The streets are full of bicycles. Well, that's not really true. The commuters have gone, but Auckland Transport does report the number of bikes on some cycleways and shared paths has doubled, while many people are also now enjoying the safety and freedom of riding the otherwise empty roads. Families, especially.
Out and about on a bike in the autumn evening – a highlight of my day, that's for sure. There's a giant oak down the road, showing a little red only a few weeks ago. Now, it's a great head of auburn hair, shot through with crimson when the late sun strikes, and the side of the road has filled up with leaves just waiting to be cycled through.
The kid in all of us. The air's good too, isn't it? And the quiet. More birds in the cities, directly because fewer cars.
The Sustainable Business Network reports that at the rate carbon emissions are falling, we're now on track to meet our climate change target under the Paris Accord. Only thing is, we'd have to stay on track all year.
Meanwhile, the Government has announced a new plan to fund "temporary" expanded footpaths and cycle lanes in the cities. Is something big about to change?
The new plan was announced by Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter and immediately welcomed by Auckland mayor Phil Goff and Auckland Transport chief executive Shane Ellison.
Genter noted that more walking space will be required for the physical distancing we'll still need when we move out of level 4. "Temporary footpath extensions mean people can give each other a bit more space without stepping out onto the road."
The argument is similar for cycling. Covid-19 has beefed up the view that it's better for everyone if cyclists and scooterists are separated from both pedestrians and cars.
The money will come from the "Innovating Streets for People pilot fund". That fund had been allocated a mere $7 million, but a spokesperson for Genter told me the NZ Transport Agency currently has around $100 million unspent in its walking and cycling budget.
"We're encouraging councils not to be shy in putting forward proposals," he said. Spend that hundymill and do it fast.
Goff said the plan would "help to future-proof our active transport network of cycleways, shared paths and footpaths, meaning that as the restrictions eventually lift, more people will have an alternative, healthy means to get around the city without adding to traffic congestion and carbon emissions".
Spend the hundymill, Phil, and do it fast.
Ellison said the funding could speed up delivery of the council plan to reduce cars in the central city, called Access for Everyone, and the Safe and Healthy Streets programme in south Auckland. Goff agreed.
Ellison also said, "We are seeing more and more people walking and cycling in the local neighbourhoods … We want this to continue after the lockdown and delivering quick, low cost footpath widening and temporary cycle lanes will give people more transport choice."
If that's true, we need the programme in those local neighbourhoods, don't we, not just in the south but everywhere?
It won't be hard. The idea is to use planter boxes and paint to divide the lanes. Quick to set up, easy to modify, and cheap. They should do it everywhere that looks good, and make decisions on what to keep, what to modify and what to remove, as the shape of our new lives becomes clear.
Spend the hundymill and do it fast, Shane.
This is a fundamental challenge to transport authorities, happening right now. They all proclaim their commitment to better walking and cycling, along with safer, slower driving, but progress has been slow.
Yet, as that Sustainable Business Network analysis has reminded us, we're meant to have our carbon emissions 11 per cent below the 1990 level by 2030. Within 10 years.
Genter's Innovative Streets announcement is a terrific start, but we need more. How about all those 30km/h speed zones? Do it now.
And how about turning Innovative Streets on its head? Don't ask which bits of road the cars don't really need. Draw a ring around the central city and say: no cars. Then work out which single lanes of which streets really will be needed by cars, so they get to stay open. Do the same for shopping villages and other parts of town.
In other words, prioritise pedestrians. And cyclists, emergency and special needs vehicles, and others who need to be there for good reasons. See how it goes. As we get back to work in fits and starts, this is the chance to experiment.
"In our neighbourhood," said someone on social media over the weekend, "it's just delightful. Families walking up and down street. People cycling quietly along the road enjoying the outdoors. People outdoors and happy. Spending time. Waving to each other. Why can't it be like this all the time?"
How close can we get to that? We should try to find out.