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TOPIC: transport


COVID Is Pushing These 6 Cities To Bet On Bicycle-Friendly Futures

After slowly shifting in some cities to a more bicycle-centric model, the pandemic has accelerated the shift from cars to bikes in cities around the world. Here are some prime examples

In the two centuries since they were invented, bicycles have tended to be much more about recreation than transportation. Sure, there's the occasional Dutch commuter biking through a small city or a poor person in the developing world who can't afford a car or an American kid delivering newspapers. But, otherwise, the bicycle has been meant for fun and exercise, and competitive sport, rather than as an integral part of the system of transport.

That may be about to change for good. After a gradual shift over the past decade to accommodate bicycle use, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the shift from cars to bikes in cities around the world. Beyond the long-term environmental and health benefits, the change of attitude is also linked to the lack of street traffic and pollution during lockdowns, and the social distancing that bicycles provide compared to crowded public transportation.

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COVID-19 Sparks First Signs Of Worldwide Bicycle Revolution

Across the globe, the coronavirus crisis has forced people to change not only the ways they work and interact with each other, but also how they travel. And in several countries, one of the unexpected consequences of all this has been a renewed interest in transportation of the pedal-powered, two-wheeled variety.

In some places — the Netherlands comes to mind — bicycles were popular even before the pandemic. But elsewhere, people are rediscovering them as a good alternative to public transport, where commuters are more at risk of catching the virus. Bikes, in contrast, are great for keeping physical distance. Riders can also cover quite a bit of ground, and get some exercise while they're at it.

Little wonder that in some countries, bicycle sales are booming — to the point that stores can't keep up with the high demand. "We're the new toilet paper and everyone wants a piece," a bike-store manager in Sydney, Australia told The Guardian.

Interestingly, the bicycle bump is also, in some cases, the product of public policy, as governments on both the national and local level are encouraging the use two-wheelers with concrete actions and incentives:

  • In France, that means tapping into an existing but neglected resource: the approximately 9 million "dormant" bikes ​thought to be collecting dust and rust and garages or sheds. To get all those bicycle back on the streets, the government has introduced a 50-euro voucher that people can claim and use for repairs. The voucher system is part of a global 20 million-euro package called "Coup de pouce vélo" to encourage more people to bike, with temporary bike parking and free educational sessions. And it seems to already be bearing fruit: More than 4,300 people living in the Ile-de-France region have already used the voucher, the daily Le Parisien reports.

Riding a bicycle on the famous Rue de Rivoli in Paris — Photo: Aurelien MorissardXinhua/ZUMA

  • Authorities in Italy are dangling money incentives as well — to the tune of 500 euros! — which residents in cities of at least 50,000 can use to buy a bicycle, Segway or even a scooter, Il Messaggero reports. This is part of a "Relaunch Decree" announced on May 14 that also promises to extend cycle lanes. The city of Milan had already released an ambitious plan called "Strade Aperte" to transform 35 km of city streets to make them more accessible to cyclists and pedestrians with new bike lanes, widened pavements and reduced speed limits.

  • In Colombia, authorities in the capital city, Bogota, are also offering bike riders extra accommodations. The city already has an extensive cycling network with 550 km of bike routes as well as "La Ciclovia," a program that involves closing main roads to cars every Sunday for cyclists and pedestrians. But in March, Mayor Claudia Lopez extended the program, closing more than 76 km to add new temporary bike routes during weekdays. The authorities are now considering making these changes permanent, according to the Colombian daily El Tiempo, adding that this has facilitated the circulation of around 922,000 cyclists so far. The mayor also insisted that bike shops be included on the list of essential services, thus allowing them to remain open during the lockdown.

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The World's Cities Get Ready To Take Public Transport Again

Fewer seats, fewer trains, more masks. A quick world tour from Milan to Paris, Beijing to Tehran finds the wheels (tentatively) ready to roll on subways and buses.

As countries loosen lockdown restrictions, one key to getting life and the economy back up and running is how to be sure people can (safely) get around.

