After Covid – back to near ‘normal’ or radical change?

Will how the country comes out of this crisis shape the economy and society in New Zealand for decades to come? A bit for sure, but how much?

One thing is for sure, the old ‘normal’ is no longer, after Covid-19 has subsided (presuming and hoping that it does fade away in the next year or two) the world will be significantly different.

One local government councillor in Wellington has suggested radical changes to traffic and streets – RNZ:

A Wellington regional councillor says now is the chance to think about how to restart the economy without also ramping up emissions, as the latest data shows air pollution fell dramatically during the first week of lockdown.

Air pollution from traffic emissions in the central city dropped 72 percent, and by 63 percent in Upper Hutt.

Greater Wellington’s climate committee chair Thomas Nash says how the country comes out of this crisis could shape the economy and society in New Zealand for decades to come.

I haven’t been appreciating any change to streets because I haven’t been out in any streets for three weeks. But some people have been going for walks and bike rides and have been enjoying the lack of cars.

But how can cities make streets “permanently safer and more pleasant”. By banning are severely restricting car use?

In the short term that would not be a good idea. For most people the alternative is public transport, and that must be a lot riskier with the virus around than safely commuting in our automobubbles.

And there’s the cost factors – councils are being asked to limit rates rises because people and businesses are facing income cuts. It may not be good timing spending big money on mass transit system. Projects in some places may be worth looking at, but I don’t see how mass transit can work in modern Dunedin, and many suburbs are too hilly to encourage a sudden shift to cycling.

And if councils want to look at resilience from viruses in the future then mass transit may not be the answer.

Most councils take so long to decide on doing things there is unlikely to be a sudden rush to radical change. That may be a good thing, especially if there’s a few idealist councillors around like Thomas Nash.

And Wellington has had major problems with their bus system as it is, and that was before the pressure of Covid. Rushing in to radical change would be a huge risk.

UPDATE:  Govt to fund temporary cycleways and footpaths post COVID-19 lockdown

The Government will provide extra funding to help councils expand footpaths and roll out temporary cycleways to help people keep 2 metres of physical distance after the Alert Level 4 lockdown, Associate Minister of Transport Julie Anne Genter announced today.

“When people begin to return to city centres following the lockdown we want them to have enough space to maintain physical distance,” said Julie Anne Genter.

“Some of our footpaths in busy areas are quite narrow. Temporary footpath extensions mean people can give each other a bit more space without stepping out onto the road.”

Funding will come from the Innovating Streets for People pilot fund, part of a wider programme that supports projects using ‘tactical urbanism’ techniques such as pilots and pop-up, interim treatments that make it safer and easier for people walking and cycling in the city.

“Footpath extensions would use basic materials like planter boxes and colourful paint to carve out a bit more space in the street for people walking, like we’ve seen on High street and Federal street in Auckland,” said Julie Anne Genter.

“A number of cities around the world, including New YorkBerlin and Vancouver, have rolled out temporary bike lanes to provide alternatives to public transport, which people may be less inclined to use in the short term.

“Councils are able to use highly-visible plastic posts, planter boxes and other materials to create temporary separated bike lanes where people feel safe.

“It’s now up to councils to put forward projects if they want to take advantage of this initiative. The NZ Transport Agency will help councils implement street changes that meet the Innovating Streets pilot fund criteria safely and with minimal disruption. While planning can start during lockdown the rollout of temporary changes will not happen while we remain at Alert Level 4.

“Councils can apply now for funding from the NZ Transport Agency, who will cover 90 percent of the cost of rolling out temporary changes to the streetscape,” Julie Anne Genter said.

How long will these ‘temporary’ changes be in place? “The rollout of temporary changes will not happen while we remain at Alert Level 4” – so it will be rolled out as people start to use their cars more.