Have Cities become a House of Cards?

Before the pandemic, many cities were going all-in on road diets, bike lanes, traffic calming, Vision Zero, Complete Streets, and Livable Streets. Now, many city budgets have been decimated due to the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic. Some media have said this could be the death of downtowns, and others say they will return.

Post-pandemic, cities will still be here, but they might look different. Downtowns, for example, might never recover to their former glory. Many urban dwellers have found accommodations elsewhere, especially since many will continue to permanently work from a home office. Many businesses that once catered to downtown workers have closed and will likely not come back, which hurts the vitality and why people live in an urban core.

Credit: Street Lab

Cities large and small have pushed closing streets to cars so that residents can use social distance when outside and that idea then morphed into closed streets to place restaurants on the sidewalk or at the curb—If a street had curb parking or a bike lane, too bad. Even with over 60 percent of restaurants closed, the NYC council recently approved a permanent solution for outdoor dining.

What about bike lanes? The city of Seattle has already cut its budget for bike lanes.  Other cities will likely follow.  More people are riding bikes, but more city dwellers are also buying cars instead of using transit due to the pandemic.

Also, some city residents have started a bikelash. Businesses located in streets closed are now asking for reversals due to lack of parking, curbside service, and delivery problems. In some cities, drivers have not taken too kindly to closed streets. Other places ask for delays in bike lanes, bus lanes, and other road diets due to COVID-19. As before the pandemic, residents are still protesting bike lanes in their neighborhoods. Some cities cannot even make their street closures permanent due to a public-private partnership on parking meters.

Whatever is happening in cities and towns across America, one thing is clear—there is a concentrated fight over streets, who owns them and can make money off the curb, and how best to stop drivers from driving their vehicles.

Credit: LADOT Bike Blog

California recently implemented ways to make it easier, faster, and cheaper to implement bike lanes and road diets. Word phrases like ‘car-centered disparities‘ or ‘resilient streets‘ have become part of the anti-car, Big Bike propaganda machine.

A new NYC Big Bike advocacy group called CityRise has now come online to use the ‘tactical urbanist playbook’ against impending ‘Carmageddon.’ CityRise has already gathered various anti-car, Big Bike groups to pressure the NYC to build bike lanes quickly and other traffic calming devices and are directly funded by the same folks who fund Streetsblog.

More than likely, cities will survive the pandemic, and they will slowly come back to some sort of former glory, but the streets themselves may never be the same. After the pandemic, motorists might find that they are no longer welcome on the streets, no matter the reason they need to drive.

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