Cities in particular face the tricky puzzle of public transportation in the face of the acutely contagious nature of COVID-19. How can people respect social distancing inside packed buses and subways? But as the clamor to restart shutdown economies grows louder, countries and cities are busy implementing new rules. Here is how four major cities around the world are adapting public transports:

  • Milan: The capacity of the Italian city's subway will be reduced by up to 30%, carrying just around 350,000 passengers a day instead of 1.3 million, reports Corriere della Sera. The access to train and metro stations will also be controlled and limited from May 4, when the lockdown starts to loosen. The city is also testing solutions to help people respecting social distancing, like putting red stickers on the floor to tell them how far apart to stand. Many seats will be removed as well, which will divide by two the numbers of passengers in the same car.

  • Paris: France recently unveiled its plans to gradually end the lockdown beginning May 11, including new rules for the RATP, the state-owned public transport operator in the region of Paris and its daily 12 million travelers. Like in Milan, the use of face masks will be compulsory and markings on the ground will be used to make passengers respect safety distances. But contrary to the Italian city, traffic will increase. For Prime Minister Edouard Philippe public transport is a "key measure for the economic recovery" and therefore, he required the RATP to increase traffic to 70%, as it had been functioning at only 30% of its capacity in March and April, according to Le Parisien.

A staff member disinfecting a subway train carriage in Beijing — Photo: Chen Zeguo/Xinhua/ZUMA

  • Beijing: Beijing metro was one of the firsts to test high-resolution sensing cameras which can identify whether passengers are wearing masks. Now the Chinese capital is lowering its restrictions from the top level to the second level starting April 30 and is going to increase traffic in public transportation. According to Xinhua, the maximum allowable passenger capacity will be raised from 50% of full capacity to 75% on buses and to 65% on subway trains. However, the buses and subway carriages will still need to be disinfected and ventilated regularly and all passengers will be required to wear masks and have their temperatures taken. Eating in public transport has also been banned, as Beijing has implemented a new set of regulations to promote "civilized behaviour" and improve public hygiene.

  • Tehran: As the Iranian capital increasingly returns to work, the head Tehran's anti-coronavirus task force, Alireza Zaali, estimated that 570,000 people using public transport each day, ILNA reported. But in a separate report, the agency cited Zaali as saying that only half of metro passengers are currently using masks and gloves. The city council is debating the "mechanics' of enforcing the obligatory use of face masks, the daily Hamshahri reported. Some have suggested the government sell cheap masks to transport users at metro stations and bus terminals.

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A Hard Road For Europe's Truck Drivers, Left Behind By Globalization

HOLZKIRCHEN — Holzkirchen-Süd rest stop at 1 p.m., when many drivers stop for lunch. Lawyer Nadia Kluge very slowly approaches a truck, keeps a little distance, and starts a conversation. She explains that she is from the German Trade Union Confederation, works for the "Fair Mobility" counseling center in Munich, and is looking to see if everything is OK.

The truck driver, a gaunt and unshaven man in his 50s, sits in the driver's cab. The window is open, and the two quickly start a conversation. "I go home to Slovenia every Saturday," he says. "It's more difficult for colleagues from Bulgaria, Macedonia, the Ukraine or Romania," he adds. "They drink out of frustration."

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Sophia Brown

Boston T Line To Paris Metro: When Public Transport Fails The Disabled

PARIS — Soon after arriving in Boston for my university studies, I began to notice people in wheelchairs and others with physical disabilities struggling to use the city's public transportation system. It's been almost two months since coming to Paris, and I have not seen a single person in a wheelchair use the city's legendary metro.

As anyone who has visited Paris will have noticed, not all metro experiences are created equal. That is part of the charm, with different station designs and train models. But the price for any lack of modernity is paid above all by the disabled. The oldest lines tend to be the least wheelchair-friendly, and it is only the newest line which can claim full accessibility to both trains and stations. But now, in the lead up to the 2024 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, this may begin to change.

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Mexico City Water Shortages Unleash Outpouring Of Anger

MEXICO CITY — The capital of Mexico delivers water unequally to its 20 million people.

While residents of neighborhoods like Cuauhtémoc or Polanco suffer occasional water shortages — everyone does — poorer areas face routine shortages, reports Mexican newspaper La Jornada. One such place is Iztapalapa, where there can be no water for weeks, and driving a city van to deliver water is akin to steering a truck full of cash, the daily notes.

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Marjorie Cessac

New Delhi Pollution, A Roadmap To Disaster

The Indian city is among the worst in the world for air quality. Automobiles share much of the blame, with some 1,400 cars a day joining the estimated 8.5 million vehicles already circulating there. But there are other factors too.

