Tuesday 11 August 2020 4:01 am

The future of urban transport is human-powered

Gareth Nettleton is Strava’s global vice president of marketing and the lead of Strava Metro

In recent months there has been precious little to celebrate as the pandemic has taken away so much and pushed us apart into isolation. 

Much of the rapid change we have had forced upon us has been negative. 

But there’s one change that we can choose to make that will benefit all and create the foundation for better cities now, tomorrow, and into the future. 

Lockdown measures and changing public attitudes have led to a drop in car use and public transport, as people have shifted to active travel as their main mode of transportation. 

In the UK, running and cycling have witnessed a new boom, as people took up activities in their millions to counteract the impact of lockdown. Initial reports are showing that Britons have bought 60 per cent more bikes since lockdown began.

This change in behaviour is not unique to the UK, and it has had wider implications — with air pollution plummeting, a reduction in traffic congestion, and cities across the world going as far as closing streets for cars long-term.

Strava Metro, the world’s largest database for active transportation, revealed that between June 2019 and June 2020, the vast majority of the world’s biggest metropolitan areas saw profound rises in active travel — meaning any form of physical travel like cycling, walking or running, from point A to point B and longer than 1 km — with London witnessing a 59 per cent increase in trips. 

It’s become apparent that active travel could be the way forward long after Covid-19 is no longer a concern, but only if we choose to fully embrace it.

If we want to create a more environmentally sustainable future, we are staring at the single greatest opportunity to make it so. If society at large is finally grasping the benefits of car-free streets, are we not duty bound to make it last?

We have a small window of opportunity to act. If public support for active travel continues to grow, the government must look into future-proofing our cities in favour of this trend, starting with infrastructure.  

To achieve this, we need effective cross-collaboration between the public and private sectors, where public funding and business support can lead to data-informed infrastructure.

This is where services like ours can support the future-proofing of our cities, empowering urban planners, local councils, academics and policymakers to fully understand mobility patterns and predict the impact of infrastructure change.

But infrastructure alone won’t be enough. Future-proofing our cities must come with incentives too. We need to find creative ways to encourage people to jump on their bikes or run to work. Nurturing demand for active travel in a post-pandemic world means thinking innovatively about cycle-to-work schemes and how to adapt workplaces so they offer shower and changing facilities, encouraging people to choose a cost-efficient and environmentally friendly form of transportation. Work, life, and the balance between the two is changing, and new transport and business policies need to reflect that. 

If the government wants to realise Boris Johnson’s aspiration to “build back better”, it must kick off by locking in some of the positive trends that have emerged in recent months — starting with active travel. This is a golden opportunity to reinvent our cities for the better. It’s now on us to take the lessons we have learned and create long-lasting change.

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.