Come on Perth, It’s time to lead or at least follow

During the Covid 19 lockdown, I took a trip into northbridge to support my favourite dumpling restaurant, to do my part in supporting small businesses, while still adhering to the social distancing rules of coarse. As I drove through Northbridge, I had flashbacks to the Netherlands of locals riding their bicycles on the road next to the Deliveroo and uber eats cyclists. It was strange, this was the first time I had been the only car on the road in an urban environment in Perth. It appeared that cyclists felt safe enough to share the road as there were no cars, even a family of 4 were on the road cycling. This highlights that firstly we do not have a right infrastructure to support safe cycling in the city and secondly it is far quicker to cycler within the city if you are delivering food.

The empty streets of Northbridge Image credit: PerthNow

The next day New Zealand transport minister Julie Ann Genter announced the tactical urbanism move of supporting pop up cycle lanes in response to what I had just witnessed here in Perth. The New Zealand federal government will now pay up to 90% of the local council’s expense associated with creating these pop up cycle lanes (1). Tactical Urbanism has always been associated with time as it is never a quick process, so supporting these quick win moves are fundamental to creating a shift in our urban infrastructure and a way of life.

Pop up Cycle lanes in New Zealand

Walking and cycling are great ways to move around cities and towns because it’s cheaper, healthier and takes up less space, plus its quieter and doesn’t not pollute the air. A bike is the most efficient form of transportation. If we converted calories to litres of fuel a bicycle would get around 400km’s to a litre. If one in 20 people in New York switched to bicycles it would save 68million kilograms of CO2 emissions each year! (2). China’s emissions during the peak of lockdowns fell 25% and good air quality days were up 11.4% (3) let that sink in for just a second.

Out of service busses in Perth

Image Credit: 7 News

Post this Covid 19 pandemic, people will not want to get onto crowded trains and buses for at least a few months, this offers a unique opportunity where people may considering changing to an alternative form of transportation. By applying this tactical urbanism, it could be so successful that communities will want to make them permanent. Once this type of infrastructure becomes permanent it allows further space for greening, reduction in traffic and increased carbon neutral movement, giving us a glimpse into a green future and city.

While New Zealand implements these strategies, Perth is still stuck in its bureaucratic ways of debating definitions, defining space, talking to stakeholders and discussing the positives and negatives of Cars. For a city to shift towards being pedestrian friendly and green it needs to take advantage of unique opportunities as the one we find ourselves in. It is inevitable that single user mobility will continue to grow as it has done in Europe. It is time to wake up Perth and lead, not follow (4).

The only way I see tactical urbanism being implemented in Northbridge is if local restaurants, residents and users like myself start to make some noise and demand change.  By educating the opposed and demonstrating that this tactical urbanism really works in shift our cities towards a healthier urban lifestyle. We will see a rapid uptake in Australia but only if we have real local examples.