The path to a sustainable future


Written by Ginna Castillo, Climate Change Mitigation Consultant


Historically speaking, cities emerged as places of encounter and agglomeration. Nowadays, according to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 55% of the world’s population lives in those places, a proportion that is expected to increase to 68% by 2050. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the most effective strategy to avoid exposure to the virus has been social distancing which means that 55% of the population must rethink their way of living in order to avoid Coronavirus. In terms of transportation, new questions are arising on how to move through the city while remaining healthy or even if it is necessary to move on a daily basis at all. 

So far, even under strict lockdown people working in essential occupations had to commute every day. Now, as some sectors of the economy are gradually re-opening in some countries, the possibility of social contact is getting higher, thus citizens are drastically migrating to individual yet affordable means of transportation. Governments are also being part of this shift by encouraging the use of non-powered vehicles or walking. There are around 250 local actions around the world to support walking and cycling during social distancing (Dataset from the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center).

There is no doubt cycling is rising as the most resilient mean of transportation during the pandemic since it allows longer distances than walking on a small or cero daily budget. According to the World Economic Forum, most of the local initiatives have to do with free rides on shared bicycle services and offering more kilometers of bike lanes by adapting space from local roads or even highways in cities like Bogota, Milan, Barcelona or Brussels, to name a few. Meanwhile, community collaboration efforts are also taking part in transforming urban mobility through projects such as Lend-A-Bike in Manila.

These governmental or community initiatives have the potential of keeping ongoing after the COVID 19 pandemic is over, even if most of them are only taking place as temporal measures during the confinement. The first step in this direction is being taken by the government of the Ile-de-France region who is now considering cycling as the main mean of transport after deconfinement (LeParisien). But that is just the tip of the iceberg, discussions about mobility are happening everywhere and new questions are arising on unnecessary car trips, home office and proximity to jobs and services, among others.

It is well known that climate change is one of the most urgent environmental challenges of our time, so if all cities were to pay attention to these new questions and initiatives instead of following the business as usual scenario before the pandemic, wonderful things would happen simply because we are now capable of changing habits on a global scale. For starters, and just by cycling, greenhouse gas emissions would drastically drop. According to the ranking of urban transport modes made by travelandmobility.tech, moving by a gasoline car generates around 96% more emissions than moving by bicycle (gram per passenger kilometers). That is during the whole life cycle of each vehicle: manufacture, operation, maintenance, and disposal.

Still, this seems to be the first step of a very long path. From this point forward, cities will have the challenge of redistributing public space and perhaps redefine street hierarchy by putting people before cars. Land use will have to be even more diverse in order to guarantee proximity between homes, services, and jobs so that the distances for commuting are either walkable or suitable for cycling. Last but not least, public transport will get more relevant on long distances and intermodality would have to become a reality. All these changes will ultimately lead to a more sustainable way of life and a more sustainable future.       

David Poveda