We’re highlighting four cities from around the globe that responded to the pandemic with some of the most audacious and quick changes to make them more pedestrian-friendly. These cities are still implementing many of these initiatives to encourage locals and visitors to say no to cars and instead use foot travel.
Paris has already begun to become more pedestrian-friendly before the outbreak. The lower quays that run along the Seine river were fully pedestrianized in late 2016, and the change was made permanent in 2018. This was done as part of a city-wide initiative to lessen the number of cars. The “15-minute city,” a novel urban planning idea that enables citizens to fulfill all of their daily duties – from shopping to schooling to work – within the radius of a 15-minute walk or bike ride, helped Mayor Anne Hidalgo win re-election in 2020.
The pandemic, coupled with several strikes on public transportation previous to lockdown, further increased support for these people- and planet-centered efforts. According to Kathleen Peddicord, the creator of Live and Invest Overseas, “Since Covid, the beauty of exploring Paris on foot is highlighted more. “For a long period, using public transit was prohibited, and donning masks made it more uncomfortable. As a result, more people began to use their feet.”
In order to decrease the amount of traffic from cars, more bike lanes have been added. By 2026, the city actually intends to build 180 km more of bike lanes and 180,000 new bike parking spaces.
Major thoroughfares, like the Rue de Rivoli in the heart of Paris, have been narrowed to one lane, while bike lanes have been widened to three automobile lanes.
By 2026, the city also intends to plant 170,000 trees with the goal of cooling Paris and improving the quality of life for pedestrians. The bridge connecting the Eiffel Tower and Trocadero will also be entirely pedestrianized in advance of the city’s hosting of the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Despite the fact that cycling is Colombia’s national sport and that Bogotá (and Colombia as a whole) have always had a strong bicycle culture, the epidemic expedited many car-free developments. The city’s 550km Ciclorruta bike path network, already one of the largest in the world, received an extra 84km of temporary cycle lanes in 2020, and they have since been made permanent.
During the pandemic, Bogotá was one of the first cities in the world to introduce “pop-up” cycling lanes, and locals have noted the long-term improvements are superior. The city has over the past several years truly begun to take on an apparent Amsterdam and Copenhagen atmosphere, according to Alex Gillard, the creator of the site Nomad Nature Travel and a resident of Bogotá during the pandemic. It is incredibly exciting to see so many bikes on the streets at all times of the day.
More than 1.5 million bikers, pedestrians, and joggers use the Ciclovia program, which fully bans cars from some routes on Sundays and other holidays.
Locals claim that the city’s new SITP buses, which are powered by gas and electricity, have substantially improved the public transit system. “Bogotá’s atmosphere has altered. The city is now lot calmer, safer, and simpler to navigate “said local Josephine Remo, the author of a travel blog by the same name.
Italy was one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic at first, and cities in the country had to adapt quickly to provide alternatives to densely populated public transportation. Milan launched an ambitious plan to widen pavements and expand cycling lanes along 35km of roads previously dominated by car traffic in the summer of 2020. The transformation has transformed the city, bringing more outdoor dining, open-air markets, and urban gardens.
“It’s not the Milan I remember from my college days 10 years ago,” said resident Luisa Favaretto, founder of the living abroad website Strategistico. “I was drawn to the city’s evolving infrastructure, which prioritizes people over cars, and I love the concept of the 15-minute city [a plan Milan has also explored.” She’s noticed an increase in what she calls a “old world” sense of community as there are more reasons to be outside and meet in public places.
The new CityLife district is not only Milan’s largest car-free zone, but also one of Europe’s largest. “It’s filled with public green spaces and tons of bike lanes, and it offers a glimpse into the future of a sustainable Milan,” Favaretto said. She also recommends strolling through Navigli’s canals and enjoying the neighborhood’s outdoor dining and nightlife. Isola’s north neighborhood has been transformed from an industrial district to a walkable and bikeable neighborhood filled with hip cafes, galleries, and boutiques.
Travelers do not need to worry about finding a bike to enjoy the cycling lanes. BikeMI, the city’s bike sharing service, has 300 stations throughout the city and offers both regular and e-bikes.
San Francisco, US
During the early pandemic, this northern California city moved quickly to implement Slow Streets, a program that used signage and barriers to limit car traffic and speeds on 30 corridors in an effort to make them more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly. According to city data, the program resulted in a 50% decrease in vehicle traffic, a 17% increase in weekday pedestrian traffic, and a 65% increase in weekday cyclist traffic.
Though many of the streets have since been restored to their pre-pandemic condition, residents pushed for four sections to be made permanent, including those on Golden Gate Avenue, Lake Street, Sanchez Street, and Shotwell Street. A vote on the future of the other corridors will be held in September.
“It’s wonderful for pedestrians and bikers to be able to share the streets,” said resident Leith Steel of the still-closed roads. “You see families walking around, kids playing – it’s a very different experience.”
She also mentions that the city has spent money and time improving bike routes throughout the city, which are now more clearly marked than before. She recommends thoroughly exploring each neighborhood in San Francisco, as each has its own distinct feel and character. She enjoys the tree-lined Hayes Valley’s upscale and modern vibes; Outer Sunset’s laid-back surfer vibe and 3.5-mile stretch of white sand beach; and North Beach’s lively street cafes (and the 4th most walkable neighbourhood in the city).