We are living through a pandemic that seems endless. When we already thought we were coming out of confinement, new threats (new variants) appear, indicating that the tunnel is longer than we expected. Along with the pandemic, the climate emergency shows no signs of calming down: the planet is warming like never before, making the need to change the way we live more urgent every day.
The pandemic has generated some changes that have affected our cities and especially their mobility, such as teleworking, the increased use of the bike and the closure of some streets to give space to athletes, restaurants and people waiting to access a service. However, in Chile these changes have involved only a minority of people and cities.
The need to change the way we live is becoming more evident every day, especially in the face of the climate emergency that the planet and our country are experiencing. Changing the way we move is fundamental, considering that transport is responsible for 24% of global pollutant emissions. But the pandemic has also brought negative effects: car use has increased in Santiago and in regions, and with it the sale of new vehicles, which has returned to pre-pandemic levels (around 100,000 cars are sold each year in Chile), while the sale of motorcycles has grown by 60% compared to past years.
The National Urban Development Policy of 2014 indicates that we must prioritize pedestrians, cyclists and public transport (in this order), over private car users, promoting alternatives to the latter through a greater allocation of resources and a fairer distribution of road space. To do so, it is necessary to reverse decades of privileges of the private car, the most polluting mode of all, in terms of resources and road space. The recent election of regional governors seems to be a hopeful step towards breaking this trend, if we consider the importance of a more sustainable vision of the territory and transport systems in its programs.
Unfortunately, this step forward is accompanied by two steps backwards. The Chamber of Deputies is discussing the possibility of reducing the specific tax on fuels, under the premise of benefiting the “middle class.” A measure that, in practice, benefits the more affluent sectors, which mostly move by car. In parallel, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development is raising the possibility of building bicycle paths on the already narrow sidewalks, in a clear retreat from the celebrated Law of Road Coexistence of 2018, which stated that these should be built on streets. These are two examples of urban inconsistencies between what is said (promote sustainable mobility), and what is done (promote cities more dependent on the automobile), in the different institutions of the republic.
A sustainable urban agenda, which seriously tackles the climate emergency we are experiencing, cannot afford these inconsistencies. Sustainable means must be promoted with regulatory changes, with resources, with plans and with road space, decided by the political power as a whole. The climate emergency is here with us, along with this endless pandemic. Let us make the latter an opportunity to deal with the former.
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