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  • From the bubonic plague to tuberculosis, pandemics have historically changed the way our cities

  • are designed. And the coronavirus has been no different.

  • Coronavirus is a moment in which every policy maker can make a u-turn.

  • Lockdown made our capitals quieter, greener, and we've seen wildlife blossoming like

  • never before.

  • It's like a paradise for me now. You can see maybe 10 thousand of bicycles everywhere.

  • We're travelling around Europe meeting the people who are trying to implement the biggest

  • changes in cities we've seen in decades.

  • Three months ago you had a lot of cars in this path. Now it's for bicycles.

  • But this rapid shift towards pedal power has created a problem

  • I just went there and it was just empty. There were no bikes.

  • Could the pandemic see a shift to more environmentally friendly modes of transport?

  • No. It's not easy to live together.

  • Or will we simply return to the way we were?

  • Dutch bike lanes are the envy of the world.

  • It's so much part of us - it's as if we are all born with a bike - like you take a

  • shopping bag - you take your bike.

  • But it wasn't always this way.

  • Maartje van Putten was a Dutch politician.

  • This is me and my son…1976

  • Netherlands traffic is in Europe the most dangerous for children

  • Maartje was a key player in the movement that transformed Dutch cities in the 1960s and

  • 70s.

  • The start was there in the 70s when people got alarmed about the figures of children

  • on their way to school - the accidents / the numbers were so high. We had to do something.

  • And that's how it began.

  • Here the action group. This is us. We want car free Sunday at least once a month

  • In 1973 Maartje launched a campaign called 'stop the child murder'.

  • We sat together and we said, this can't go on, we have to do somethingSo more and

  • more actions were taken. We were blocking roads, in the rush hour, people on their way

  • home. Drivers totally overtaken and surprised about the mothers big circles on the corner

  • of the road blocking it.

  • Maartje's efforts have been immortalized, as the heroine of a new children's book.

  • Here we went through the tunnel under the waterand on the other side the police

  • were there.

  • The demand of space by car traffic was so enormous that it was eating up the space for

  • cyclists and also pedestriansthe whole infrastructure of the Netherlands was totally

  • focused on, let's say, the priority of cars.

  • Today Amsterdam has 767km of cycle lanes. And more bikes than people. But even here,

  • the pandemic is changing the way people get about.

  • Because of COVID-19 it didn't feel right to go by tram anymore and so it was actually

  • the right time now to get a bakfiets cargo bike.

  • Judith and Johan Hartog bought an electric cargo bike right at the start of lockdown.

  • We're not really going on a vacation now; so it's like a staycation; we stay here

  • in Holland and we do a lot by bike now. So you can put a lot of things in; you can get

  • the bags and go out - like here in the park, and we're going to the beach by bike. So

  • it's easy for days off.

  • Could you have imagined being this Dutch mum 6 months ago?

  • No no no. No we never would have thought. So it's fun, it's different. It's also

  • a bit cliche. We like it. We love it.

  • The pandemic has been the catalyst for many people here to invest savings they wouldn't

  • otherwise have had.

  • It's not only mobility anymorethey're singing in the bike, having fun, you're

  • in nature. It's a whole different way of going out.

  • The Netherlands already had world-renowned infrastructure. But the coronavirus has still

  • significantly shifted behaviour. Cargo bike sales have gone up by 53% this year and the

  • e-bike is now the most commonly sold type of bicycle.

  • Brussels, the capital of Belgium. Since March it has built 40 km of new cycle paths.

  • I had been here for two weeks and then all of a sudden the whole world changed. So of

  • course I decided I wanted to take all the measures I can to stay healthy.

  • When Brussels went into lockdown Vesselina Foteva decided cycling was the fastest, safest

  • way to travel and went out to buy a bike.

  • I just entered the bike shopand I had this image of myself buying a beautiful new bike

  • with the matching helmetbut I just went there and it was empty. there were no bikes.

  • I wanted to order one but they said that i needed to wait at least two months to get

  • the bike so I said ok no way I cannot wait two months as the whole summer will be gone.

  • A friend of mine, really by accident, told me about, she heard about this subscription

  • based service where you can pay a monthly fee and get the bike at your home. So I thought

  • that's really cool.

  • Commuters make up the majority of those who've subscribed to this particular scheme - Swapfiets.

  • The Dutch company is expanding into three new cities to capitalise on a spike in demand

  • that came with Covid.

  • When it was official we were living in a global pandemic I decided that I will avoid as much

  • as possible public transport, so this is probably the main reason to decide to have a bike.