NEW DELHI — Located in a narrow passage of Khan Market, the cosmopolitan district of New Delhi, a small clothing shop is displaying the city's latest look: a black surgical mask on a mannequin's face. "Do you have masks for children?" a posh-looking woman enquires. The shopkeeper Sriram rushes to present her with two models. "They're cheaper than the ones for adults, 1,200 rupees ($18), but they can be used for six months and they're washable."

This small branch of the California brand Vogmask, opened just a month ago, has had no trouble attracting a wealthy clientele. Air pollution has reached record levels in the Indian capital this winter. In some areas, it's at least 10 times higher than the World Health Organization acceptable norms. So the rich are equipping themselves, with air purifier and sophisticated mask sales shooting up. "We're selling at least 20 a day," the shopkeeper explains, happy as an arms dealer in the middle of a war. "About 90% of our clientele are foreigners."

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Patrick de Jacquelot

Mayhem In Mumbai, The Antithesis Of A Smart City

Bad urban planning, pollution, corruption, the Indian megapolis offers lessons on exactly how not to run your city.

MUMBAI — Malik Abdullah is an industrialist from the slums. Installed in two rooms of Dharavi, a blighted neighborhood in the heart of Mumbai, his company collects used plastic and grinds it before selling it to a recycling factory. Seated on the armchair that doubles as his desk in the middle of the muddy alley that leads to his workshop, the 52-year-old is growing worried.

Like all of the 700,000 to 800,000 residents of Dharavi, Malik is concerned about a planned renovation project for the slum. To take maximum advantage of the enormous area, authorities are planning to build social housing to relocate residents for free and to use part of the remaining land for offices and luxury housing.

"What will become of my company?" Abdullah asks. "There's no plan to give me temporary premises while they're working on the site. And for my apartment, they're offering me 25 square meters, but I want 42."

The prospect of seeing his small business shuttered because of this development doesn't scare him too much, though. Such projects have come and gone over the years, but invariably nothing, or close to nothing, actually happens. The money at stake in renovating such an area in the center of India's financial capital is such that the parties involved — from politicians, developers and local communities to mafia organizations — always find reasons to oppose it.

According to activist Jockin Arputham, the people of Dharavi do want decent accommodations. But he thinks that nothing will materialize "as long as they're not directly involved in the project's development." Abdullah doesn't believe this can happen. "The only thing that officials are interested in is cheating," he says.

It would be a mistake to write off Abdullah, with his microbusiness and his squalid living conditions, as a negligible quantity. He and his peers hold one of the keys to Mumbai's development. Like all important cities in the country, it will be facing formidable challenges in the years to come. With 12.5 million residents in the city proper and 22 million in the wider metropolitan region, Mumbai is one of the world's megacities.

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Pablo Novillo

Cash-Strapped Argentina Discovers Carpooling

BUENOS AIRES — Cash-strapped amid a deepening recession but still, in many cases, reluctant to take public transportation, Argentines are turning to car sharing or carpooling to move about.

This relatively environmentally friendly practice is well-established in some U.S. and European cities, but is still embryonic in car-loving Latin America. In Argentina it is catching on as fuel and car maintenance costs rise and public transportation remains defficient. Martín Rubio, one of the creators of SincroPool, a platform which facilitates sharing, says his firm provides companies with "a webpage allowing employees to coordinate their trips. We already have more than 30 firms including Volkswagen, Santander Río and Mercadolibre, with more than 15,000 users."

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Egro Polov and Denis Skorobogatko

Chinese Investment In Crimea Is *Political* Backing For Russia

Since Crimea became part of Russia, China is the first foreign country looking to invest. In light of Moscow's standoff with the West, this is about much more than money.

MOSCOW - The first international players interested in investing in Crimea since it became part of Russia are from China.

Kommersant has learned that a Chinese state-owned company and private investment fund are looking to back a $1.3 billion transportation corridor to Crimea over the strait that separates it from the rest of Russia.

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Julie Farrar

London Fog: 12 Eerie Photos Of Blanketed British Capital

The 'Big Smoke' was about as fogged in this morning as it ever gets. Here are some breathtaking views of 'ol London town in an ominous light.

Londoners today woke up to their city smothered by fog. Although transport was disrupted for many commuters and travellers, it was a pretty awesome spectacle.

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