Hundreds of Cities Worldwide Make Streets into Cycling and Pedestrian Walkways—With Plans to Stay That Way

With greenhouse gas emissions set to decline a record-breaking 8% this year, a happy accident of the novel coronavirus pandemic has been its positive impact on cities.

The World Health Organization says walking and cycling are considered the safest means of transport to reduce exposure to COVID-19. So cities around the world have been building new cycling paths and scaling up their car-free street initiatives.

Now, it looks like many of these environmentally-friendly changes will be permanent

Bogotá, Colombia had a head start when the virus began to spread in the city in mid-March. The city had an existing tradition, called la Ciclovía, where it closed its main roads to cars every Sunday. Mayor Claudia López decided to scale the program up, and according to one report, “within days, Bogotá opened nearly 47 miles of new temporary bike routes, adding to 340 miles of paved protected paths, and converted almost 17 miles of automobile lanes to bike routes overnight.”

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For years, Paris has been a leader in the car-free streets movement. Now the capital city is building 650 kilometers (about 400 miles) of new “corona cycleways.” Mayor Ann Hidalgo has said many of these will be made permanent as part of the city’s larger mobility plan. Among other initiatives, the city has accelerated construction of dedicated cycle highways in response to the pandemic, according to the BBC.

In Italy, the city of Milan has announced that over 20 miles of newly installed cycling infrastructure will be kept in place after the quarantine has been lifted. Former New York City Transportation Commissioner Janette Saik-Kahn, who is working with the Italian city on the transition, told the British news outlet, “The pandemic challenges us, but it also offers a once-in-a-lifetime chance to change course and repair the damage from a century of car-focused streets.”

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The city of Budapest, Hungary has also constructed temporary cycle lanes. Though they are currently due to last until September, the city has signaled a preference to leave them in place. “We are constantly monitoring the use of the temporary bike lanes, and we are hoping that a good many of them could remain in place,” the mayor’s chief of staff Samu Balogh added. “In the long term, we are working towards implementing traffic-calming measures and new bike lanes so we can create a more inviting environment for cycling and walking.”

In France, it’s not just Paris that is focusing on two wheels. The country’s Minister of Ecological Transition also announced a $22 million plan to support cyclists nationwide. Under the plan, all French citizens will be entitled to 50 euros ($55) in free bicycle repairs, paid for by the government. The program will also fund plans by cities to build more permanent bike racks, bike lanes, and cycling classes.

These initiatives, and many more eco-silver linings, have given hope to those who have seen the pandemic as an opportunity to make lasting changes to the way humans relate to the natural environment.

“We must act decisively to protect our planet from both the coronavirus and the existential threat of climate disruption,” UN Secretary General António Guterres said on Earth Day. “We need to turn the recovery into a real opportunity to do things right for the future,” noting that—like the coronavirus—climate change knows no national borders.

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Need more positive stories and updates coming out of the COVID-19 challenge? For more uplifting coverage, click here.

Himalayan Mountaintops Visible for the First Time in 30 Years as Air Pollution Continues to Plummet in India

As more and more global communities enforce stay-at-home orders and social restrictions, rates of air pollution have plummeted.

The most notable example of this phenomenon emerged on the horizon of Jalandhar in Punjab, India earlier this week.

For the last 30 years, the tops of the Himalayan mountains have been obscured by air pollution and smog. Now as the city streets are emptied of traffic and gas-guzzling vehicles, the mountaintops were clearly visible to the millions of local communities in quarantine.

Photographers living as far as 200 kilometers (124 miles) away from the mountain range have since posted awe-inspiring pictures of the snow-capped peaks to social media in celebration of the spectacular sight.

This is not the first time that people have taken notice of cleaner air amidst the COVID-19 shutdowns; following similar reports in China and the US, air pollution is continuing to plummet in countries with social restrictions, such as the UK and India. In New Delhi alone—which has some of the worst air pollution in the world—airborne particulates plunged by 71% in just one week.

Particle pollution in major UK cities have also dropped by as much as one-third—and the rates are expected to fall even further as lockdowns continue.

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“These are big changes—pollution levels are the equivalent at the moment of a holiday, say an Easter Sunday,” Professor James Lee from York University and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science told The Guardian about the data.
“And I think we will see an even starker drop off when the weather changes.”

This is just one of many positive stories and updates that are coming out of the COVID-19 news coverage this week. For more uplifting coverage on the outbreaks, click here.

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Amsterdam is Enjoying Quieter Canals as Boats Go Electric Years Ahead of Diesel Ban

The buzz and rumble of boats passing through Amsterdam’s famous canal system is one of the most iconic traits of the Dutch city.

However, a newly-elected Green Party mayor is pushing to transform the second-most popular form of transportation in the city into an all-electric powered force for a cleaner Amsterdam.

Soon, the sound of diesel-powered boat engines could be consigned to history since the city is now planning to ban the diesel engine before 2025.

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The city’s commercial fleet is already close to achieving that goal since 75% of the city’s 550 commercial vessels are already meeting the planned emissions-free regulation, according to Reuters.

The news outlet goes on to say that contractors are expected to install 100 more boat charging stations by the end of 2021. Furthermore, startup Skoon Energy will be launching a floating charging station this week to help with grid balancing.

Although there are still several thousand recreational vessels that are still in need of emission-free upgrades, the canal’s new infrastructure is expected to quicken the city’s transition to cleaner waterways.

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