With the move from Alert Level 3 to Alert Level 2 tomorrow, lockdown is officially over. In most ways that’s great; people able to get back to work and businesses humming again. But there are some downsides; pollution for one. Another thing I’ll be sad about is my children losing the use of the streets around our home.
Kent Lundberg in Auckland said something that resonated with me:
Our traffic-less streets meant that for the first time ever I could take my young kids (2, 3 and 7) for walks and bike rides around the neighbourhood, and feel safe doing it.
And it wasn’t just walks and bike rides. Our street became a place where the local kids came out and played.
Streets are public spaces owned by all of us. Yet lockdown was the first time in my lifetime they have felt like that. It was the only time that my street has ever felt safe and pleasant enough that people have thought to take their dogs for walks down it, children have been walking, biking and playing, and people just generally existing in the street environment. It seemed like our street was being used to its full potential for the first time.
When we shift back to the status quo again, I’m really going to miss this.
It’s a shame because it wouldn’t be that hard to retain it. One really simple thing we could do to retain amenity and safety is just reduce speed limits from “get-hit-and-you’ll-probably-die” 50 km/h to “get-hit-and-you’ll-probably-live” 30km/h. This wouldn’t even cost Council anything to do, it’s almost a no-brainer. Wider footpaths and proper crossings is the next thing you’d do but this would cost a lot more. Finally (and hardest), we really need to implement systemic change in society. Historically the government approach has been to try to design a system in which everyone can drive their cars for every trip they ever need to do, and then everyone else fits in around that. To change this, we need to stop requiring every home in the city to include a garage and off-street car parking, stop using rates take to build expensive subsidised car-parking throughout the city, and require motorists to pay the full cost of road maintenance and construction (we currently don’t). But those things are harder to change and will take much longer -I’d be quite happy if we could just get safe speed limits for now!