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Reimagining Mobility in the Face of a Global Pandemic



The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the world to a standstill. Overnight lockdown of cities, ban on global travel, public gatherings, and the closure of non-essential businesses instantly summoned the population into their homes. Stay-at-home restrictions and social distancing protocols were implemented to contain the novel respiratory disease that has infected over 4.3 million people with an official death count that surpasses 300,000. 


As New York State is set to start reopening some regions, mobility remains a grave concern. In New York City where 56% of the population depends on public transportation, respiratory secretions on surfaces of transit vehicles pose a significant risk. An MIT study suggests subways, handrails, and turnstiles as “major disseminators” of coronavirus. Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) responded by scheduling daily disinfecting routines and the installation of ultraviolet lights to kill the pathogen on subways and buses. Consequently, limited operations due to deep cleaning and low ridership have created service delays for the city’s workforce and local commuters embarking on essential trips. As a result, riders are turning to alternative modes of transport.


On Sunday, I passed a long queue in front of a bike shop in Midwood, Brooklyn. Customers were waiting to repair their bikes. Some were there to pump air into old tires, others to replace the rusty chains. In the vacant streets of Dyker Heights, cyclists have become a popular sight. Along the tree-lined streets of Bay Ridge Parkway, Soren and his girlfriend Daniella were among the countless riders who’ve turned to the two-wheeler to skip mass transit. “We’ve both been cooped up in our homes for the past two months. Now that there’s less competition on the road, we’re thrilled to make this a tradition,” said Daniella, a Reiki healer from Brooklyn on her way to deliver groceries to her elderly neighbor. The decrease of private ridership on Lyft and Uber along with limited public transit services has led to a surge in cycling around the five boroughs. To reduce vehicle congestion, and get essential workers around New York City, Mayor de Blasio announced 100 miles of streets for pedestrians which include enlarged protected bike lanes. Meanwhile, bike share services like Citi Bike aims to install 100 new docking stations in Manhattan and the Bronx.


Many countries have eased lockdowns and loosened restrictions. By reorganizing outdoor spaces and reimagining transport alternatives that observe virus prevention policy and social distancing guidelines, a sustainable future could be at bay. Environment minister Elisabeth Borne of France announced a generous plan to expand bike lanes, finance cycling repairs and spearhead training programs to prevent the crowding of metros and buses. In Germany, commuters are being encouraged to walk on foot, bike, or skateboard to reduce the spread of infection. City Lab reports at least 10 cities “including London and Glasgow, have made bike-share systems free.” In the Columbian capital of Bogota, residents have seen an expansion of temporary bike lanes to promote a hygienic alternative


In major metropolitan cities, residents rely on public transport as their sole means of mobility. COVID-19 has brought a renewed urgency to reimagine cycling infrastructure (with ridership now up by 50%) to get commuters back to work without crowding buses or trains. During these confusing albeit difficult times, Ouvos is working together with a growing community of cyclists to ensure rider safety and confidence while on the road. 

Author: Samina Siraj


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