When the first wave of Covid19 prevented indoor gatherings in most countries, many cities responded quickly by devising new ways of living outdoors in public.
Some of them created purely pedestrian streets, while others turned parking lots into temporary restaurants. Bike lanes have also been expanded, turning previously carfilled streets into bike and pedestrian zones.
These changes have paid off and not just in the form of increased economic activity. Studies have shown that the virus spreads less quickly in urban areas with large walking areas. And while many places have abandoned initiatives as people begin to resume normal activities, some cities have maintained pedestrianfriendly policies and expanded carfree zones even further.
We’ve selected four cities that have stood out with some of the fastest and boldest innovations for pedestrians during the pandemic. They keep several of these initiatives to encourage their residents and visitors to walk around the city.
2 out of 5 Parisians increasingly use carfree areas. — Photo: SPOOH/GETTY IMAGES
Parisians are increasingly using carfree areas. — Photo: SPOOH/GETTY IMAGES
Even before the pandemic, the French capital was at the forefront of creating more space for pedestrians.
As part of efforts to reduce the number of cars in Paris, the lower quay along the Seine was reserved entirely for pedestrians in late 2016. The measure became permanent in 2018.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo was reelected in 2020 in part for her support of the 15minute city project: a new concept of urban planning that allows residents to do all their daily chores, including shopping and commuting School and work the equivalent distance of 15 minutes on foot or by bike.
The pandemic, combined with several prelockdown public transport strikes, helped boost the popularity of these peoplecentric and green initiatives.
“The beauty of walking in Paris has only increased with Covid19,” says Kathleen Peddicord, founder of specialist publisher Live and Invest Overseas. “Public transport has not been feasible for a long time and it has been made even more inconvenient by the need to wear masks. So more people started using their feet.”
The number of bike lanes has been increased to reduce car traffic. By 2026, the city wants to build another 180 km of cycle paths and 180,000 bicycle parking spaces.
“Having lived in Paris for 14 years, it’s safe to say that I’ve never seen such massive change across the city to encourage cyclists as it has recently,” said Sadie Sumner, head of the Paris office of cycling tour operator Fat Tire. Tours.
Major avenues such as 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 and make it more pleasant and comfortable for pedestrians. And as part of the preparations for the 2024 Olympic Games, the bridge between the Eiffel Tower and the Trocadéro will also only be accessible to pedestrians.
Overall, the residents have agreed to the major changes and are looking forward to more. “Residents really like it, there are fewer cars and people seem a little more relaxed,” said Roobens Fils, a Parisian who runs the blog Been Around the Globe.
Fils offers proposals for tourists who love walking: Parc Rives de Seine, a 7 km walk along the river; the 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.
3 of 5 Bogotá was one of the first cities to offer temporary bike lanes during the pandemic. — Photo: PABLO ARTURO ROJAS/GETTY IMAGES
Bogotá was one of the first cities to offer temporary bike lanes during the pandemic. — Photo: PABLO ARTURO ROJAS/GETTY IMAGES
Colombia and its capital Bogotá have always had a strong cycling culture. Cycling is the country’s national sport. But the pandemic has meant that many measures have to be taken to reduce the number of cars.
In 2020, Mayor Claudia Lopez set up 84 km of temporary bike lanes in Bogotá and added 550 km to the existing network. Cicloruta, as it is known, was already one of the largest bike lane networks in the world and the temporary lanes became permanent.
Bogotá was one of the first cities in the world to introduce temporary bike lanes during the pandemic, and residents agreed to keep the changes permanent.
“The city has really started to develop an Amsterdamlike flair. [na Holanda] and Copenhagen [na Dinamarca] in recent years,” says Alex Gillard, creator of the blog Nomad Nature Travel, who lived in Bogotá for a short time during the pandemic. “There are many bikes on the streets at any time of the day, which is very inspiring. ”
On Sundays and public holidays, some streets are completely closed to cars as part of a program called Ciclovía, which attracts more than 1.5 million cyclists, pedestrians and joggers each week.
The new Integrated Public Transport System of Bogotá (SITP) buses, which run on 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 tourists to visit the historic district of La Candelaria, where the city was founded over 400 years ago. There you will find museums about Bogotá’s rich history as well as restaurants set in buildings from centuries ago. She also recommends Usaquén Park, with its openair weekend market where visitors can sample Colombian cuisine, enjoy local handicrafts and music events.
4 out of 5 The new CityLife district in Milan is one of the largest carfree urban areas in Europe. — Photo: MM PHOTOGRAPHER/GETTY IMAGES
The new CityLife district in Milan is one of the largest carfree urban areas in Europe. — Photo: MM PHOTOGRAPHER/GETTY IMAGES
Italy was one of the hardesthit countries at the start of the pandemic, and its cities have had to adapt quickly to provide alternatives to their cramped public transport system.
In the summer of 2020, Milan adopted an ambitious plan to widen the sidewalks and extend the bike lanes to 35km of roads then reserved for car traffic. These changes transformed the city, bringing with them restaurants and openair markets, as well as urban gardens.
“It’s not the Milan I remember from my student days 10 years ago,” says resident Luisa Favaretto, founder of website Strategistico, of living abroad. “I love the 15 minute city concept [Milão também explorou este plano] and I was drawn to the development of the city’s infrastructure, which prioritizes people over cars.”
Favaretto has observed the growth of an “old world” sense of community as reasons for street activity and gatherings in common spaces have increased.
The new CityLife district is the largest carfree area in Milan and one of the largest in Europe. “It’s full of public green spaces with plenty of bike lanes and offers a vision of the future of a sustainable Milan,” says Favaretto.
She also recommends strolling along the Navigli canals and enjoying the area’s outdoor restaurants and nightlife. The former industrial district of Isola in northern Milan has been transformed into a walking and cycling area full of cafés, galleries and boutiques.
Tourists do not have to worry about the availability of bicycles for riding on the cycle paths. The city’s bike rental service, BikeMI, has 300 stations across the city and offers both regular and electric bikes.
5 of 5 The Embarcadero was a freeway until damage from a 1989 San Francisco earthquake led to its demolition. — Photo: CHRISTOPHER CHAN/GETTY IMAGES
The Embarcadero was a freeway until damage from a 1989 San Francisco earthquake led to its demolition. — Photo: CHRISTOPHER CHAN/GETTY IMAGES
San Francisco, United States
San Francisco in Northern California responded quickly to the onset of the pandemic by launching the Slow Streets program, which employed signage and barriers to limit traffic and car speeds in 30 gears to make transit easier for pedestrians and cyclists.
Data collected by the city shows that the program has resulted in a 50% reduction in vehicle traffic. On weekdays, pedestrian traffic increased by 17% and cyclists by 65%.
Many of these streets have already resumed their prepandemic function, but residents have managed to keep four sectors 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 roads that are still closed. “You see families walking, children playing it’s a completely different experience.”
She points out that the city has invested money and effort to build better bike lanes across the city. And now cycle paths are signposted more clearly than before.
Steel recommends exploring all of San Francisco’s neighborhoods, as each has its own character and identity. His favorite runs are Hayes Valley with its trees, sophistication and modern vibe; Outer Sunset, with surfers’ relaxation and its 3.5 miles of white sand beach; and North Beach, with its lively sidewalk cafes, in the city’s fourthbest walking neighborhood.
There’s still a long way to go before San Francisco becomes a truly walkable city, but history shows it can be done. After all, one of the city’s best hiking areas — the Embarcadero by the sea — was once a freeway until the 1989 earthquake known as the Loma Prieta earthquake made it impossible to use for vehicular traffic.
Read the original version of this report on the BBC Travel website.