As global lockdowns keep most people at home, congestion-riddled, pollution-choked streets around the world have transformed into empty, eerily silent spaces. The most conspicuous absentee is the car, as personal vehicles remain parked in driveways and side streets.
This lack of cars has contributed to a sudden drop in emissions of carbon dioxide, pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter. Its effect on oil prices has been not so much a drop as an implosion. Some cities have temporarily turned emptier streets into walking and cycling-only zones to enable socially distanced exercise. Meanwhile, Milan – the epicentre of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak – announced it would transform 35km (21.7 miles) of its streets for cycling post-lockdown. Could this pandemic, a global emergency, actually catalyse an ongoing movement towards cleaner air – and might Milan’s scheme form a blueprint for cities that have repeatedly tried to tackle the domination of the car?