The Corona Virus is highly contagious, especially in enclosed spaces. This creates significant difficulties in both the operation and use of public transport in this time of crisis. In addition, COVID-19 has caused drastic changes in both the mobility needs and possibilities open to Israel’s public (due to changes in employment trends, the growing number of people working from home, a substantial decrease in meetings with many participants, and a sharp increase in the use of private transport).
Many European cities and countries reacted quickly to these changes, and from the outset of the pandemic, started to rapidly create tens of kilometres of bike lanes, using various makeshift means such as painting lanes, separating lanes using traffic cones or concrete boulders, or changing street-zoning from one dedicated to private transport to one allowing integrated traffic. In Albania’s capital Tirana, for example, the immediate creation of tens of bike lanes was implemented by means of painting roads and other low-cost and rapid measures:
We can’t get enough of this! 🎉🚴🏻♀️🤩
Every morning the city of Tirana wakes up to new pop-up bike lanes! It’s only a matter of hours before they become full of life from bikers, children and the elderly 🚴🏻♂️
Sidewalks become mainwalks, and idle parking becomes an artery of life ❤️ pic.twitter.com/D1xTiam8um
— Erion Veliaj 🚴♂️🌳⚽️🇦🇱 (@erionveliaj) May 10, 2020
More radical changes to the urban space, relating to matters other than bikes, include the temporary closure of streets to cars, thereby turning them into pedestrian zones, while using empty, available or parking spaces for allowing setting up restaurant tables and chairs in the street. Jerusalem did the same, and announced the closure of thirteen streets, turning them twice a week into pedestrian areas, so as to support local businesses.
Tel Aviv also took advantage of the opportunity and announced the laying of 20 kilometres of new bike lanes.
These rapid moves fall under the formal term “Tactical Urbanism”. Lior Steinberg, an urban planner and one of the partners in Humankind: Agency for Urban Change, a planning office in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, explained recently:
“Tactical urbanism is an approach and operational method to instigate change and improve public spaces. Its aim is to expedite necessary changes in the urban space. This mode of action includes short-term, low-cost interventions that can later be improved and expanded.”
Thus, for example, as far back as in 2018, New Zealand promoted tactical changes in one of Auckland’s busiest streets, Federal Street. Now, following the outbreak of COVID-19, the New Zealanders want more, as can be seen here. (For more makeover photos of Auckland’s streets, see here).
Federal Street polka dots are starting to take shape. The walking and cycling improvements here are coming along nicely! 👌 🚴🚶 https://t.co/2bOljhnQxZ #AKLBikeLife #StrideAKL pic.twitter.com/Yl4bYZqnhF
— Auckland Transport (@AklTransport) March 8, 2018
According to Dr. Avigail Ferdman, MIMSHAK fellow at the National Economic Council, Paris is especially prominent as it is a leading investor in tactical urbanism: the French capital created an additional 50 kilometers of tactical bike routes in only 10 days, which led to a 44% increase in the use of bicycles compared to the same period last year.
As of mid-July, the Financial Times was already reporting a global shortage of bicycles, and in Israel? So far, it seems that most local authorities have not promoted any changes on the ground, but it is difficult to track down why: is it because of the pressure of COVID-19 crisis? Or lack of motivation? Or lack of operational know-how? Or perhaps due to a lack of municipal independence and a lack of clarity regarding the potential legal consequences of such actions? Maybe this dawdling is because the needed changes are seen as so significant, compared to the current urban state-of-affairs in Israel, that the local authorities find themselves paralyzed into lack of action.
A cluster of thirteen local authorities in the Sharon area in central Israel, is working today to promote the implementation of tactical solutions within some of its cities, as part of cooperation with the “Sustainable Transportation Initiative”, led by the Jerusalem Institute. The Israel Bicycle Association is leading work regarding the tactical changes themselves, focusing on bike lanes. Other issues promoted as part of the initiative are flexible transport (together with the 15 minutes Public Transportation Alliance), and the creation of a professional transportation forum in Arab municipalities, (together with Transport Today and Tomorrow).
In Jerusalem, the Bicycles for Jerusalem NGO met with city mayor Moshe Leon and presented him with a 3-stage plan for creating 4 kilometers of new bike lanes: first, on Gershon Shaked Street (the Givat Ram route), then from Bnei Batira Street heading north, and eventually – the Katamonim- Rassco route, passing in Tchernikhovski Street, Shai Agnon Street, and then joining the Bnei Batira route. You can view the full plans here.
Meanwhile, the European Cyclist’s Federation published a dashboard on its website, which tracks the implementation of tactical infrastructure changes in cities and countries throughout the continent: As of 1 August 2020, over 2,100 Kilometers of changes were announced, 1,000 of which have already been implemented. Some three-quarters of the tactical steps announced involve the creation of bike-lanes. Check it out here (best viewed on a desktop).