During the COVID-19 pandemic, road traffic has significantly decreased across the globe. For a city that wants to decrease the number of cars on the roads, this was a perfect moment to act. Responsible governments introduced more bike lanes and improved public transport to make social distancing measures possible.
The really good ones also went ahead and introduced traffic calming measures in the city center, near schools and quiet neighborhoods. Maybe they even planted a few trees or created some street playgrounds with all that extra space.
These cities will also do studies to see the problems posed by the inevitable rush of people that will switch to single-occupancy vehicles once everything reopens. These cities likely already offer alternative means of transport and they will take further steps to improve them and discourage the use of cars.
But not Belgrade, Serbia. Despite constant petitions and protests, local authorities can still do as they please.
During the pandemic, they decided to renovate wide 4-lane motorways in the city center. To do so, they didn’t mind disabling trams and disrupting buses. To nobody’s surprise, the city council doesn’t see anything wrong with damaging the capacities of public transport during a global pandemic.
As a cherry on top, the authorities are also supporting a private investor’s plan to cut down 30 acres (~121,406 square meters) of trees.
The real kicker is that experts warn that the traffic capabilities of the area can’t support the new residential area that’s going to be built there. This means officials will at some point have to cut down more trees to make room for all the new 4-lane motorways and roundabouts.
Unfortunately, this isn’t anything new for Belgrade, which recently became one of the most polluted cities in the world. Selling public land to private investors for cheap and creating new residential areas without any planning or review is part of the course.
The city is constantly cutting down trees, expanding roads, and degrading the quality of public transport.
Just recently I went on a 2.3km walk through the city center during which I did not pass by any trees! (On my side of the road at least.) Here’s a map of that trip:
Cities that want to house happy citizens who enjoy a good quality of life will invest in more walkable neighborhoods, trees, bike lanes, and public transport. For the time being, Belgrade is not such a city and it’s questionable how this can be changed as young people leave the country.