Last month, Outside Online published an opinion piece by Joe Lindsey about how the pandemic presents the opportunity to reclaim our cities from cars:
It’s callous to call a global pandemic an opportunity, but the crisis has altered our view of public spaces in ways no other event could. In Denver, which closed several streets to through traffic, that wouldn’t have happened without a catalyst. “If we had tried to roll this out pre-pandemic, we would have been met with opposition,” says Eulois Cleckley, executive director of the city’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure. “But the situation people were placed in changed their perspective overnight.”
Cycling and walking aren’t do-it-all solutions for cities. But as transit falters, they provide a vital safety valve. They’re easy and relatively affordable—basically free, in the case of walking. They rely on existing, proven systems, while e-bikes and other new technologies are well-suited to novice riders.
I think the perspective change is a key observation. For decades, the status quo of car-culture hasn’t had serious pushback because, for all of its faults, it seems to work out okay for most people. It didn’t matter how expensive, dangerous, or discriminatory it was, because people liked it enough to tolerate its faults.
But now it’s easier for everyone else to see what we, the walkers and riders, have seen all along. These giant parking lots really are a waste of space. These eight-lane roads through the middle of town really are miserable. Why can’t we put something nicer here? Why are we paying for this worthless asphalt?
Time will tell how this plays out. I don’t think that Americans are any less in love with their cars now than they were in February of 2020, but perhaps biking and walking will seem less inconceivable. Unlike car transportation, these rely on proven systems and can act as a safety net when more fragile systems collapse.