The roads in Singapore have been eerily silent as of late. Since global lockdowns have kept most of us at home, the usage of cars has seen a drastic decrease. Cars are not the only exception – we see a decline in public transport usage as well. Surprisingly, however, as the roads start to empty, the pavements start to fill with bicycles. Could this signal a shift towards alternative means of commute, and make cars obsolete in the future?
Bicycles are rising in popularity as of late as they double up as a mode of transport, while providing riders exercise without needing to head to the gym. It is also a more preferred method of travelling compared to cars as it is cheaper to purchase, and more cost-efficient in the long run with no need for fuel and minimal maintenance fees incurred.
As of March, bike-sharing has risen about 150% in Beijing and 67% in New York, where cycling on main paths increased by 52%. This is also accompanied by more temporary cyclist lanes and more closure of streets to cars. We see more pop-up lanes across Europe and easing of restrictions of bicycles on roads.
Arguably, this is all a temporary measure. But what happens when lockdowns are eased globally?
There are speculations about the possible spike in private car usage once lockdowns are lifted. Looming fears of the virus may lead to use of private vehicles even more so than before, which is already a reality for cities in China.
Due to such concerns regarding sustainability, Milan has announced plans to facilitate alternatives to driving and encourage the use of bicycles. More cyclist lanes will be constructed on roads, and pavements will be widened to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists, all of which taking away space for cars.
While it is not an outright ban on cars, could other cities follow suit?
It is not all bleak for cars though, even as more cities intend to become more sustainable and environmentally friendly. The main contributors to pollution are petrol and diesel cars, rather than electric vehicles (EVs). BloombergNEF reported sales of about two million EVs in 2018, a significant increase of a few thousand in 2010.
Admittedly, EVs are not without their problems. They are comparatively more expensive, require more charging facilities city-wide, and still contribute to traffic congestion. Nevertheless, as we attempt to become low-carbon in the future, electric cars could form one part of a multi-modal transport infrastructure. Hence, it seems that not all cars will become obsolete, but petrol and diesel cars may become a rarer sight.
Ultimately, such policies depend on the availability and receptiveness of alternative modes of transport for the people, by the people. The death of the car is but a far-flung consideration, yet as pollution and sustainability are at the forefront of our concerns, perhaps our conventional ideas of petrol and diesel cars will be reinvented in the years to come.