New Zealand's 4-level Alert System specifies measures to be taken against COVID-19 at each level, including 2 metre physical distancing at Level 3 and 1 metre physical distancing at Level 2.

These measures – in conjunction with an increase in pedestrian and cyclist activity in many communities – are putting pressure on the space available to people. Three main challenges that have been observed are described below.

Unsafe movement

Illustrated image of people moving at a safe distance from each other.

Parts of the transport network that serve pedestrians and/or cyclists do not provide adequate space for people to maintain the two metres of side-by-side physical distancing required under Level 3 of New Zealand’s COVID-19 Alert System (and, in some places, the one metre required under Level 2).

This leads to unsafe movement where pedestrians and people on bikes, scooters, or other micro-mobility either:

  • pass each other within the two-metre distancing radius, increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission, or
  • move onto adjacent roads to pass one another, creating the risk of being hit by vehicles.

Unsafe waiting places

Illustrated image of people waiting in a safe place while keeping a safe distance from each other.

To reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, access to some essential and safe services is being managed to allow only a limited number of people at a time. This is leading to queuing outside a range of places including supermarkets, pharmacies, dairies, banks, petrol stations.

Our footpaths are not designed to provide for queuing, and this makes it difficult for pedestrians waiting outside these places of business to maintain the required physical distancing. This leads to unsafe waiting practices at these places where pedestrians either:

  • stand too close to one another, increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission, or
  • wait on the adjacent road space, creating the risk of being hit by vehicles.

Disconnected routes

Cyclists, including young children, on the road.

In some parts of the country, Level 4 of the COVID-19 Alert System has led to a surge in people travelling by bike on our roads to access local essential or safe services, commute to work, get regular exercise, and play. This surge may be due to a range of factors, including a significant reduction in vehicle traffic creating more comfort riding on the road, reluctance to use public transport due to personal risk of COVID-19 infection, and inability to maintain required physical distancing with pedestrians when biking with children on the footpath.

It is possible that, under Level 3 and 2 of the COVID-19 Alert System, we continue to see a significant amount of people choosing to travel by bike – while numbers of vehicles on our roads begin to increase. In parts of the country, there are incomplete cycling networks; missing links mean people using bikes need to move into general traffic lanes, creating the risk of collision with vehicles.

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