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Coming Back From COVID With Healthier Communities

By: Andrew Savage, Lime VP of Sustainability & Founding Team

From Los Angeles to Beijing, pandemic-era skies turned blue, cleared of pollution in cities around the world as streets became free of daily vehicle congestion.

According to the International Energy Agency, the pandemic will prevent more than 8% of the projected carbon pollution for the year from ever being emitted.

Of course nobody wants the COVID-era status quo to last a day longer than necessary. We’re all eager to return to normal. But it’s also the opportunity to rebound stronger, and healthier, making much-needed changes to address local and global pollution.

The current crisis gives us the chance to make leaping strides toward healthier cities. It’s truly micromobility’s moment.

In Paris, where car traffic all but disappeared overnight, Mayor Anne Hidalgo recently stated that a return to cars dominating the City is “out of the question.” She noted, “It will make the health crisis worse. Pollution is already in itself a health crisis and a danger — and pollution joined up with coronavirus is a particularly dangerous cocktail.”

Evidence of this dangerous cocktail is backed by research from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health which found that people who live in regions with high levels of air pollution are more likely to die from the virus. A study in Italy, Spain, France, and Germany came to the same conclusion. However, pollution doesn’t just cause worse health outcomes (not to speak of the enormous financial cost) during a pandemic: more than 1,000 people die every day from asthma, far too many more children are chronically affected, and local pollution is a leading contributor. That’s 420,000 individuals each year, approximately 2 times more than the lives claimed by the coronavirus today.

There’s some hope the current crisis could lead to healthier communities. Cities like New York, Milan, Bogota, and dozens more around the world are embracing the relief they are seeing from pandemic-era congestion and quickly making infrastructure improvements to support micromobility coming out of coronavirus, expanding bike and e-scooter lanes temporarily and permanently during the crisis. Paris created a whopping 650km of bike lanes ready for this week’s end to say-home orders. Seattle just announced making their temporary street changes permanent. The UK government just announced a £2 billion cycle and walking investment to reduce the number of people using public transport when they return to work.

Notably, we’ve also seen cities like New York City and the United Kingdom fast-track permitting the expansion of shared e-scooters. Cities like Austin, Los Angeles and San Francisco deem e-scooters and bikes “essential” services.

Changes are happening fast, all promising signs the crisis has prompted cities to rethink the future of mobility in a smarter, holistic, and accelerating way. Research shows you can move far more people by micromobility than car. As people emerge from social distancing, micromobility also provides the safer open-air, socially distant form of transportation people need; operators now have the opportunity to provide this essential service.

The current pandemic provides an opportunity to refocus on the urgency of addressing carbon pollution as well.

Climate change and a health pandemic, such as coronavirus, have many similar characteristics. An effective global response requires a trust in science. They both require global solutions. A general looming isn’t enough to induce the necessary prevention. And they have widespread and devastating socioeconomic impacts.

Despite the global-scale, the multi-billion people affected, and industries from airlines to power plants ramping down, none of it will even register in the biggest climate picture.

But we have the chance in this crisis to recognize the impact of a global challenge to prevent the next and cities in partnership with new clean mobility providers are poised to take that on. Commuters by transit, bike, e-scooter, or car alike should advocate for expanding access to micromobility and the local safety improvements we are seeing should be expanded and made permanent.

While we all want to return to business as usual, business as usual simply shouldn’t cut it; we should be sure we don’t return to the status quo of pollution insecurity and be left just as vulnerable as we were before.

If we do things right, we will see cleaner cities, healthier communities, and a more effective global response to our future challenges. There are promising signs that has begun.

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