The current crisis triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic and the demand for restrictions on physical contacts has significantly altered citizens’ ways of moving. As private car traffic has fallen and public transport throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region have been temporarily suspended, except for essential workers with special passes, more and more people are riding bicycles and kick scooters and are walking. At the same time, among those who chose to use the car as a means of transportation, we can see that some drivers often lose their sense of speed on empty and wide roads.
However, the regulation and spatial design of the roads are not adjusted for these significant changes in the choice of vehicles. In order to maintain the recommended safety clearance while moving and maintaining road safety, traffic experts from across Europe believe that new temporary regulation and redistribution of urban space is urgently needed, as the recent redistribution of urban areas has clearly shown. Namely, the metropolises of European countries such as Germany, Austria, Belgium and Hungary has recognized this problem and implemented temporary solutions.
Giro di Sarajevo and the Center for Environment (Banja Luka), in cooperation with the Cyclists’ Union from Zagreb, closely monitor the development of the traffic situation during the pandemic and actively participate in the exchange of ideas regarding the safer and better urban traffic in the cities of Bosnia and Herzegovina. They warn the authorities that returning to the old urban transport system will risk not only its collapse but also the reactivation of the pandemic. Reactivation of public transport risks further spreading the infection, as well as the potential burden on hospitals regarding persons injured in traffic with the full reactivation of motor-vehicles transport. Both of these reasons are the major obstacles to mitigating crisis measures that currently (justifiably) hinder normal life and the economy, and which we all want to get through as soon as possible and return to normal life.
The solutions already exist, they are simple, creative and their implementation is not time-consuming or financially demanding. Berlin and Budapest have been converting road sections into bicycle lanes for weeks now. Vienna has continued to expand its zones of calm traffic in the streets of residential areas. Brussels introduced a speed limit of 20km/h throughout the city center and gave pedestrians the absolute advantage of having pedestrians navigate the entire surface of the streets. Milan announces the extension of pedestrian and bicycle space to as many as 35km of roads in the coming months.
All of them aim to make it easier for citizens who now choose to use a bicycle as a means of transportation, as well as those who have used a bicycle from before, to have easy and safe routes to reach their destination. Pedestrians also need more sidewalk space to maintain a safe distance. This is the only way of safe movement available to most citizens. Such measures also contribute to a lower density of public transport passengers once they resume operation.
It is important to know that workers in key sectors for the immediate functioning of cities to work often travel by bicycle or on foot and their priority must be their protection, both from potential contagion and from the danger of motor traffic.
For all these reasons, we believe that the priority of unobstructed movement should not be given to rushing cars, but to living people on foot or on a bicycle. We believe that it is time to expand the “zones 30” in city centers and residential blocks, which would allow safer traffic for all, with a focus on the most vulnerable.
Temporary conversion of the most-right lanes on boulevards and multi-lane streets into special lanes for cyclists would free up the entire sidewalk for pedestrians, slow down motor traffic to acceptable levels, and give everyone greater safety. Such changes can be extremely simple and inexpensive. In the examples of Budapest and Berlin, we can see that changes can be made “overnight” by drawing temporary markings on the roads and setting up simple barriers such as cones and poles.
The responsibility for implementing these measures that will respond to the demands of the current crisis lies with the local governments, but state policy can and must help with appropriate guidance, legal framework and financial contribution.
For this reason, we appeal to all levels of government, especially cantonal governments, and mayors of urban municipalities, to engage and ensure the conditions for the rapid and easy establishment of a cycling and pedestrian network of trails within and between individual municipalities and cities. A regulatory framework needs to be created so that roads can be redesigned quickly and easily and demonstrate that transport policy is an important contribution to human health.
It is also important to support local authorities by swiftly providing guidelines for the temporary redesign of roads to allow safe pedestrian and bicycle traffic through quality infrastructure, and for this purpose the civil sector organizations, such are those who signed this open letter, can also, offer its resources.
The most important measures that should be implemented without delay in cities and municipalities are:
· Temporary sidewalk widening – if footpaths are too narrow (and further narrowed by numerous waste bins and/or terraces of coffee shops), they should be extended to a portion of the road surface with special markings on them.
· Establishment of temporary bike lanes on multi-lane roads (“Pop Up Bike Lanes” such as those already established in Budapest and Berlin, for example) that allow safer movement and encourage new cyclists to find safe routes through the city
· Moving bicycle traffic to the streets too narrow for segregated traffic. The presence of more cyclists on the road needs to be emphasized by additional signaling and speed limitation
· Establishment of an “open road” for bicycles and pedestrians or a zone of calm traffic: conversion of selected roads into zones with significantly reduced motorized traffic (residents only). Temporarily calming traffic also helps relieve parks from the pressure of large numbers of people and allow movement without the risk of contagion
· Temporary speed reductions in most residential and non-transit streets at 30 km/h and 50 km/h in the rest of the city
· Expanding the network of public bike-sharing stations
· Expanding the network of bicycle parking in all locations of public importance, as well as in streets with a lot residential units and private business premises
The pandemic caused by Covid-19 has brought to light the global connectivity of our society. The coming economic crisis will point to the fragile dependence of everyday life on long supply chains in the industry, food and transport. The crisis has also forced us to reconsider the models we take for granted. Such models include the idea of cars as the primary and dominant means of transport in cities.
The fact is that Bosnia and Herzegovina, like other Southeast European countries, is a country dominated by car-centric traffic and spatial thinking and planning. Every day, it is reaffirmed that new traffic projects are being built in a way that neglects road users who are not in cars. People without a car, or those who choose not to use it in an urban environment, are often treated as second-class citizens.
But a pandemic that unquestionably brings economic problems will also bring a change in traffic habits. For our innumerable fellow citizens who will run out of income, a car will not be an available option. For vulnerable groups, public transportation will not be available because of a permanent health risk.
If they cannot afford a car for every family member and do not want to endanger their health by using public transportation, more and more people will need a bicycle as a mean of transportation to get to work, to a doctor, to the store.
Therefore, we ask all decision-makers in Bosnia and Herzegovina a very simple question, with the solutions already offered:
Will we make the unconditional safety of movement and accessibility to all parts of the city only available to those who can travel by car, or we will start to change our minds and finally begin to emphasize the modes of transport that are accessible to everyone?