Summary extracted from Forbes Editorial Picks

Cities as diverse as Berlin and Bogotá are using so-called “tactical urbanism” to take road space from cars overnight and give it to people on foot and on bicycles to keep key workers moving—safely—during lockdown. Now New Zealand has become the first country to provide funding to make tactical urbanism into official government policy during the coronavirus pandemic. Tactical urbanism can involve many forms of interim improvements to the public realm, including creating or widening sidewalks and bike lanes with brightly painted concrete blocks and planters. New Zealand had been trialing tactical urbanism sporadically before the pandemic, but now the national government believes the time is ripe to roll out the technique on an emergency-funded basis.

Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter has invited cities in New Zealand to apply for 90% funding to widen sidewalks and carve out temporary cycleways, measures that can be put in place in hours and days rather than the weeks and months that it can often take to install such infrastructure. Extra space for people will enable key workers and others to maintain two meters of physical distance when walking or cycling. “Walking and cycling are always great ways to move more people around towns and cities because it is cheap, it takes less space on the roads and needs less parking,” Genter told me by email, “plus it provides moderate exercise, it’s quiet and doesn’t pollute the air or climate.”

“To stop the spread of COVID-19, more people are taking to quiet streets to walk and cycle again,” says Genter. When we move out of the shutdown, and people start to travel a little more, we can’t expect them to go back to crowded buses and trains at the same rate, and people in city centers will need more space to distance themselves from others physically.”

Genter’s embrace of tactical urbanism has been welcomed by city planning consultant ⁦Brent Toderian⁩, Vancouver’s former director of planning. “New Zealand is the first national government to show strategic and proactive leadership on how cities can rethink streets as space for safe and healthy physical distancing,” he told me via email. Toderian worked with Genter when he was a transportation advisor to the city of Auckland and says, “she understands the strategic power of moves like this.”

He adds: “The actual cost of these smart moves is usually very small, with very good resulting cost savings and return on investment.”

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