Guest Post by Rey Sosa, Safe Routes Advocate
The past few months, as many Denverites stayed home or reduced their travel to only the bare essentials, the city has experienced some of the cleanest air and traffic free streets in recent memory. The coronavirus pandemic has given many of us a rare chance to pause our lives and re-examine how we choose to get around. As stay at home orders are slowly lifted, and some semblance of public life begins to creep through the spring into the summer, we must make a conscious decision as a city to push forward a new normal that upholds the city’s climate goals of reducing pollution and being environmentally sustainable.
According to CDOT, the amount of traffic in Denver’s roads at the beginning of Colorado’s stay-at-home order dropped by almost 60% as a majority of white collar jobs shifted to remote work shortly after the pandemic hit (source). The sight of empty highways and streets visualized the great amount of space we dedicate just to vehicles while people crowd around in narrow sidewalks and small parks in an attempt to get out of the house for fresh air and exercise. Though a few streets already have been made temporarily car-free through the stay at home orders, this should be our chance to push for even more car-free streets in our city to give Denverites more space to walk, bike and recreate locally in our neighborhoods.
Anecdotally, I have seen more people walking and biking in my neighborhood now than before the onset of the pandemic. More people have begun to bike, some for the first time, so much so that bike shops in the area have sold out of inventory for weeks or months. As people begin to form these habits, we should continue to encourage walking and biking after the pandemic.
A new study by Vanderbilt University predicts the Bay Area will have the nation’s worst traffic when stay at home orders are lifted, if all employers require office staff to report back to the office and no alternatives are provided besides driving single occupant vehicles. Nationwide, local transit systems have drastically cut service, and public transit is now reserved for only the most essential workers who have no other alternative to getting around. The same will happen to Denver if we rush to return to an old normalcy that we have come to realize is woefully unsustainable for the environment. We have a unique, once in-a-lifetime opportunity to forge a new path towards sustainability in our mobility options, and we should not go back to the old ways of getting around.
Share your story with us in the comments: What new sustainable habits or skills have you been forming? How are your mobility patterns changing for the better or worse? What can you do to live your every day life in a more sustainable way?