Many people struggle to find convenient transportation options. They may have personal mobility issues or maybe they have to travel from work late at night when buses no longer run. Or they may live far enough away from a transit stop to not be able to walk there easily. Compound that with a pandemic, such as Covid19, when social distancing becomes critical, and it’s clear how vulnerable our existing transportation systems are. The pandemic has underscored the need for a multitude of transportation options that go beyond the ones we currently have in place.
Earlier disasters should have taught us some lessons. In 2005, when Houston was evacuated before Hurricane Rita, the city was totally grid-locked despite having more freeway miles than any other US city. And in 2011, an earthquake in D.C. caused gridlock mayhem yet again. Yet In both cases a bicycle could have got you through the traffic if only there had been bike lanes. This may not be the solution for everyone, but it’s certainly a solution that could easily be made available for many.
At the same time cars are becoming increasingly expensive and out of reach for many households. This was illustrated during the 2007-2008 financial crisis when many people eliminated cars to reduce their transportation costs. Many of those people hold critical jobs that we all rely on – nurses, ICU cleaners and supermarket employees restocking shelves. Now, during this pandemic, they are struggling to get to work.
Our transportation systems are not serving us well. It’s been demonstrated that when bicycles and alternative individual transport modes become a visible and significant part of the transportation picture, there is a cultural shift in how the population views transportation options. In Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where cyclists easily outnumber vehicles on any given day, those cities have given over more and more space to accommodate them. We too need to make safe provisions for walking, biking and micro-mobility on our streets.
Harriet Tregoning is a smart-growth advocate who has spent over two decades focussing on resilience in the face of disaster and challenge, including the changing climate and equity in transportation and access. Her work with organizations around the United States, especially on smart mobility initiatives, is helping us to prepare for a range of future challenges. She is now the director of NUMO, the New Urban Mobility Alliance, a collaborative effort that aims to guide policymakers, the private sector and people toward a shared vision of cities and urban mobility.
It’s worth listening to what Harriet has to say in this fascinating podcast interview.