The outbreak of COVID-19 has brought in tremendous changes around the world. In their best efforts to fight the pandemic, cities and its citizens have begun observing the situation with new spectacles. We are learning new habits. Whether it is about working from home or keeping at least 6 feet distance from others. Those in the frontline defending this virus – doctors, police, military, delivery workers, volunteers – are in fact fighting a bigger war.
Smart cities which are hotspots of the infection are facing the challenge of patient care space. What we are exactly discussing is coming up in the read.
Online Resource Centre As “Clearing House”
The novel coronavirus pandemic has enormously disrupted city operations including transportation. Hence, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) have taken a strategic move. They have launched an online resource center for the sake of mayors, city officials and transit operators. Each one can have access to real-time information on transport strategies smart cities are deploying to readjust to the pandemic.
As per sources, the resource center intends to play the role of a “clearinghouse”. In the effort, it will provide actionable and adaptable practices implemented by cities. A few examples include transforming parking spaces to a restaurant food pick-up zone, allowing back-door bus boarding, and waiving transit fares.
The resource platform will be updated on a regular basis with the latest practices and initiatives being introduced across cities. It aims at covering COVID-19 testing facilitation, safety, deliveries, parking, communication etc.
Furthermore, Bloomberg Philanthropies has launched a set of initiatives to help cities respond to the situation. Two of these include the COVID-19 Local Action Tracker and the COVID-19 Local Response Initiative. The organization has also committed $40 million to combat coronavirus in Africa and other lower-income nations.
Sharing Two Real-World Solutions
Across the US, demand for parking has decreased by 90% since mid-March, as per the data from the startup SpotHero. This drop is impacting every sector of the industry including airports and privately-owned residential spaces.
As more people are working from home, the parking lots have become so empty that they are being referred to as “ghost towns.” As a result, entrepreneurs are exploring ways to repurpose these empty spaces.
One such adaptable example comes from Hermitage in Pennsylvania, US. Dr. Matthew Crago, a family practitioner has transformed his office parking lot into a patient care unit. He calls this innovation “the care visit.” This great idea came from his wife who suggested seeing the patients in the parking lot.
According to Dr. Crago, they didn’t want to contaminate the office area. At the same time, they wanted people to feel comfortable. Hence, outside the office, they have a signboard saying that if you are sick do not come to the office. Instead, patients are guided to call and arrange a car visit.
They haven’t had a sick person in the office for three weeks. People make an appointment through calls to see the doctor in the parking lot. The visit is exactly the same as inside the office, reports Dr. Crago.
The Lack of Hospital Beds
The US has 924,000 staffed hospital beds across the country and two-thirds of those are normally occupied. The report is as per American Hospital Association data. But on account of the coronavirus pandemic, there is a lack of hospital beds. Each place requires a different number of beds each day as more cases come in. Hence, it has become crucial to have more beds.
As a result, temporary hospitals are being set up to treat patients. One of these places is parking lots. Beds are being arranged in parking spaces to provide care to patients suffering from ailments other than coronavirus. But this is not it.
Some of the parking spaces are being repurposed to accommodate the homeless. Others are providing housing to nurses and doctors while some serve as quarantine units. So, parking spaces are no more a place just for cars.
Open Street Initiative
Populus, a startup helping smart cities develop the mobility of the future is supporting a new initiative called the ‘Open Streets Initiative.’ It is aimed at helping cities and public agencies around the globe to create and share new street policies. These involve street closures and “slow streets” that work for pedestrians and cyclists.
Through this initiative, the startup will provide such solutions to a specific number of cities. One of the examples is the recently launched Populus Street Manager aiding cities to respond to rapidly changing conditions.
Using this platform, smart cities can have access to data from shared bike and scooter providers like Uber, Spin, and Bird. This enables transportation planners to design and communicate data-driven policies for mobility services. This leads to safe utilization of city sidewalks, streets, and kerbs.
On account of the need to maintain safe social distancing, many cities are opening streets specifically for pedestrians and cyclists. These are the streets that were once open for cars and other vehicles.
The Populus Street Manager is enabling cities to recognize and communicate temporary street closures. In addition, they can also share policies to key stakeholders such as the general public, delivery services, and mapping platforms.
Cars Taken Over By Cycles
Bicycles and small scooters are rising as important modes of transportation in this age of social distancing. Besides, these are also serving as ways to enjoy some fresh air, exercise and spend some quality time with family. However, it is essential that riders take care while riding as there are many other pedestrians and bicyclists sharing the road. In addition, they need to wear a bicycle helmet and follow traffic signals as part of safety rules.
Bogota is one such place where the city is making provision for bicyclists and pedestrians. Today, the capital of Colombia is facing a “triple threat”, as per Mayor Claudia López. The city is suffering poor air quality, seasonal respiratory illnesses and now the COVID-19 outbreak. Recently, Bogota topped the list of cities most affected by traffic congestion, as per Inrix’s Global Traffic Scorecard.
In March, the city made an announcement to open a 76km of temporary bike lanes to reduce congestion on public transport. This will not just address the spread of coronavirus but also help improve air quality.
The 76km temporary bike lane will be an extension of the 550km of existing permanent bike lanes. Besides, 22 km of the new lanes were transformed overnight into the bike lanes by reconfiguring car lanes. These lanes were then opened for use on 17 March 2020.
Bicycle is an individual means of transport that serves as one of the most hygienic alternatives for social distancing. This is especially important in the first stage of prevention when it is recommended to avoid close contact and crowds. This report is as per a statement released from the Mayor’s Office, Bogota. Just like Bogota, many other cities around the world are adapting to innovative solutions against COVID-19. If your city is facing the ‘patient care space challenge’, try adopting these strategies. While these are a few real-world solutions, there are many other unlikely places being repurposed to serve during this pandemic.