  • But it's not just commuters who are switching to two-wheels. Cycling traffic surged in Brussels

  • during the first week of the return to school, with a 75% increase compared to last year.

  • Milan was one of the first cities to embrace cycling as a way to get its residents moving

  • around again.

  • This is one of Italy's most polluted cities, it's also in the heart of the region which

  • was the epicentre of the outbreak in Europe.

  • I told you that I lived through the war, this seems worse to me than the war.

  • When there were so many deaths, I was scared because it was old people who were dying.

  • 90% of them were the elderly. They were old. So I was a bit scared.

  • Peppino Drali is one of Italy's most famous bike manufacturers. Now at 92 Peppino has

  • been building bikes for more than 80 years.

  • I come to the workshop, with my dog, Alessandro picks me up in his car, because here I'm

  • alive.

  • And the crisis has meant an unparalleled pressure on Peppino and his apprentice Alessandro

  • As the demand for their handmade bikes has soared.

  • On the 5th may we reopened, people were standing on the streets with their bikes in their hands

  • and the line was right around the corner - it didn't end.

  • It has been complicated to keep manufacturing; coronavirus has meant a lot of parts we couldn't

  • find anymore.

  • But Peppino isn't convinced the boost to their sales is reflected in the number of

  • actual cyclists on the streets.

  • In the past there were 200 bikes and one car. Now there are 200 cars and just 1 bike. It's the opposite.

  • Are you hopeful that in the future it will again be 100 bikes and one car in Milan, like

  • it was when you were a boy?

  • Maybe it's because I'm old that I say no. Maybe it's because I'm old, I'm

  • sorry. I say no. Because nowadays the world has changed. Someone goes to get a newspaper,

  • and goes in the car.

  • And there are many who hope Peppino is right, that the surge in cycling is just a phase...

  • Claudio Severgnini's slipping back into his old routine. He's been driving passengers

  • around Milan for more than two decades.

  • But the roads he knows like the back of his hand are being altered, and he's worried

  • about cars being pushed out.

  • The taxi industry is a bit of a litmus test for the movement of the city. So when the

  • city gets moving, the taxis get moving. At this time, 9 o'clock on a Monday morning,

  • at this taxi rank and at others, it used to be that you'd see a person waiting for a

  • taxi, but now it's so many taxis waiting for people.

  • Claudio is concerned these bike lanes through the heart of his city have appeared too fast,

  • without enough consideration for cars..

  • No, it's not easy to live together. For motorists, motorcyclists and cyclists it's

  • difficult to cohabit the city. You need to build a viable, practical system, where the

  • motorists' lanes and the cyclists' lanes don't come into conflict.. Because otherwise

  • it would really become a dangerous situation, not only a problem of sharing between citizens,

  • but it would really increase the number of accidents.

  • It's already causing a lot of conflict - transforming the roads, making room for cyclists involves

  • taking sections away from the drivers.

  • This used to be a road of 3 lanes, now it has become only 1.

  • And this side is also new? Yes. The parking

  • We all hope for the ideal city, where there is environmentally friendly transport and

  • respect between all the road users. Perhaps now we're living in a historic moment of

  • rare transition, between our old, traditional model of travel in the city, and what could

  • be the future. However we also have to take into consideration that, like I already said,

  • many people aren't able, don't want to, can't use these new methods of transport.

  • And therefore it's probably necessary honestly to have a long period to deliver this kind

  • of ideal city very gradually.

  • But there is an urgency in this part of Italy as everyone we meet has been touched by the

  • pandemic.

  • My friend, he always worked in front of the San Paolo hospital, which is one of the major

  • hospitals in the city. And unfortunately probably he had contact with a contagious person and

  • he himself became a victim of this Covid. He was 50 years old. 50.

  • This time has forced reflection. For some the changes aren't going far or

  • fast enough - most of Milan's new bike routes are only temporary paint jobs. Environmentalists

  • are using the current situation to push for permanent infrastructure.

  • Coronavirus is a moment in which every policy maker can make a u turn completely and change

  • their own cities.

  • Anna Gerometta is - an environmentalist and activistshe believes curtailing car use

  • and backing bikes is an investment for a healthier future. Climate groups have warned people

  • living in polluted cities are more at risk of contracting lung infections like Covid-19.

  • The failure to have the courage to change now in a situation in which you have some

  • time to prepare the people can be really disastrousThis is a major concern for the people gathered

  • here tonight.

  • They are the critical massthey are a movement that has been going on for years. They ride

  • every Thursday night and they want to show policy makers that citizens of Milan want

  • a different kind of city.

