Sustainable mobility will be a key driver of a solid green recovery, according to Dr. Jörn Richert.
As the world collectively went into varying states of lockdown in March and April, something amazing happened. From Jakarta to Los Angeles, New Delhi to Shanghai, previously hazy and smoggy skies began to clear as traffic ceased flowing. To this day, countries and cities are seeing a dramatic change not just in everyday functioning, but also in the way they move.
Dr. Jörn Richert from the Mobility Institute of Berlin believes that countries and cities around the globe can use this opportunity to install a new system of mobility and public transport that prioritizes sustainability and equality. The core idea behind this “Green Recovery” is creating a new normal that is environmentally and socially superior to that which predates it.
Richert is not alone. Cities around the world are thinking of ways to recover from the pandemic in a way that’s environmentally friendly, and nowhere is that more salient than in transportation. Berlin, for example, was one of the many cities that implemented pop-up bike or bus lanes, as well as more walkable streets for pedestrians, during the pandemic, with the end goal of creating more liveable cities.
The trend is clear: Urban environments are well poised to restructure the roads to prioritize walking, cycling, and green public transport, while also incentivizing electric vehicles over ICE cars.
States and cities that were already engaged in this redirection of focus have found the opportunity presented by this moment much easier to navigate, according to Richert, taking advantage of the short and medium-term changes to their society’s transport systems and building them into a longer-term vision for the future. A prime example of this is Berlin which had been debating increased cyclability within the city pre-COVID, and upon the outbreak seized the moment to proliferate the existing and expanded cycle lanes, reducing the risk of viral transmission posed by other forms of public transport.
Which is not to say that cities that hadn’t already planned for green mobility are at a disadvantage. “It is never too early to start developing visions,” Richert says.
How can cities and countries move forward?
Richert noted that cities need to take the lead on local transport solutions. While national standardized transport solutions have utility, they don’t allow for the rapid response that needs to occur on the local level. One size fits all approaches do not apply to the geographic and social diversity of individual cities. Rather, mayors of cities with similar profiles should be exchanging experiences, best practices, and solutions toward the problems posed by transport and mobility reform, enabling them to rely on each other to make prompt decisions.
On the other hand, governments do play a significant role in incentivizing and enabling cities’ actions.
“The two major levers are finance and regulation,” says Richert. “Financially [national governments] can provide the right incentives for individuals and companies to invest in the right technologies.”
In Germany for example, the coronavirus financial recovery package for car manufacturers was restricted only to electronic vehicles.
Coronavirus has forced the hand of government and cities to spend on crisis recovery efforts. While dwindling finances and a recessive economy are substantial issues, a green recovery is the only path forward, argues Richert.
“With the limited resources you have and with the resources you have to invest into the system to keep it running, you should focus on the things which move to a better world than the one we had before.” says Richert. ”Sustainable transport and public transport should be very high on that agenda.”
This article was adapted from a conversation on the Talking Transport Transformation podcast, hosted by TUMI.