- Lindsey Galloway
- BBC Travel
When the first wave of Covid-19 prevented indoor gatherings in most countries, many cities responded quickly by imagining new ways to live in public outdoors.
Some of them created pedestrian-only streets, while others turned parking lots into temporary restaurants. Cycle lanes were also expanded, transforming streets that were previously full of cars into spaces conducive to cycling and walking.
These changes have paid dividends – and not just in increased economic activity. Studies have shown that the virus spreads less quickly in neighborhoods with large spaces for walking. And while many places have abandoned initiatives as people begin to resume normal activities, some cities have maintained measures taken in favor of pedestrians and are increasing car-free spaces even further.
We chose four cities that stood out for some of the fastest and boldest innovations in favor of pedestrians during the pandemic. They are preserving several of these initiatives, to encourage their residents and visitors to walk around the city.
Even before the pandemic, the French capital was already one of the pioneers in increasing space for pedestrians.
As part of efforts to reduce the number of cars in Paris, the lower quay along the River Seine was fully dedicated to pedestrians at the end of 2016. The measure became permanent in 2018.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo was re-elected in 2020, in part, for her support of the “city in 15 minutes” project: a new concept of urban planning that allows residents to carry out all their daily tasks – including shopping and commuting. to school and work – traveling the equivalent distance of 15 minutes on foot or by bicycle.
The pandemic, combined with several public transport strikes before the lockdown, served to strengthen the popularity of these people-focused and environmentally sustainable initiatives.
“The beauty of walking in Paris has increased even more with Covid-19,” says Kathleen Peddicord, founder of specialist publisher Live and Invest Overseas. “Public transport was unfeasible for a long time and it became even more uncomfortable with the need to wear masks. That’s why more people started using their feet.”
The number of bike lanes has increased to reduce car traffic. The city intends to add another 180 km of bicycle lanes and 180,000 bicycle parking spaces by 2026.
“I have lived in Paris for 14 years and I can say with certainty that I have never seen such a massive transformation across the entire city as the one that has taken place recently to encourage cyclists,” says Sadie Sumner, head of the Paris branch of the bike tour company Fat Tire. Tours.
Major avenues like Rue de Rivoli in central Paris have been reduced to one lane, with bike lanes now spanning the width of three car lanes.
Paris also aims to plant 170,000 trees by 2026, to cool the city down and make it more pleasant and comfortable for pedestrians. And, as part of preparations for the 2024 Olympic Games, the bridge between the Eiffel Tower and Trocadéro will also become pedestrian only.
Overall, residents have approved of the big changes and are looking forward to more. “The residents really like it, there are fewer cars and people seem a little more relaxed,” said Roobens Fils, a Paris resident who runs the blog Been Around the Globe.
Fils offers suggestions for tourists who enjoy walking: Parc Rives de Seine, a 7 km long walk along the river; rue Montorgueuil, in the heart of Paris, with its cheese, wine and flower shops; rue Saint Rustique in Montmartre and its landmarks (the oldest street in Paris); and Cour Saint Emilion, with its boutiques, cafes and restaurants.
Colombia and its capital, Bogotá, have always had a strong cycling culture. Cycling is the country’s national sport. But the pandemic has encouraged many measures to be taken to reduce the number of cars.
In 2020, Mayor Claudia Lopez established 84 km of temporary bike lanes in Bogotá, adding to the existing network by 550 km. Cicloruta, as it is known, was already one of the largest networks of bike paths in the world – and the temporary lanes became permanent.
Bogotá was one of the first cities in the world to add temporary bike lanes during the pandemic, and residents approved of keeping the changes permanently.
“The city has really started to develop an Amsterdam-like feel. [na Holanda] and Copenhagen [na Dinamarca] in recent years”, says Alex Gillard, creator of the blog Nomad Nature Travel, who lived in Bogotá for short periods during the pandemic. “There are a lot of bikes on the streets at all times of the day, which is very inspiring.”
On Sundays and holidays, some streets are completely closed to cars in a program known as Ciclovía, which attracts more than 1.5 million cyclists, pedestrians and joggers every week.
The new buses of the Integrated Public Transport System of Bogotá (SITP), powered by electricity and gas, have also significantly improved public transport, according to local residents.
“The aura of Bogotá has changed. It is now much easier, calmer and safer to move around the city,” says Josephine Remo, travel blogger and resident of the capital.
Remo recommends that tourists visit the historic district of La Candelaria, where the city was founded over 400 years ago. There they will find museums about Bogotá’s rich history, as well as restaurants installed in buildings from centuries ago. She also suggests the Usaquén Park, with its open-air market on weekends, where visitors can sample Colombian cuisine, enjoying local handicrafts and musical events.
Italy was one of the hardest hit countries at the start of the pandemic and its cities had to adapt quickly to provide alternatives to its cramped public transport system.
In summer 2020, Milan adopted an ambitious plan to widen sidewalks and expand cycle paths along 35 km of streets then dedicated to car traffic. These changes transformed the city, bringing with them restaurants and open-air markets, as well as urban gardens.
“It’s not the Milan I remember from my college days, 10 years ago,” says resident Luisa Favaretto, founder of the website Strategistico, about living abroad. “I love the 15-minute city concept [Milão também explorou este plano] and I was attracted by the evolution of the city’s infrastructure, which prioritizes people over cars.”
Favaretto has observed the growth of what she calls an “old-world” sense of community, as reasons for street activities and gatherings in community spaces have increased.
The new CityLife district is the largest car-free area in Milan and one of the largest in Europe. “It is full of public green spaces, with numerous cycle paths, and offers a vision of the future of a sustainable Milan”, according to Favaretto.
She also recommends walking along the Navigli canals, enjoying the area’s outdoor dining options and nightlife. The former industrial district of Isola, in northern Milan, has been transformed into a walking and cycling area, filled with cafes, galleries and boutiques.
Tourists also don’t need to worry about the availability of bicycles to ride on the cycle paths. The city’s bike-sharing service, BikeMI, has 300 stations across the city and offers both regular and electric bikes.
San Francisco, United States
San Francisco, in Northern California, reacted quickly to the start of the pandemic by launching the Slow Streets program, using signs and barriers to limit traffic and car speed in 30 aisles in order to facilitate transit. of pedestrians and cyclists.
Data collected by the city indicate that the program brought a 50% reduction in vehicle traffic. On weekdays, there was a 17% increase in pedestrian traffic and a 65% jump in cyclists.
Many of these streets have already resumed their pre-pandemic function, but residents have managed to keep four sectors as permanent: Golden Gate Avenue, Lake Street, Sanchez Street and Shotwell Street. The city has scheduled a vote for September 2022 to decide the future of the other runners.
“It’s wonderful to see pedestrians and cyclists sharing the streets,” says resident Leith Steel of the streets that are still closed. “You see families walking, children playing – it’s a very different experience.”
She points out that the city has devoted money and efforts to building better bike lanes across the city. And now bike lanes are more clearly signposted than before.
Steel recommends exploring all of San Francisco’s neighborhoods, as each has its own character and identity. His favorite runners are Hayes Valley, with its trees, sophistication and modern atmosphere; Outer Sunset, with surfers’ relaxation and its 5.5 km long white sand beach; and North Beach, with its lively street cafes, in the city’s fourth-best walking neighborhood.
There is still a long way to go before San Francisco becomes a truly pedestrian-friendly city, but history shows that it is possible. After all, one of the city’s best walking areas – the Embarcadero, by the sea – was once a highway, until the earthquake known as the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 made it impossible to use for vehicle traffic.
Have you watched our new videos on YouTube? Subscribe to our channel!