2 — Physical Distancing and The Reallocation of Activity
As the emergency response winds down, we will likely enter an interim period where we try to balance continued physical distancing with a staged return to work – and possibly widely mandated COVID-19 testing by health authorities.
Service planners will look to reduce peak loading during “rush hour” by adjusting service and pricing systems to incentivize off-peak travel. Stations and stops will likely require crowd control measures that promote new space standards during queuing and travel, and spaces may need to be re-appropriated for testing programs mandated by public health authorities. Touch-less fare collection and validation could serve to eliminate physical touch points along the journey. Accessible hand-washing stations at key points may need to be accommodated, as well.
On our streets, the temporary reallocation of space may become a permanent solution. With an overall reduction in traffic, space could also be repurposed for essential deliveries and public hygiene facilities to support the well-being of delivery workers.
Transit-priority lanes, like those implemented on King Street in Toronto or 14th Street in New York, could be quick wins that deliver rapid transit quickly and introduce redundancy missing in heavy rail networks.
These efforts will need to be balanced against pressures to shift to single-occupant vehicles — as seen in Wuhan in the wake of the crisis. Similarly, Transportation Demand Management (TDM) programs or High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes that rely on carpooling will require new approaches and strategies.
3 — Reimagining Mobility in a Post-Vaccine World
If and when a COVID-19 vaccine is developed, we’ll need to adjust our thinking to the long-term and how our systems will remain resilient in future global crises. The top six transit agencies in the U.S., for example, support over 35 per cent of U.S. GDP and act as critical links to jobs, education, and opportunity. Rethinking urban mobility in a post-vaccine world will need to consider three key factors: resilience, equity and public health, and research.
Resilient Mobility Systems
The rapid shift to working from home has highlighted travel patterns singularly focused on moving large numbers of people to central office districts and employment nodes. Cities will need resilient mobility systems that are flexible and adaptable — systems that can support crosstown travel to a constellation of new employment hubs located in our residential neighbourhoods. Cities like Miami have already partnered with ride-sharing companies to support low ridership areas while covering its more populated lines.
Station buildings will also need to support flexibility and introduce greater redundancy. Their designs can no longer be shrink-wrapped around tight standards for escalator runoffs or turnstile approaches – they must instead allow space for unforeseen shifts in function. Local stations might also be well-equipped to act as community resilience hubs where members of the public can access information and free Wi-Fi, and where broader organizational responses – from muster points and emergency charging stations to distribution nodes for PPE supplies, emergency water/food, and even mobile medical testing – can take place.
Moreover, as working from home becomes more routine, people will look for community and amenity spaces close to where they live. Stations (and surrounding commuter parking lots) offer easy opportunities to implement small-scale retail pop-ups, touch-less grocery ordering and pick-up, farmers markets and online package distribution. There are also longer-term opportunities to repurpose land surrounding stations, which can diversify the revenue streams of transit operators and add to their operational resilience.