Walking and Cycling to Economic Recovery - Lessons Learnt From Around the World

From Brussels to Bogota, cities are placing support for increased levels of walking and cycling at the core of their response to the COVID-19 crisis. Prioritising improvements to active transport infrastructure recognises the unique opportunity for walking and cycling to address immediate capacity needs and to provide a catalyst for longer-term economic recovery and behavioural change.

In Australia, as our states, territories and cities emerge from lockdown, now has never been a more important time for investment in walking and cycling to keep the nation moving safely and provide a catalyst for economic recovery. Responses announced to date include 12km of temporary cycle lanes and widened footways in Melbourne and launch of $15m investment for pilot projects and longer-term infrastructure improvements in New South Wales.


In this article, we take a look at cities outside of Australia that are somewhat further advanced in developing and implementing both short and longer term measures to get communities moving again.



WSP Australia’s recent white paper COVID-19 & Public Transport – From Response to Recovery highlighted that physical distancing requirements could reduce the capacity of public transport by up to 80 per cent. This represents a capacity reduction of around 80 passengers per Brisbane bus, 65 passengers per Melbourne tram carriage and 860 passengers per 8 coach Sydney train.


reduction in public transport

As our cities enter a transitional phase after lockdown, walking and cycling present a low-cost opportunity to address this capacity shortfall while physical distancing requirements mean that normal business practices and public transport operations must be modified. Achieving a shift to walking and cycling amongst public transport users will help keep cities moving, whilst ensuring public transport capacity is available for those who need it most.


To do this, walking and cycling must be a safe and convenient alternative for those living close to busy public transport corridors. Many cities including Barcelona and Berlin have implemented temporary cycle routes on key corridors, whilst Brussels and Budapest are amongst those to have introduced widespread vehicle speed limit reductions.


During this time, investment in enhanced pedestrian facilities supports traders and small business through providing safe queuing at retail and community destinations, and safe access for local trips. Footways have been temporarily extended outside locations of high footfall in many cities including London and Auckland, whilst Manchester has increased pedestrian green time within signal phases.


Australia can learn from experiences in Auckland where sections of temporary route have been subsequently removed due to hazards for pedestrians and cyclists interacting with heavy vehicles, whilst in some parts of London the temporary creation of widened footway sections has been deemed ineffective where the increased width is only available in isolated parts.



The longer-term response to the COVID-19 crisis offers a chance to stimulate lasting change in Australia’s cities and local neighbourhoods. Investment in walking and cycling as part of this phase provides a tangible means of supporting this and kick-starting economic recovery.


Our streets and public spaces are vital assets in stimulating local business, community events and broader economic recovery. Many cities including Milan and Vilnius are restructuring their streetscapes and public spaces to prioritise commercial activities and room for pedestrians and cyclists.


Investment in walking and cycling infrastructure also provides an important economic stimulant in its own right, alongside the social, economic and environmental benefit for communities once delivered. Canberra in Australia and Hamilton in New Zealand have announced an acceleration of delivery of strategic active transport improvements, whilst Auckland has launched an Innovating Streets fund to trial lower cost projects as a transition to longer term projects.


An expected resistance to a return to overcrowded public transport services presents a chance to create a ‘new normal’ through permanent behavioural change, supported by improved legislation. The UK is combining investment in walking and cycling with trials in e-scooters and investment in technology to assess crowding on public transport, thus extending the stimulus across a variety of sectors, whilst there are proposals in New Zealand (Auckland) for a series of ‘Accessible Streets’ legislation changes to support active mobility and ensure pedestrian safety.



Overall, an impressive global uptake in measures focused on improving provision for walking and cycling has been observed. Despite initial responses in Australia coming forward at a slower pace, the first measures have been announced in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra. Whilst this is a positive starting point, there is still time for our states, territories and cities to implement the necessary legislation, investment and resource to place walking and cycling at the heart of a healthy and clean economic recovery.



Active transport related responses sourced online publicly to 11 May 2020 (not exhaustive).


Active transport related responses

For more information on active transportation solutions, contact Tom Gardner.