As the daily coronavirus death toll slowly falls in Italy and cities in the country make plans for reopening, Milan is beginning to transform 22 miles of local streets, adding temporary bike lanes and wider sidewalks, and lowering the speed limit. In Berlin, some parking spots have also become pop-up bike lanes. Paris is fast-tracking long-distance bike lanes that connect suburbs to the city center. And in Brussels, on May 4, the city center will become a priority zone for people on bikes and on foot.
Cities are responding to an immediate need for transportation to change—as more people begin to go back to work, if subways and buses can’t be as full as usual while allowing passengers to maintain social distancing, biking and walking will need to fill the gap. But it’s also a way to accelerate plans to cut car use that were already underway to fight climate change and make urban air safer to breathe.
“If we all need to be healthy and move in a healthy way, there’s no better way to do that than to walk and bike, and providing the infrastructure to do that is absolutely key,” says Mike Lydon, principal at the urban planning and design firm Street Plans. “Traffic volumes will go back up. But it’s at this point where we get to decide in our cities how much of it we let back in, and to what degree it’s a guest.”