Opinion: What will the Post-Pandemic City Look Like?
Opinion: What will the Post-Pandemic City Look Like?
By Shereine Swindon
At the beginning of 2020, who could have envisaged an empty Northern Line at peak time (5pm)?
The long-term implications of the pandemic for the use of public transport are developing and evolving day-by-day. Predicting the way that people choose to travel, both locally and for longer domestic journeys, is the new challenge. Establishing the new level of demand is essential for spending effectively, particularly in this economically precarious time.
By nature, public transport interacts with many different people throughout the day, which is in direct conflict with the Government advice on slowing the transmission of the virus. Which could lead to people being less inclined to use Public Transport, therefore more cars on the road and increased carbon emissions, or staggered work times to relieve overcrowding. Counter to this, technology enables more remote working leading to less cars on the road.
On an individual level, people will choose the most convenient option, whilst also considering price and journey time. It is the task of city and infrastructure planners alike to encourage choices that benefit the wider community, economically and environmentally.
Building Better Cities – Environmental Impact
Before the pandemic, many of us led stressful and hectic lives with early starts and late finishes and, for some, very long commutes. Traffic and air pollution had increased to the detriment of our health so-much-so that the UK Government pledged to have more sustainable means of transport to help meet their target to achieve net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.
Now, we have a unique opportunity to reset the way we think about working from home, our daily commutes and in general, how we move about in the world. We have the prospect to embed such changes in peoples’ travel behaviour, increase active travel, and transform permanently how many people move around, particularly in towns and cities.
And much of this depends on how we now shape our cities with:
Infrastructure Investment: Building a more sustainable transport system with the investment into cycling and walking pathways
Modes of Transport: Ability to use various modes of transport with more Active Travel opportunities for walking and cycling.
Economy: Cycling contributes £5.4bn to the economy per year and supports 64,000 jobs
Health: Physical inactivity costs the NHS up to £1bn per annum, with further indirect costs calculated at £8.2bn. Reclaim time for our health and well-being for ourselves and our families
Environmental and air quality: Meeting the targets to double cycling and increase walking would lead to savings of £567 million annually from air quality alone and prevent 8,300 premature deaths each year and provide opportunities to improve green spaces and biodiversity. Improving air quality, combatting climate change, improving health and wellbeing for all.
Government and Environmental Targets: Help the Government to achieve their target of net carbon dioxide emissions by 2050
Climate Change: Mode shift to active transport is one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing transport emissions
*Statistics from this paragraph are taken from the UK Government’s document “Gear Change: A Bold Vision for Cycling and Walking”
The solution: A 15-minute City?
A 15-minute city is where everything we need is close to home, we can buy fresh groceries, go to work, a sports facility or a hospital, all within 15 minutes of our house. The fundamental way in which we shape our cities is to facilitate, enable and encourage the kind of humanity we all want to enjoy. A 15-minute city strives to ensure the air is clean and promotes ‘Active Travel’ for everyone.
We have a unique opportunity to recreate and restructure the cities in a way that is cleaner, safer, healthier, and more inclusive for all. So, getting it right is imperative for a long-lasting impact.
So why does this matter?
The major benefits that we will all gain from this are the connected city with decreased air pollution and an overall more active population, and the economic benefits that accompany this.
How to create a pandemic-friendly 15-minute city?
More walkways and cycle paths
Increase frequency of public transport services at busy times to allow for social distancing
Short distances to amenities and education to discourage driving and enable people to use other modes of transport
Incentives and schemes to create modal shift, for example, cycle vouchers provided by the UK Government
With the pandemic element, the safest solution is to get the public walking and cycling. Active travel is an all-purpose solution, though not an economic boost it saves money in other areas such as public healthcare.
This will entail redesigning of road space for pedestrians and cyclists and to make our cities safer, smarter and much more environmentally friendly.
To create our ‘New Normal’
There are software options on the market that analyse the accessibility of POIs (points of interest) using the latest road network, Public Transport networks and census data. These programmes can assist in the evaluation of the current setup, identify areas that rely heavily on cars for access, and can model proposed solutions. One example of these programmes is TRACC.
TRACC can model:
Accurate travel plans for walking, cycling, public transport and driving
Evaluation of all modes of transport
Efficiency of bus networks
Bus routes for key workers with the reinstatement of specific routes
Support decisions for sustainable developments
Key essential services such as hospitals, GP surgeries, supermarkets etc…
With this data and analysis as the backbone of city infrastructures moving forward, planners can engineer a system that not only works for the individual but also at a nationwide level, progressing towards the goals and targets outlined by the government.
In the words of Jane Jacobs an American journalist, activist and author. Jacobs is most well-known for having penned the book ‘The Life and Death of Great American Cities’, published in 1961:
“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”