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Walking and cycling are becoming the new normal for many people across Europe.

Francisco Sanz
July 26, 2020, 11:06 p.m.

The past few months have seen a major overhaul in normal life. Health systems, social lives and economies have all undergone major shocks and challenges since the pandemic took hold in many European countries. With restrictions on travel and movement, urban transport is also undergoing major changes, with people not just travelling less, but changing their travel patterns too.

With more people working from home and nearly all shops closed in many countries, far fewer people are travelling into city centres, with large reductions in both car travel and public transport being witnessed in many countries.

But whilst car, bus, train and metro journeys are falling rapidly, walking and cycling are becoming the new normal for many people across Europe. With people needing new options for getting to the shops and - for essential workers - to work, walking and cycling are becoming increasingly popular as a way to safely get around whilst also getting important daily exercise.

This shift in travel is being revealed through traffic monitoring systems present in many cities. Google and Apple have setup projects to track mobility impact, based on data collected from operating systems of mobile devices. Findings from Google for example include a massive reduction of up to 64% traffic in transit stations and 25% increase of staying at home, in Belgium.

Citizen science projects are also helping to reveal changing travel habits in response to the virus outbreak. Telraam, a traffic counting citizen science resource (and a key facilitator of the WeCount project), is showing that local roads are undergoing a shift in mobility. The most striking observations are the increase of bike traffic, even exceeding pre-corona levels on most days. Car and freight traffic is slowly picking up as lockdown measures are relaxed, but has not reached pre-corona levels and is plateauing at about 80% of pre-corona levels. The high levels of cycling remain, typically above pre-corona levels.


As time goes on, traffic monitoring projects are going to become increasingly important to monitor further changes in urban mobility in response to the ever-changing situation with COVID-19. With citizens in five cities across Europe soon to start monitoring traffic data as part of WeCount, citizen science projects like this will play a key role in mapping changes in traffic and travel habits in the coming months. This will provide not only a real-time assessment of the changes across various cities, but also an opportunity to inform future decision-making about local transport solutions and enable efficient policy responses to aid sustainable urban mobility.

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(Article first published at the Polis Network website on April 1st 2020)

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