  • There have been a few lanes that have been built but compared to the need and the necessity

  • of this city and the will of people and the wish of the population of Milan to have a

  • different mobility and way to go around, they are really a drop in the ocean.

  • It's a matter of a different quality of life if you have a city where your air is

  • so polluted that you get sick and your children get sick; that is an important topic that

  • you as a public policy maker should be addressing.

  • The regional government has so far spent 115 million euros to stimulate cycling. But Milan's

  • urban planner told us many Italians just aren't ready to get on the saddle.

  • It's absolutely not trueprobably the mentality of the politicians is too old; not

  • seeing what the people really want. Their capacity of their own population and citizens

  • to accept large changes with a happy heart.

  • The French capital is spending record amounts transforming the streets to try to make cycling

  • a viable option for everyone.

  • It's going to be really interesting to see how all the investment is actually changing

  • the way people are moving around the city.

  • It's like a revolution you knowbecause before we had a city with only cars, and now

  • we have a city with bikes, pedestrians, it's good for ecology. I know we have problems.

  • But it's a priority for the next months to solve this problem, and I'm sure we can

  • solve this. Here is before; now is the new world.

  • The most iconic change is here on the notoriously petrol filled Rue de Rivoli - sections are

  • now completely car free.

  • David Belliard is the deputy mayor of Paris. He's a green politician who's been pushing

  • for these measures for years.

  • Three months ago here you had a lot of cars in this path. Now it's for bikes. The more

  • you give space for bicycles the more they will use itLook at that - it's like

  • a big traffic jam you know.

  • People here telling me, they went into lockdown and then came out, to this, to a whole new

  • world. These types of changes normally take decades. Because of the pandemic there was

  • an urgency which meant they happened here overnight.

  • Cycling levels after the lockdown increased by 27% compared to last year.

  • Paris is in a big transformation...a big bang of mobility, a big bang with public space.

  • We will organise the city to allow you to take your bike safely and we will change rules

  • and we will make more bike path and we need to give back space to Parisians.

  • It's a profound culture shift that's taking some adjusting. We saw cyclists being pulled

  • over for running red lights, and cycling with headphones on. It's clearly not clear to

  • everyone who has the right of way…. which means for some people it's time to go back

  • to school.

  • What you need is always both hands on the brakes, always both hands on the brakes. Now

  • the hands are down

  • This is Joel Sick. He's an instructor at Maison du Velo cycling school.

  • Normally, we have about 150 adults each year learning to cycle, and now I think this year

  • we have easily doubled to 300 people. There is a double impact: The impact of the strikes,

  • there was the transport strikes. And afterwards, there was the impact of the coronavirus. So

  • there were two phenomena which participated in the development of bikes.

  • Then there is also the fact that the public authorities have played along in Paris, they

  • made big cycle paths. So the phenomenon we have now, you can't see it in every city.

  • Since coronavirus struck, the French government has invested 20 million euros in a push to

  • get more Parisians using bikes. These classes are now free to anyone in the city who wants

  • to learn to ride.

  • It's like a paradise for me now. You can see maybe 10-thousands bikes everywhere. It's

  • really becoming so popular.

  • Remy Dunoyer is a bike mechanic. His repair shop in downtown Paris stayed open through

  • lockdown.

  • In response to the pandemic, the French government started contributing to the cost of bike repairs.

  • We have a name for a new service which is 'out of the basement service'. With a

  • dusty bike like this one or many other one. So we have a special service which we include

  • the help from the government. They have the 50 euro to help people fix these bikes. So

  • it's cheaper for the people to reuse this one than to buy a new one.

  • While other businesses have been shedding staff or shutting down Remy has been hiring,

  • and opening new stores throughout the country.

  • It was an opportunity for us to open a new city which is Strasbourg. We opened a second

  • one in Bordeaux; so two shops in Bordeaux; one in Paris maybe soon a second one in Paris.

  • And in Strasbourg too.

  • Across Europe more than a billion euros has been spent and 2,300 kilometres of bike lanes

  • created since the pandemic began. Reduced car use has seen pollution fall by 50% in

  • some of Europe's biggest cities. But whether this Covid-related trend continues depends

  • on the scale of the continued investment and how many of us are committed to keep cycling,

  • changing cities, possibly, forever.

From the bubonic plague to tuberculosis, pandemics have historically changed the way our cities

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Cycling across Europe in the pandemic - BBC World Service

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    joey joey posted on 2021/05/29
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