Posted on: April 21, 2020 at 1:07 PM    

We have all observed the increased number of people walking and cycling around our neighbourhoods during the lockdown. From the stories I have heard, people who haven’t previously walked or cycled much are loving it. The other day, a friend who lives nearby and doesn’t usually ride a bike, sent our family an SOS text asking “can I please borrow a bike, I want to cruise around”. It's awesome to see so many people actively getting out to explore their local area.

Along with increased activity, there has also been the new concept of physical distancing, which has seen people give each other a wide berth on paths.  The shared path below is about 2.5m wide and is near the Rapaki Track. I often walk along here, and experience mountain bikers tearing past me on this pathway. If that feels uncomfortable to me, it must be terrifying to someone who is frail or vulnerable.

But as you can see in the photo below taken last week, many cyclists have been making a slight detour to the grass when passing walkers, which makes for a much safer and pleasant experience for pedestrians.

Another outcome of physical distancing is that people sometimes spill over from the footpath onto the road, which means drivers need to go slower than they usually would. The road below is next to the Heathcote River and only has a footpath on one side. I usually walk on the river side as it's more interesting, but I have often thought vehicles are travelling too fast for the context along here, and that the speed limit should be lower.

The behavioural changes we have witnessed have posed three questions in my mind for when we go back to our post-lockdown lives:

  • will the increased level of walking and cycling inspire people to do more active travel, for example commuting to work, shopping etc?
  • will people display more courtesy on paths?
  • will people drive slower on local streets, given there may be people walking and cycling near the road? Since more people have themselves been walking and cycling during lockdown, perhaps there will be more appreciation for lower driving speeds around our local streets?

If we want the answer to be "YES", we can all play a role. As individuals we can encourage others (we will tell our friend she can keep that bike if she wants to continue cycling), we can call out less courteous people on paths, we can lobby for more walking and cycling facilities and lower speed limits. 

As transportation engineers and planners we are passionate about designing safe, efficient and enjoyable ways to move from place to place and encourage walking, cycling and use of public transport. To add value to this, employers can provide end of trip facilities and support working from home where possible. And as decision-makers, we need to be bold...let’s make sure the good behaviours stick!

This is the fourth blog in our series of 'Bubble Blogs'. During the COVID-19 lockdown, our 'People and Places' team will reflect on insights and experiences related to the work that we do. See also Bubble Blog #1: Reclaiming the Streets, Bubble Blog #2: Repurposing our infrastructure, Bubble Blog #3: Walking Superheroes - keep an eye out for Bubble Blog #5!

Blog written by Jeanette Ward, Technical Director, Transportation Engineering



DSC01743 cropped