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COVID-19 Changed Everything; Will We Change It All Back?

Updated on May 21, 2020
boxelderred profile image

The coronavirus impact grows exponentially day by day. How we will prevail is a story being written by each and every one of us.

The "COVID-19 Normal"

In recent days and weeks, I’m willing to bet nearly all of us have said, or at least thought, “I can’t wait for things to get back to normal.” That’s probably a safe bet, wouldn’t you say?

I’ve also imagined, though, what it would be like to awaken right now from a pre-COVID unconscious state of some sort in, say, a place like downtown Los Angeles. If you’d not been with us since the start of this whole lockdown affair and were suddenly plopped into the middle of it, how would you react to that very sudden, perhaps even overwhelming amount of change? The same line of thinking has me wondering about someone being born into, raised for years entirely in a world that looks like the one we’re in at the moment. Not knowing the difference, would you care? What are the things you might like just as they are now—the “COVID way,” if you will—but that the rest of us can’t wait to put back the way they were, the “normal” way?

I’ve been pondering this point for some number of days now and reading related news from around the US and the rest of the world. Most striking to me have been the many pictures that show dramatically reduced air pollution in major cities. From LA to Jakarta, from New Delhi to New York, from Milan to Barcelona, and London to Moscow the change is real, stark, dramatic. It makes me wonder about an age before my lifetime when air quality this good was normal.

Do we really want to change it all back?

For my part, I don’t think everything should revert or that it will even be able to revert. Indeed, I think there are many, many things we should just leave to the left of COVID.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Pollution Northeast US, March 2015-March 2019 (Average)Pollution Northeast US, March 2020
Pollution Northeast US, March 2015-March 2019 (Average)
Pollution Northeast US, March 2015-March 2019 (Average) | Source
Pollution Northeast US, March 2020
Pollution Northeast US, March 2020 | Source

Cycling Incentives

Many places that weren’t before have now become a cyclist’s dream because of the huge decrease in vehicular traffic. Gennady Sheyner, a reporter from the Palo Alto Weekly captured it this way: “Cleaner air, quiet highways and roads that have suddenly become far more bike friendly than anyone could have imagined are constant reminders that the health crisis has a hopeful side.”

Some, including me, would like to see something tangible and durable come from that hopefulness. Thankfully, there is some indication (particularly in Europe, but also in places like Palo Alto in the US) that civic leaders and planners would like also to keep or make changes that will endure.

As one example, France’s Minister for Ecological Transition, Elisabeth Borne, announced on 29 April 2020 her intent to provide incentives for people to travel by bicycle once lockdown and movement restrictions are loosened or terminated on or about 11 May 2020. Because social distancing guidelines will remain in effect after lockdown is over, public transportation systems are likely to be overwhelmed due to reduced capacity. In that light, encouraging travel by alternative means such as cycling makes sense. Reducing numbers of trips taken by car will also, of course, have the added benefit of reducing pollutants released into the atmosphere on a daily basis.


The Queen of Deconfinement

Minister Borne says she wants to improve the culture of cycling in France with the incentives—which include free repairs at local bike shops, improved cycling infrastructure and free cycling safety instruction—and also, of course, to lessen demand on public transportation systems. She was also quoted as saying she wanted the bicycle to become “the little queen of deconfinement."


Will the Changes Endure?

Only time and the discovery of a vaccine will tell if any or all of these changes will remain for the long haul. For now, though, during the ongoing lockdown period, places like France and Germany are both closing some roads to vehicular traffic, providing larger lanes so commuting and exercising cyclists can maintain requisite physical distance from one another. Similar initiatives have been implemented in Colombia, Belgium and Italy, and it is likely that city councils and leaders all around the globe will at minimum have conversations about these and other similar issues of day-to-day life in a post-COVID-19 world.

I am going to remain hopeful and optimistic for now. I really believe that we humans are a learning bunch, and when faced with adversity we adapt and overcome with ideas that can and will endure. I think many things will be different to the right of COVID-19. Certainly not everything, of course, but some things…and hopefully different will also mean better. We shall see...

The Way We Were?

Do you long for the old days and want a complete return to life as we knew it? Let me know in the comments section.

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    • Nathanville profile image

      Arthur Russ 

      2 days ago from England

      Thanks Greg. For full details of the ‘National Cycle Network’ in the UK you’ll want the Official Sustrans website includes an interactive map of all the cycle routes; the most challenging route being Land's End to John O'Groats; which is about 1,200 miles via the National Cycle Network.

      Land's End to John O’Groats is world famous as the two farthest points in Britain (distance of 874 miles), Land’s End being the farthest most southern point of Britain, and John O'Groats being the farthest most northern point of Britain.

      Land's End to John O'Groats on the National Cycle Network

      The ‘Public Rights of Way’ in the UK is something else that might interest you. Public Rights of Way are historic footpaths across the length and breadth of Britain that crosses both public and private land, and which since the year 2000 are protected by law.

      Today, there’s over 140,000 miles of Public Rights of Way (public footpaths) in England and Wales, and a further 9,300 miles in Scotland.

