Covid-19 and Urban Mobility

Impacts of the pandemic and prospects for a post-pandemic future.

Summary of the Connective Cities Virtual Dialogue Event in partnership with United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) and UN-Habitat and hosted by the City of Wiesbaden - Germany , 19, 20 and 22 July 2021

1. Covid-19: A major turning point for urban mobility

The Covid-19 pandemic has led to fundamental changes in urban mobility worldwide. Some impacts are short-term, especially during lockdowns. Others are long-term changes in the way urban mobility and traffic will operate in the future.

One of the main responses of governments worldwide to the pandemic was to restrict circulation of people. However, municipalities still had to guarantee the mobility of essential workers and goods. There was also a shift in behaviour, with citizens changing their regular modes of transport for reasons of safety and hygiene. Modes of transport which allow for physical distancing, such as walking, cycling and private cars are now favoured, whereas there is a decline in the use of public and shared transport. Lockdown restrictions further contribute to the rise in e-commerce and delivery services, posing particular challenges for last mile freight distribution.

Having experienced reduced traffic and less pollution during lockdowns, the motivation to promote more sustainable urban mobility has grown for many local governments. Investing in measures such as active mobility infrastructure, safer and more accessible public transport and low-emission transport options are in accordance with the imperative aim of economic recovery, as infrastructure investments may lead to job creation and private investment in diverse economic sectors.

2. Focus on local public transport, bicycle traffic and urban logistics

During the three-day event, 55 participants, including representatives of municipal administrations and enterprises, civil society, business and academia from over 15 countries, discussed how they could shape the future urban mobility in terms of

  1. Local public transport: Local public transport operators around the world face an unprecedented decline in passenger numbers and, consequently, severe revenue losses due to the restrictions imposed to control the pandemic. In many cities, financing models had to be reconsidered and it is necessary to regain passengers’ trust and maintain the attractiveness of services.
  2. Bicycle traffic: The pandemic has underlined the need for more bike-friendly cities and can be an opportunity to rethink urban space and the role of cycling in urban mobility. Many municipalities promote active travel.
  3. Sustainable urban logistics: With growing e-commerce and an increasing number of goods deliveries in cities, freight movement within cities has to be adapted.

In her opening speech, Stefanie Holzwarth from UN-Habitat emphasised that “we have a window of opportunity to learn from this pandemic and to build back better by making our mobility systems more resilient and responsive to crises. We should aim to get out of this stronger and ready to address climate change, air pollution and road fatalities, because the world cannot accept any further delays!” Sergio Arredondo from the Latin American Federation of Cities, Municipalities and Municipal Associations (FLACMA), speaking on behalf of UCLG, reminded participants that it was not enough to continue to provide local transport services; they have to be provided in a healthy and safe manner. Around the world, municipalities were witnessing a bicycle revolution – which has to be reflected in future urban development and design. In a welcome speech, Bettina Gies from the event’s host city of Wiesbaden said that international exchange on urban mobility was crucial, because agile and active solutions were needed to tackle current and future urban mobility challenges.

After presenting thirteen examples of good practice in the areas of public transport, bicycle traffic and urban logistics, municipalities, civil society and private sector participants shared their related challenges, discussed them in peer-to-peer learning processes and jointly developed potential solutions. The challenges presented ranged from reducing e-commerce-related waste in the city of Taoyuan (Taiwan) and increasing citizens’ acceptance of bike lanes in Cuenca (Ecuador) to making public transport more attractive in terms of speed in Yerevan (Armenia) and increasing mutual appreciation and respect between different road users in Wiesbaden (Germany).


3. Presentationen of Good Practices

Working group A: Cycling bicycle traffic [pdf 7,1mb]

Working group B: Sustainable urban logistics [pdf, 2,3mb]

Working group C: Local Public Transport I [pdf, 2,3mb]

Working group D: Local Public Transport II [pdf, 1,2mb]

4. The way forward

During the dialogue event, participants worked together to develop four specific project ideas to be implemented  in the framework of thematic municipal cooperation.

The City of São Paulo (Brazil) aims to increase demand for public transport with measures such as a publicity campaign on hygiene and an education programme for children to promote the use of public transport. An app for the public transport system, which can support multimodal transport, was identified as a suitable solution for Yerevan’s public transport challenges. The city’s first steps will be to secure funding, conduct a consumer and market analysis and make use of experience gained in other cities such as Leipzig, which recently introduced a similar app. The City of Lalitpur (Nepal) and the Cycle City Network Nepal want to introduce a bicycle sharing system as a sustainable business model and plan to develop an implementation strategy for Lalitpur Metropolitan City. Finally, Buenos Aires (Argentina) aims to adapt curb management in one of its neighbourhoods to accommodate different users’ needs and develop a model for safe micro hubs, which integrate last mile logistics.

Connective Cities will support project ideas with follow-up activities such as expert missions, local workshops, webinars and advice on internal, external or third-party project funding options.

5. Key take-aways from the dialogue event

  1. Local public transport:
    1. An electronic ticketing system and the introduction of a multi-modal app can improve bus and train operations.
    2. Buses can increase their speed, and thus their attractiveness, if they do not have to leave the lane and stop in bays and have an automatic green phase.
    3. In order to win back customers despite the pandemic, local transport operators can run publicity campaigns focusing on hygiene measures and safety.
  2. Bicycle traffic:
    1. Apart from building infrastructure such as bike lanes and parking facilities, municipalities have to address and involve their citizens to identify their needs, promote cycling as a sustainable, safe and fast mode of transport and reduce potential opposition to bike traffic due to the loss of parking space.
    2. The introduction of a bike sharing system can encourage more people to use bikes.
    3. In order to get a good picture of bike traffic, municipalities can cooperate with universities to collect data or use cyclists’ GPS data.
  3. Sustainable urban logistics:
    1. To make last mile logistics safer and more sustainable, municipalities can establish café-like social micro hubs for collecting deliveries, including drop-off places and permits to use the curb. In addition, last mile delivery can be done by bike to reduce traffic and emissions.
    2. Shop owners can be involved to keep loading and delivery zones free from unauthorised parking, while combined sensor and camera systems can improve the technical surveillance of these zones.
    3. Municipal associations can be involved to increase pressure on government to provide legal options for surveillance of loading and delivery areas.
    4. Packaging should be reduced to a minimum and a return system (similar to the bottle deposit schemes already in operation in many countries) can increase recycling of packaging material. Companies can be rewarded for sustainable packaging management, with financial penalties for over-packaging.
  4. Sustainable urban mobility in general:
    1. In order to increase mutual appreciation and respect between different road users, bike-only days on weekends can help to promote cycling and raise awareness of cyclists’ road safety.
    2. A zero-emissions campaign, high parking fees and car-free zones can increase people’s willingness to leave the car at home or even give it up and switch to public transport or walking and cycling.
    3. Campaigns to improve road safety, mutual respect and sustainable urban transport help to make traffic safer and more sustainable.

6. Further information: the detailed report of the dialogue event

Sustainable Urban Mobility and COVID-19

Peer Learning Note from UCLG in cooperation with Connective Cities and the City of Wiesbaden

In 2020, the international city platform Connective Cities started its series of online events on Covid-19- related topics in cooperation with committed municipal stakeholders. The dialogue event on urban mobility was part of this series.


Impressions: Graphic-Recordings of Peer-to-Peer Sessions

Connective Cities

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