Fear for corona pushes us back into the car
The corona crisis pushed us all back into the car. The result? Cities have to swallow more and more car traffic and air pollution than before the crisis.
The lockdown in spring had one positive side effect: cities were freed from traffic congestion and could recover. According to data from Brussels Environment, the 62% reduction in traffic in the capital during lockdown has had drastically positive effects on pollution, noise, and air quality. Pollution even dropped by 50%.
However, as soon as the measure was lifted, cities were overwhelmed by traffic again. According to Greenpeace, there might be a chance that the car will claim more place than ever before.
More traffic than before
Greenpeace is one of the partners in the project Clean Cities Now of the European NGO Transport & Environment. The goal of the project is to analyze mobility in seven large European cities.
“According to data from navigation specialist TomTom, cities like Brussels, Ghent, and Charleroi see more car traffic than before the lockdown,” says Greenpeace’s spokesman Joeri Thijs. “And the same will happen in Antwerp and Liege.
The situation is remarkable, given the number of teleworkers. It seems that those who leave their homes prefer the car. “Mobility organization VAB confirms that children are more often dropped at the school gate by car to avoid crowded public transport,” says Thijs.
“People indeed fear contamination,” says Astrid Hulhoven of De Lijn. A similar scenario is seen in Brussels, where the seat occupancy is about 65%.
More traffic, more pollution
Of course, more car traffic affects air quality. According to a simulation by the London Air Quality Consultants ordered by T&E, a 10% increase in Brussels traffic would lead to 5% more NOx and 6% more particles. A 50% increase would lead to 24% and 31%, respectively. “Bad news for our cities, where pollution already exceeded the legal European limits before the pandemic,” concludes Thijs.
“We have to win back people’s confidence in public transport,” says Ghent Alderman for Mobility, Filip Wateeuw (Groen). “And in the meantime, we focus on alternatives: more teleworking, more cycling, more walking.
His Brussels colleague, Bart Dhondt (Groen): “Congestion has disappeared, mainly by teleworking, but public transport remains a difficulty. However, studies show that public transport is not an important source of infection. People wear face masks, and MIVB has increased their capacity.”
However, the lockdown has created a change in mentality, Dhondt says. “Brussels inhabitants clearly indicated they wanted to cycle more if this would be possible safely and comfortably.” The city installed 30 km of additional cycling paths, and, since then, the number of cyclists has almost doubled in one year.
Ban on the car
“We’re also working on a circulation plan to avoid through traffic in the inner city. Corona has taught us to use public space intelligently.”
Still, Thijs thinks the ambitious plans of cities will not be sufficient. “The good news is that more people opt for the bike, but what we really need to do is to banish the car. Experts already say for years that we will never come to a real mobility change without a smart kilometer tax. However, the Flemish government rejected this measure, and this will hinder us from meeting climate goals.”