      They have their origins in Anglo-Saxon Britain, some dating back over 1,200 years or more, when villagers created paths to join neighbouring villages to each other, the village church and nearest market towns.

      They started to go into disuse during the agricultural revolution in the 17th century, but had a revival as ‘ancient’ rights of way under ‘Common Law’ in Victorian Britain when city folk wanted to get away for day trips from the grime of the cities into the countryside. Unfortunately this led to a bitter struggle between landowners and ramblers in Victorian Britain, which lasted for over a century before the courts and Government started to recognise their legal status under common law as ‘ancient rights of way’.

      The first video below gives an overview of the history (struggle between landowner and rambler), and the second a glimpse of ‘Public Rights of Way’ as they are today.

      The History Of The Ramblers Association:

      Hiking England's Public Footpaths:

    • boxelderred profile imageAUTHOR

      greg cain 

      2 days ago from Moscow, Idaho, USA

      Arthur - yes, I do love cycling, and I also truly love the culture of cycling that is prevalent in Europe and Britain. I have been to Germany and the Netherlands, was impressed with their cycling infrastructure. Your description of a route across Britain has me intrigued, fascinated, wanting to check it out immediately! I also am quite impressed with the investment the British Government is going to make. Great news. And how nice that the whole adventure started in your hometown!

    • Nathanville profile image

      Arthur Russ 

      4 days ago from England

      A fascinating and enlightening read:

      I can see from your articles, your love of cycling, something which is also popular in Britain; even before Covid-19.

      You might be interested to know that there are now 16,575 miles of cycling routes across Britain (most predominantly off road) so it is possible to travel the length and breadth of England by bicycle without having to use main roads a great deal. And since the pandemic the British Government is now investing £2 billion ($2.5 billion) in grants to further improve and expand the British Cycle network.

      And I’m quite proud that the whole scheme started in Bristol (my home city) back in 1979 when a group of cycling enthusiasts bought an abandoned railway track from Bristol to Bath (the neighbouring city, just 11 miles away) and converted it into a cycle path. From that humble beginning they formed themselves into a nationwide charity and over the decades expanded the cycle network from city to city.

      Sustrans: In the beginning... (1979):

      And Now: The National Cycle Network - Paths for everyone

    • boxelderred profile imageAUTHOR

      greg cain 

      12 days ago from Moscow, Idaho, USA

      Hi Flourish - yes, I agree that generally speaking folks have come together, and that's a good thing. I would hope for a continuance and growth of that as we move out the other side of this. As for dining out, I am with you, and so is my family. We went for more than two months without eating takeout, drive-thru, etc., until very recently. We were out and about getting materials for a yard project when lunchtime came, decided to hit a fast-food joint for a quick lunch. Not only was it too expensive for the quality we got, the food was not as good as our own hamburgers and hot dogs we have made at home on occasion over the past few months. And as for the other piece of it--the sanitation piece--well, I don't want to think about that, either. It will be a very long, long time before I go to a restaurant, sit down and eat. It seems scary looking at it from here, and wakeup call is perhaps the best way to describe it, for sure.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      12 days ago from USA

      People have been a lot kinder and more appreciative of one another in general and that’s great. On the other hand, I don’t want to go to restaurants and eat out anymore. It’ll be hard to give up entirely but its actually gross having strangers cook and prepare your food while you wait, especially under time pressure and stressful work conditions. For a long time I’ve pretended the sanitation practices didn’t affect me just because I could not see them but honestly this is my wake up call.

    • boxelderred profile imageAUTHOR

      greg cain 

      3 weeks ago from Moscow, Idaho, USA

      I completely agree with that, Dora. There are so many other important considerations beyond what I've talked about here. I look forward to the adult conversations we as a global society must have moving forward. Once again, thanks for stopping by. Hope you are well and safe.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      Your title poses an important question. I hope like you that what we do and do not change back will be in the interest of what's best for us.

    • boxelderred profile imageAUTHOR

      greg cain 

      4 weeks ago from Moscow, Idaho, USA

      John, I agree and hold out the same hope, anyway. I'd like to think we collectively won't squander a devastating crisis by learning nothing at all from it. I am most interested in seeing the US more fully adopt bicycling as a form of transportation, though because of our geography (and perhaps some other philosophical reasons) I'm not confident that will ever catch on to the extent it has in places like Europe. Our country is so vast that most folks will always need a car. Still, if we could trade a few car trips per week for bike rides or walks...that could make a significant dent in things. Anyway, thanks for stopping by, John. Have a good week, be safe and be well.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 

      4 weeks ago from Queensland Australia

      Greg, this was a very interesting read. I admit I have been thinking along the same lines as you that we don't need to return everything to the way it was before (even if that were possible.) I do like to think that everything happens for a reason, and as bad as this has been there will be positives and lessons to come out of it. The lack of pollution is just one, people realising they can get by without certain things, cooking and working from home etc. I think we will emerge as a better and more thoughtful and appreciative society.


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