For Fast Company’s Shape of Tomorrow series, we’re asking business leaders to share their inside perspective on how the COVID-19 era is transforming their industries. Here’s what’s been lost—and what could be gained—in the new world order.
This pandemic is challenging us, but it also offers a once-in-a-century chance to change course and undo some of the damage from the traffic and congestion and pollution. I work with mayors around the world to improve the quality of life in their cities, and transportation is at the heart of what we’re doing in response to the COVID crisis. Just 10 years ago, when I was transportation commissioner of NYC, closing car traffic through Times Square for pedestrians was on the front page of newspapers for weeks. Now cities around the world are turning to car-free streets as part of the recovery. Not because it’s fun or because of any political agenda, but it’s because streets that are accessible are better for business and better to live in. And the same things that make biking and walking attractive in a pandemic—that they’re resilient and reliable and affordable and you can be socially distanced—were true before the pandemic. The pandemic can give cities a head start on a new road order.
Milan has announced a 42-kilometer (26-mile) plan to take two lanes of the street and turn them into extended sidewalks and bike lanes. [Paris] Mayor Anne Hidalgo set up a 450-kilometer (about 280-mile) bike lane network and closed the Rue de Rivoli and turned it into a car-free zone. London is moving forward under Mayor Sadiq Khan to widen sidewalks rapidly. Bogota is doubling down on its [bike lane] program. Some 50 American cities have created hundreds of miles of flexible streets that are open for walking and biking. So I think we’re seeing that our streets are really a lifeline, and not just a way to get cars from point A to point B.