Walk, cycle or drive? Coronavirus shakes up
urban transport | Ottawa Citizen
as of Fri Mar 13 2020 18:28:35 GMT-0400 (Eastern Daylight Time)
Walk, cycle or drive? Coronavirus shakes up urban transport
Updated: March 13, 2020 By Sarah Shearman
LONDON, March 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Cycling used to be a leisure
activity for Raj Anand but in recent weeks he has biked across London every
day to avoid crowded public transport as worries over coronavirus grow.
With no cycle lanes on his route into central London, the busy roads can be
scary, but less so than catching the virus from the bus or underground train
he usually takes, said Anand, founder of a software company.
“I have just got to be careful. Obviously, I can control that … but you
can’t control anybody else’s commute if they come from an infected region,”
he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
“Maybe this is a wake up call for all of us to cycle and walk more, which
is cheaper and healthier.”
The World Health Organization called the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic
for the first time on Wednesday, with more than 126,000 cases globally, and
more than 4,600 deaths, according to a Reuters tally on Thursday.
Anxiety about infection has been evident on London’s subway with many
commuters wearing face marks – a few fashioned from bags and plastic boxes –
while a man was arrested for licking his fingers and wiping them on a subway
pole in Belgium.
Transport for London (TfL) said its passenger numbers fell by 2% in a week,
raising hopes among some that urban dwellers were switching to greener forms
of travel. Cities account for about three-quarters of planet-warming
greenhouse gas emissions
But the benefits of people choosing to cycle, walk or stay home to avoid
coronavirus could be canceled out if others opted to use cars instead, said
Carlos Calvo Ambel, a director at Transport and Environment, a Brussels-based
City-wide policies to support more sustainable modes of transport were
needed to make any shift to cleaner types of travel prompted by coronavirus
fears stick, he said.
“It is an opportunity to rethink, now that more people are using
alternative means of transport, what is needed in the city to ensure it can
facilitate that,” he said.
While Chinese authorities acted decisively to stop the spread of the virus
in the city of Wuhan in January by shutting public transport networks, other
governments have taken a softer approach to try and stem the spread of the
London’s transport authority, like many others, said it had enhanced
cleaning on its public transit network.
“People should go about their daily lives as normal but should wash their
hands more regularly and thoroughly,” Lilli Matson, TfL’s health and safety
director said on its website.
Meanwhile New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio urged the city’s 9 million
residents to work from home or avoid the rush hour in the subway, which
carries 1.8 billion passengers a year.
“We need everyone to do their part,” he said on Twitter. “Bike or walk to
work if you can.”
Some have happily followed the mayor’s advice, in a country where more than
1,300 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed and 33 people have died,
according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.
Brooklyn resident Tracey Churray was working from home.
“I work in tech and it’s really easy for me to work remotely,” said the
product manager. “It’s …. about containing the spread … and dampening the
overall effect and trying to do right by the community.”
Other city residents reacted with scorn.
“Happy to bike to work – but oh wait, you only installed @CitiBikeNYC in
wealthy areas of the city,” Matteo Ceurvels tweeted in response to the mayor,
referring to New York’s bike sharing system, which was launched in 2013.
Neil Greenberg, a psychiatrist at King’s College London, said coronavirus
was unlikely to change people’s long-term travel habits, based on his study
of the 2005 London suicide bombings on three underground trains and a bus.
In the weeks that followed the attacks, which killed 52 people, Londoners
said they would cycle, walk, and might even leave the city. But a follow up
study six months later revealed more people were using public transport than
“People’s alterations in travel are often temporary,” he said. “Future
travel intentions expressed during a crisis often do not translate into
long-term behavioral changes.” (Reporting by Sarah Shearman //news.trust.org)
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Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race
- H.G. Wells
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