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Elliot Fishman on COVID-19 and transport

An interview with Dr Elliot Fishman is the Director of Transport Innovation at the Institute for Sensible Transport, and his thoughts on the effects and influence of COVD-19 on transport, with a focus on cycling and active transport.

iMOVE first met Elliot in late 2019, in our interview, Elliot Fishman: Pushing for sensible transport. He was strong on the possibilities and benefits of cycling then, and he is certainly still steering that path of thought.

What are the main effects or changes due to COVID-19 are you seeing right now?

We are seeking a big increase in cycling. Much of this is on cycle paths, and they have never been more congested than they are right now. Bike shops say that they are much busier now than they were at the same time last year.

A lot of older bikes are being serviced that had previously been people’s garages collecting dust. There are a number of councils concerned that with so many people using the bike paths, this presents an infection control issue.

A lot of cities around the world have been experiencing similar issues and have responded by reallocating space towards cycling, to relieve the pressure of the path network (for example see Pop-up infrastructure for active mobility in Berlin). Many NZ cities have begun doing this and I have lost count of the number of US and European cities that are rolling out emergency bike lanes.

Congestion is also way down. Figures vary from between 40—70% on the Australian road network.

What changes would you like to see in transport when the world rights post-pandemic?

The easiest thing governments can do right now is create a network of temporary bike lanes that use traffic separators and water filled barriers to enable people to ride in a manner that protects them from moving vehicles. There is no congestion. There is no sign of a return to this congestion. When/if the congestion does return, they can be pulled up overnight.

And what changes do you think will happen in transport post-pandemic?

Public transport will take a very long time to come back, and will remain down until there is a vaccine, which could be many years away.

More people will work from home, on a regular basis. We have a number of clients who want a Work from Home policy updated, because managers that were reluctant to let their staff work from home have become won over by it. Zoom and other technology is making it easier, and it is entirely plausible that in a post-COVID-19 pandemic, an extra 10% of people will choose to work from home 1 or 2 days per week. This will have a disproportionately large impact on congestion levels (a 5% reduction in vehicle numbers can have a 20—40% drop in congestion).

Toll road businesses, once considered very safe investments look much less safe and it is my understanding that there is concern from these businesses that their traffic levels will not return from the pre-COVID numbers for many years, even decades.

Cycling will have a permanent boost. We saw during the London Tube bombings of 2005 that cycling levels jumped and never returned back to pre-bombing levels. I suspect that many tram users, that are within 6 kilometres of their destination will have been prompted to get on the bike due to COVID and then never return to the bus, train, ferry, or tram once infection concerns subside.

In Australia, it is unlikely State governments will convert space formally used for motor vehicles to bike lanes. State Government have not shown any willingness to adapt to this situation, in the way that governments in other parts of the world have.

Like this interview? Click here to see the rest of our interviews about the effects of COVID-19 on the transport sector.

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