COVID-19 has caused disruptions to public health and mobility across the globe, and effective and affordable walking measures are a critical component in addressing the pandemic. Walking provides multiple benefits to society, including increased physical activity, social inclusion, environmental improvements, liveability of cities, and economic opportunities (Walk21). Investments in walking infrastructure provide a high return on investment, with studies showing that every dollar invested in walking infrastructure generates 13 dollars of economic benefit (VictoriaWalks).
Amidst growing concern over the spread of COVID-19, there has been an initial and general trend away from public transport use in many cities (World Economic Forum). Thus, in order to avoid a backwards shift to privately-owned vehicles, walking must be prioritised as the foundation mode towards a more sustainable future. Organised and ambitious advocacy from various stakeholders has emphasised the benefits walking measures can offer in urban and rural areas, in particular during the pandemic.
A number of cities have promoted walking as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic by widening footpaths and sidewalks (e.g. London, Milan, Nairobi). Israel’s Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality plans to add 11 new pedestrian streets and pave 20 kilometres of new bicycle lanes, to help calm traffic and increase attractiveness for walking. The municipality has also implemented a policy that prioritises and expands pedestrian and cycling zones and encourages local commerce (COVID Mobility Works). Cape Town, South Africa, has seen its Transport Directorate construct 17 kilometres of new walkways for pedestrians and cyclists in the Fisantekraal and Durbanville areas, to facilitate walking to work and exercising while enabling social distancing (COVID Mobility Works). And mobility grids in cities like Barcelona are creating more walkable neighbourhoods with minimal need for new infrastructure (Walk21).
Bogota, Colombia, has implemented additional active mobility measures to keep COVID-19 from spreading in public transport systems, with 76 kilometres of pedestrian-friendly and bicycle lanes added in response to the pandemic (COVID MobilityWorks). And the City of Mombasa (in concert with the TUMI Initiative) has converted a major road into a temporary pedestrian zone to reduce high traffic volumes and minimise close contact among pedestrians (COVIDMobilityWorks). The implementation of such pedestrian zones has allowed public life to resume while allowing for physical distancing regulations during the pandemic.
COVID-19 has also underscored the fact that active mobility can help people to not only access their local communities but also contribute to supporting their personal wellbeing and energy levels by reducing stress, anxiety and depression, all of which have seen elevated levels throughout the pandemic. (NHS) Walking is a practical and effective way to re-invigorate populations and neighborhoods, to improve mental and physical health patterns, and enhance social, environmental and economic outcomes. Increased attention to walking infrastructure during the course of the pandemic can inspire permanent policy pathways to create longer-term benefits.
This section was developed by SLOCAT Partnership on Sustainable, Low Carbon Transport with contribution from Walk21.