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Cities are implementing pedestrian-friendly initiatives and pushing for more car-free spaces in response to Covid-19’s long lockdowns and safety concerns.

When the initial wave of Covid prevented most countries from holding indoor gatherings, many cities quickly reimagined what life could look like outside. Some introduced pedestrian-only streets, converted parking spaces into pop-up restaurants, and added more bike lanes, transforming previously car-heavy areas into walking and cycling destinations.

Not only did the changes result in increased economic activity, but studies also revealed that the virus spreads less quickly in highly walkable neighborhoods. While many cities have now reversed these initiatives as life returns to normalcy, some cities have maintained their pedestrian improvements and advocated for even more car-free zones. We’re highlighting four cities around the world that implemented some of the most daring and rapid pedestrian-friendly changes during the pandemic, and we’re keeping many of those initiatives to encourage residents and visitors to walk.

Paris, France

Even before the pandemic, Paris had made strides toward becoming a more pedestrian-friendly city. The lower quays that run along the Seine river were fully pedestrianised in late 2016, as part of a city-wide effort to reduce the number of cars, a move that was made permanent in 2018. Mayor Anne Hidalgo was re-elected in part because of her support for the “15-minute city,” a new urban planning concept that allows residents to complete all of their daily tasks – from shopping to school to work – within a 15-minute walk or bike ride.

I’ve lived in Paris for 14 years, and I can confidently say that I’ve never seen a greater, city-wide transformation than the one that’s happened most recently to encourage cyclists

The pandemic, combined with numerous public-transportation strikes preceding the lockdown, only increased the popularity of these people-centered and environmentally sustainable initiatives. “The beauty of walking around Paris has been highlighted more since Covid,” Kathleen Peddicord, founder of Live and Invest Overseas, said. “For a long time, public transportation was out of the question, and wearing masks made it even more uncomfortable. As a result, more people began to walk.”

In order to reduce car traffic, additional bike lanes have been installed. In fact, the city intends to add 180km of bike lanes and 180,000 bike parking spaces by 2026.

“I’ve lived in Paris for 14 years and can confidently say that I’ve never seen a greater, more beautiful city.” “There hasn’t been a city-wide transformation like the one that’s happened recently to encourage cyclists,” said Sadie Sumner, who runs Fat Tire Tours’ Paris branch.

Major thoroughfares in central Paris, such as the Rue de Rivoli, have been reduced to one lane, while cyclist paths have been expanded to the width of three car lanes.

The city also intends to plant 170,000 trees by 2026 in order to cool Paris, making it more comfortable and enjoyable for pedestrians. The bridge between the Eiffel Tower and the Trocadero will also be fully pedestrianized in preparation for the city’s hosting of the 2024 Olympics.

Overall, residents have appreciated the widespread changes and anticipate even more in the future. “The locals really like it, there are fewer cars and people seem to be a bit more relaxed,” said Roobens Fils, a Paris native who blogs at Been Around the World. He recommended the Parc Rives de Seine, a 7-kilometer-long stretch along the Seine; rue Montorgueuil in the heart of Paris for its cheese, wine, and flower shops; rue Saint Rustique in Montmartre for its ancient cobblestones (this is Paris’s oldest street); and Cour Saint Emilion for its boutiques, cafes, and restaurants.

Bogotá, Colombia

While Bogotá (and Colombia in general) has always had a strong bicycling culture, with cycling serving as the country’s national sport, the pandemic has hastened many car-free changes. Mayor Claudia Lopez designated an additional 84km of temporary bike lanes to the city’s existing 550km Ciclorruta bike path network in 2020, which was already one of the world’s largest, and they have since become permanent.

During the pandemic, Bogotá was one of the first cities in the world to add “pop-up” cycle lanes, and residents have noticed that the long-term changes have been positive. “Over the last few years, the city has really started to develop a noticeable Amsterdam and Copenhagen vibe,” said Alex Gillard. founder of the Nomad Nature Travel blog, who lived in Bogotá intermittently during the pandemic. “It’s quite inspiring to see so many bikes on the streets at all hours of the day.”

Cars are prohibited from certain routes on Sundays and public holidays as part of the Ciclovia program, which attracts over 1.5 million cyclists, pedestrians, and joggers each week.

According to locals, the city’s new SITP buses, which run on electricity and gas, have also significantly improved the city’s public transportation system. “Bogotá’s vibe has shifted. It is now much easier, calmer, and safer to move around the city “said Josephine Remo, a local who runs her own travel blog.

She recommends that visitors visit the historical district of La Candelaria, where the city was founded more than 400 years ago; there are numerous museums detailing the city’s rich history, as well as restaurants housed in centuries-old buildings. She also recommends Usaquén Park for its weekend open-air market, where visitors can sample Colombian food, crafts, and music.

Milan, Italy

Italy was one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic at first, and cities in the country had to adapt quickly to provide alternatives to densely populated public transportation. Milan launched an ambitious plan to widen pavements and expand cycling lanes along 35km of roads previously dominated by car traffic in the summer of 2020. The transformation has transformed the city, bringing more outdoor dining, open-air markets, and urban gardens.

“It’s not the Milan I remember from my college days 10 years ago,” said resident Luisa Favaretto, founder of the living abroad website Strategistico. “I was drawn to the city’s evolving infrastructure, which prioritizes people over cars, and I love the concept of the 15-minute city [a plan Milan has also explored].” She’s noticed an increase in what she calls a “old world” sense of community as there are more reasons to be outside and meet in public places.

The new CityLife district is not only Milan’s largest car-free zone, but also one of Europe’s largest. “It’s filled with public green spaces and tons of bike lanes, and it offers a glimpse into the future of a sustainable Milan,” Favaretto said. She also recommends strolling through Navigli’s canals and enjoying the neighborhood’s outdoor dining and nightlife. Isola’s north neighborhood has been transformed from an industrial district to a walkable and bikeable neighborhood filled with hip cafes, galleries, and boutiques.

Travelers do not need to worry about finding a bike to enjoy the cycling lanes. BikeMI, the city’s bike sharing service, has 300 stations throughout the city and offers both regular and e-bikes.

San Francisco, US

During the early pandemic, this northern California city moved quickly to implement Slow Streets, a program that used signage and barriers to limit car traffic and speeds on 30 corridors in an effort to make them more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly. According to city data, the program resulted in a 50% decrease in vehicle traffic, a 17% increase in weekday pedestrian traffic, and a 65% increase in weekday cyclist traffic.

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