (roughly translated the “Open Roads plan”) will target 35 kilometres of streets in the northern Italian city and the wider Lombardy region, transforming them into low-cost temporary cycling lanes, new and widened pavements, pedestrian and cyclist priority streets, as well as the introduction of 30km/h speed limits.
One of Europe’s most heavily polluted regions, Italy’s nationwide lockdown has resulted in a drop of between 30% to 75% in traffic congestion – which, in turn, has led to significant declines in air pollution.
“We worked for years to reduce car use,” said Marco Granelli, a deputy mayor of Milan. “If everybody drives a car, there is no space for people, there is no space to move, there is no space for commercial activities outside the shops.
“Of course, we want to reopen the economy, but we think we should do it on a different basis from before.
“We think we have to reimagine Milan in the new situation. We have to get ready; that’s why it’s so important to defend even a part of the economy, to support bars, artisans and restaurants. When it is over, the cities that still have this kind of economy will have an advantage, and Milan wants to be in that category.”
Transitions away from excessive personal vehicle use towards active modes of transportation such as walking and cycling are not necessarily applicable everywhere in the world, but Milan is perfectly situated to give this a shot.
Measuring in at only 15 kilometres from end to end and with a population of 1.4 million, 55% of Milan’s population use public transport to get to work and boast an average commute of less than 4 kilometres.
Further, as Milan’s deputy mayor Marco Granelli suggested, part of the focus is on supporting Milan’s shopping and culture economy.
As such, The Guardian hinted that work could begin starting as early as the beginning of May with an 8 kilometre stretch of the Corso Buenos Aires, one of Milan’s most important shopping streets – with a new cycling lane and expanded pavements. Milano officials expect the remainder of the work to be completed by the end of the Northern Hemisphere’s summer.
Milan’s ambitious plans put it a month ahead of other world cities in its response to the pandemic and the recovery of transport programmes, according to Janette Sadik-Khan, a former transportation commissioner for New York City, is working with cities including Bogota and Milan.
“A lot of cities and even countries have been defined by how they’ve responded to historical forces, whether it’s political, social, or physical reconstruction,” she says, according to The Guardian.
“The Milan plan is so important is because it lays out a good playbook for how you can reset your cities now. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a fresh look at your streets and make sure that they are set to achieve the outcomes that we want to achieve: not just moving cars as fast as possible from point A to point B, but making it possible for everyone to get around safely.
“I know we’ll be looking to Milan for guidance from New York City.”
“We should accept that for months or maybe a year, there will be a new normality, and we have to create good conditions to live this new normality for everyone,” added Pierfrancesco Maran, another of Milan’s deputy mayors.
“I think in the next month in Milan, in Italy, in Europe, we will decide part of our future for the next decade. Before, we were planning for 2030; now the new phase, we are calling it 2020. Instead of thinking about the future, we have to think about the present.”
Milan isn’t the only European city utilising the response to the COVID-19 pandemic for good. The English seaside city of Brighton and Hove has closed part of the Madeira Drive seafront road to motor vehicle traffic and open only to pedestrians and cyclists from 8am to 8pm each day, starting April 20.
“Madeira Drive is a long, wide road right by the seafront and will create an extra safe open space for local people in the area to use for their daily walk or bike ride,” said Councillor Anne Pissaridou, chair of the Brighton and Hove’s environment, transport and sustainability committee. “It will provide a traffic-free place for the many residents in that area who do not have access to a garden.
“Practising social distancing is making us all aware of the importance of public spaces and making us rethink how we use them, but I would also ask that cyclists and pedestrians respect each other’s space and safety in this shared area. We’re all in this together.
“We are pleased to be able to offer this change so quickly and are considering other locations to see if we can extend this to other roads in the city.”
Meanwhile, in Barnes, London, business and residents have begun partitioning off part of the roads using road cones outside of shopping parades, providing pedestrians extra space to continue social distancing.
Good feedback to this great initiative by local businesses with help from @BarnesCommAssoc & @FriendsBC -reallocating road space for pedestrians to allow residents to respect social distancing guidelines while queuing outside shops.Hope @LBRUT are watching. Pic by @charliecampion pic.twitter.com/X6WAyoTUNB
— Raphael ZY???????? (@raphaelzy3) April 10, 2020
In Berlin, Germany, authorities have begun setting up temporary bicycle lanes across the city to meet demand for increased and safe cycling during the pandemic – a move designed specifically to help people get about the city without having to rely only on public transport, where social distancing can be troublesome. Similar moves are being taken in cities from Bogota, Columbia to Budapest, Hungary.
Similarly, across the Pacific in Vancouver, Canada, the Vancouver Park Board announced earlier this month that it was closing Stanley Park Drive, one of the cities biggest tourist attractions, to vehicle traffic indefinitely.
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