There is a global consensus that countries want to BUILD BACK BETTER after months of lockdown.  

Planners and city authorities are taking advantage of lockdowns to reimagine cities to walkable, vehicle-free and healthier environments.

The social distancing guidelines are pushing people to stay away from public transport thus compelling cities to acknowledge the need for Non-Motorized Transport.

Non-Motorized Transport (NMT) includes walking, cycling and related variants such as use of skateboards, push scooters and wheelchairs.

Build Back Better 1
Photo courtesy: The newly constructed NMT lanes in Nairobi

In England, 1.3 Million Bikes were purchased during the lockdown that commenced in March. The purchases are likely increase as more people ditch public transport to avoid crowded spaces.

In Colombia, the city of Bogota opened 75 kilometers of temporary bike lanes to discourage people from overcrowding in public transit.

In Kenya, the newly established Nairobi Metropolitan Services has been constructing pedestrian walkways and cyclists lanes within the inner city to restore the lost glory of “The Green City in the Sun”.

In Canada and Australia, cities have been reconfiguring traffic light buttons to reduce the need for touching crosswalk buttons.

COVID19 created an opportunity for the aforementioned progressive decisions. To scale these efforts, cities need to be intentional about developing long-term strategies for health improvements. The health and psychological benefits of greener, walkable and cleaner cities are immeasurable.

The moment cities tackle overcrowding, repurpose parking spaces into pedestrian walkways, reduce the need for touching publicly accessed surfaces and provide clean water for all; communicable and lifestyle diseases will be under control. This will translate to reduction in health budgets and productivity at workplaces since less people will fall sick. Thus an economic advantage to cities taking such measures.

However, there is a risk of losing revenue and employment opportunities due to reduced car parking spaces, decreased use of public transit and less use of personal vehicles. For instance, Nairobi city makes a revenue of between USD 12,000 and 15,000 every day from car parking. Equally, the livelihoods of those who work as auto-mechanics and spare parts sellers would be threatened by any measure that seek to reduce vehicle usage.

From a public policy lens, the desire to Build-Back-Better should factor the unique settings of every country. Some countries will still be better off encouraging their people to walk and cycle to work while others are likely to encounter resistance since motorized transport system is a source of livelihood for a significant proportion of the population.

Deciding between losing revenue and prioritizing the larger health benefits requires sober leadership coupled with city residents’ goodwill.


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