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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Old Electric Vehicle Batteries Can Be Recycled into New Sources of Energy –Even Used to Power 7-11 Stores

An increase in the sale and use of electric vehicles (EVs) is vital for many governments to reach their stated CO2 reduction targets, however if special regard is not quickly given to advancing the technology in recycling the battery packs of these EVs, our landfills could be overrun.

Looking for a solution to the battery waste problem, a study published in Nature by University of Birmingham researchers presents this sticky situation alongside some innovative ways to help combat it. For example, stations of retired EV batteries can be used to reinforce unstable grid networks in developing countries, or used to power things at home.

The study explains that, like the batteries in older mobile phones, an EV battery at the end of its automobile life could still maintain 80% operating capacity and could be easily repurposed for jobs elsewhere in society.

Even now, Toyota, producer of the Prius—one of the most, if not the most, successful hybrid cars in history—has joined forces with 7-11 stores in Japan to expand the integration of the electric vehicle byproducts into Japanese society.

Their project, in line with the latest recommendations from the Birmingham researchers, aims to utilize banks of expended EV batteries from Toyota cars in conjunction with solar panels to power 7-11 stores, while new fuel-cell EVs powered by hydrogen will be serving as the distribution fleet for the legendary convenience store chain.

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Meanwhile, we can extract minerals from batteries, while at the same time avoiding the environmentally-damaging mining practices that use a lot of water.

Nissan NV200 by Kārlis-Dambrāns, CC license

“Electric vehicles may prove to be a valuable secondary resource for critical materials, and it has been argued that high cobalt-content batteries should be recycled immediately to bolster cobalt supplies”, the study says.

Another mineral present in EV batteries, lithium, is one of the most critical minerals for building batteries for our portable devices and key electronic components in society like video processors and microchips.

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To gather merely one ton of lithium requires the mining of 250 tons of the mineral ore spodumene, or 750 tons of mineral-rich brine. Therefore extracting lithium from car batteries (since estimates suggest that we only need 256 used EV batteries to produce 1 ton of lithium) can avoid this water-intensive carbon-intensive method of production.

In 2017, the worldwide sales of electric cars exceeded 1 million units for the first time. Market research group Deloitte reported that this figure doubled during 2018, and is close to doubling again, from 2 million to 4 million by the end of 2020.

Those are big secondary resources for minerals, which could negate the need for mining many additional tons in order to power the world we love.

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India Makes History With All Gas Stations Officially Preparing to Supply World’s Cleanest Fuel

In an ambitious bid to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, India is now ensuring that all diesel and gas stations will only be supplying the cleanest fuel.

Starting on April 1st, India will join the ranks of the few world nations offering Euro-VI grade fuel, which only contains 10 parts per million (ppm) of sulphur in contrast to the 50 ppm in Euro-IV fuels.

India is reportedly the first country to ever transition directly from IV-grade fuels to VI-grade. Not only that, they managed to achieve the transition in just three years.

According to The Tribune, it took India 7 years to transition from Euro-III grade fuel with a sulphur content of 350 ppm to Euro-IV fuel. Reports also say that most of the nation’s gas stations were already distributing the new ultra-low fuel by the end of 2019.

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“We are absolutely on track for supplying BS-VI fuel from April 1. Almost all refineries have begun supplying BS-VI fuel and the same has reached storage depots across the country,” Sanjiv Singh, Chairman of Indian Oil Corp (IOC), told reporters. “It was a conscious decision to leapfrog to BS-VI as first upgrading to BS-V and then shifting to BS-VI would have prolonged the journey to 4 to 6 years. Besides, oil refineries, as well as automobile manufacturers, would have had to make investments twice—first to producing BS-V grade fuel and engines and then BS-VI ones.”

While the initiative is just one of the many ways that India is trying to keep up with the world’s shift towards renewable energy, the nation reportedly made history last week by becoming the first country to power all of its government-run seaports with solar and wind energy.

The “green port” infrastructure means that 12 of the country’s biggest seaports are exclusively using renewable energy to power their daily operations. Not only that, the ports can use the energy to electrically power ships as they are docked.

File photo by Bernard Gagnon, CC

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Electric Car Completes UK’s Longest and Most Complex Autonomous Journey

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A top-secret electric vehicle has completed the UK’s longest and most complex autonomous car journey by self-navigating itself along 230 miles on British roads.

The modified 2017 electric Nissan LEAF travelled from the Nissan Technical Center Europe (NTCE) in Cranfield, Bedfordshire, to the brand’s manufacturing plant in Sunderland.

Over the course of the journey, the autonomous car tackled road junctions, roundabouts, motorways, and even country lanes with little or no road markings.

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The car’s autonomous technology activated along the route to change lanes, merge, and stop and start when necessary. The only moment the passenger took control of the LEAF was to drive into motorway services—in order to charge it.

The UK government-backed HumanDrive project, which took place on public roads with surrounding motorists none the wiser, is the result of 30 months of work by a consortium of industry leaders.

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“Our Future of Mobility: Urban Strategy is supporting transport innovation for cleaner, greener and smarter transport,” said Future of Transport Minister, George Freeman, MP from the UK Department For Transport. “Nissan’s successful HumanDrive project is an exciting example of how the next phase of the UK’s transport revolution could look.”

Nissan worked with Hitachi, Highways England, and a number of other partners to produce one of the most technologically advanced autonomous vehicles ever seen.

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By building a dataset of previously encountered traffic scenarios and solutions, it can use this “learned experience” to handle similar scenarios in the future and plot a safe route around an obstacle.

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Capable of handling narrow winding roads with no lane division markings and poorly-marked roundabouts all on its own, the LEAF’s technology was designed to create a more familiar and comfortable experience for passengers in the car.

The HumanDrive project demonstrates how car firms like Nissan, along with other industry leaders and the UK government are committed to making autonomous vehicles a reality on European roads.

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HumanDrive is jointly funded by the UK government through the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), Innovate UK, and nine other consortium partners. The joint funding package for the project totaled £13.5 million ($17.5 million).

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“Nissan’s Intelligent Mobility vision is to develop autonomous drive technologies for use in all of our cars in any area of the world,” said David Moss, senior vice president for Research & Development in Europe, Nissan Europe. “The door is now open to build on this successful UK research project, as we move towards a future which is more autonomous, more electric, and more connected.”

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