Thami Croeser on COVID-19 and transport
Thami Croeser is a PhD student at RMIT University, and along with his studies works at RMIT’s Centre for Urban Research. I became aware of Thami via a recent article he wrote for Domain, How Melbourne’s suburbs can become mini office hubs post-coronavirus outbreak, and thought he’d be an excellent fit for this series of interviews.
What are the main effects or changes due to COVID-19 that you’re seeing right now in transport?
There’s a really strong focus on bicycles in urban policy discourses, as well as an actual spike in bicycle use that’s been fantastic. There also seems to be a lot less of the moral panic I’ve seen in past when we talk about reallocating car parking or road space to bike lanes and wider footpaths – certainly cities like Milan, Paris, London and Berlin are all offering good examples of how space can be reallocated at scale, where previously it would have been very contested.
That said, with the lockdown easing now I already am noticing a lot more vehicle traffic and I’m yet to hear anyone put forward strong ideas on how public transport can be made safe – that one’s a worry!
What changes would you like to see in the transport sector when the world rights itself post-pandemic?
I think here in Melbourne we’re well behind the curve in widening footpaths and creating bike lanes, and we need to catch up urgently. The other part of the challenge is a move to localise how we work, as a way of shortening commutes but also getting life in battered suburban strips.
With the average commute in Melbourne around 17 kilometres, walking and cycling are not going to hack it for everyone unless we shorten commutes too. One exciting possibility is the potential of a big increase in footpath dining or even parklets and intermittent road closures as restaurants and bars re-open and require additional space due to distancing requirements.
And what changes do you think will happen in transport post-pandemic?
That’s very hard to predict, but here are my best guesses based on the tardy response in Australian cities thus far:
- Traffic will bounce back, and it’ll scare off our nascent cycling culture because we’ve been reticent to get bike lanes up during lockdown.
- Gridlock and parking demand will skyrocket once workers return to city jobs, especially as many will be avoiding PT.
- A class of ‘captive’ PT users will return to PT. I don’t anticipate packed trains anytime soon but they may be half full, likely with younger people who aren’t at major risk from COVID but also can’t afford to live in walkable/bikeable neighbourhoods or pay for fuel and parking.
- Faced by the reality of gridlock and parking shortage, many professionals will opt to work from home for at least some of the week, having learned this is possible.
- As this unpleasant reality settles, bike infrastructure may be mooted as a fix but at this point the standard ‘we need our cars’ discourse will rise to make change difficult.
- I reckon we might see at least some rise in footpath dining as I mentioned above, especially in more central areas. Based on policy I’ve seen to date, I think footpath drinking may be a bridge too far but perhaps rules will be relaxed.