Evidence is mounting that urban transit has been one of the main spreaders of COVID-19. New York governor Andrew Cuomo says the virus can survive for days on transit seats and metal surfaces. The head of New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority was infected by the virus and the head of New Jersey Transit actually died from it.
In the face of this evidence, anti-auto advocates have given up on their efforts to get people out of their cars and onto transit. As a Huffington Post headline reads, “The Coronavirus Pandemic Is Forcing Cities To Rethink Public Transportation.”
Just kidding. In fact, despite the headline, the story goes on to tell how anti-auto politicians are using the pandemic to somehow argue that more people should be discouraged from driving.
Milan, Italy, for example, “has unveiled an ambitious plan to remake its streetscape to discourage car use.” Street lanes will be taken from cars and dedicated to bicycles and automobile speed limits will be reduced. “If everybody drives a car, there is no space for people,” argues Milan’s deputy mayor.
In early April Denver closed off several sections of city streets to car traffic as part of its coronavirus response at least in part, according to the city, to temporarily expand the social distancing capacity of denser neighborhoods and newly busy adjacent parks.
This was at the same time that Denver’s Regional Transportation District saw a massive 60 percent drop in transit ridership due to the pandemic.
But the anti-car Denver Streets Partnership is already using the pandemic to agitate for yet more, and even permanent, street closures. As the Colorado Auto Dealers Association president Tim Jackson told the Colorado Politics news site, “Exploiting this pandemic to push to keep streets closed after the crisis would deliberately increase traffic congestion, create more pollution and hinder the community’s ability to rebound economically.”
Seattle transit advocates held a “Transportation for All and COVID-19 Solidarity Webinar” on March 30. As reported by the Washington Policy Center’s Marissa Gaston, one of the webinar’s leaders urged, “Don’t waste a good crisis to make positive transformative change.”
One state representative argued that the “externalities of driving” were worse than coronavirus, so driving should be discouraged even though it is the safest way to travel during a pandemic. A state senator urged that transit advocates should use “COVID as an opportunity to try to reorient how we’re thinking about transportation. . . . Can we switch to more non-single occupancy vehicle trips? Can we see more carpooling and more transit-riding?”
In other words, can we expose more people to coronavirus? This seems to be a pretty heartless attitude considering that the first coronavirus deaths in the United States had been reported in Washington state a month before the webinar. But no one ever accused the anti-auto movement of having compassion for all of the people who benefit from the mobility provided by automobiles and are harmed by their anti-auto agenda.
Randal O’Toole is a land-use and transportation policy analyst. A version of this article originally appeared in his blog, TheAntiplanner.