Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The coronavirus pandemic is remaking city landscapes worldwide, and the ultimate scope and duration of the changes will influence the future of urban mobility, pollution and even global oil demand.

Driving the news: Many cities are changing street uses and restricting cars (to varying degrees) to create new and socially distant opportunities for pedestrians, cyclists and diners.

  • New York City has begun opening up to 100 miles of streets, while Oakland is altering the use of 74 miles and Seattle is permanently restricting 20 miles of streets.
  • London's mayor this month announced plans to "rapidly transform" city streets to handle more walkers and bikers, while major changes are underway in Paris too, where officials are planning hundreds of miles of new bike lanes.

What we're watching: There could be colliding interests as commuting begins to revive while open space and environmental advocates fight to preserve and expand the newly airy spaces.

By the numbers: There's no precise tally of the breadth of the global changes, and policies around wider sidewalks, vehicle access and speed limits, bike paths and more vary in stringency and specifics.But Mike Lydon of the urban planning firm Street Plans created a continuously updated public database that shows nearly 1,700 miles worth of streets affected by announced or implemented changes.

Why it matters: Cities face a new reality of uncertain duration even as restrictions are eased. Public transit systems must run at greatly reduced capacity thanks to social distancing and budget woes, and passengers may stay away to avoid exposure.London, in announcing its plan, warned that a mass exodus to private cars would worsen congestion and air quality.

The intrigue: Changes unfolding because of the health emergency are reinforcing a pre-pandemic movement to end cars' dominance over urban landscapes.

  • The amount of vehicle traffic affects air pollution, CO2 emissions. And the post-pandemic future of commuting is even one of the many forces that will affect the level of post-crisis oil consumption.
  • It's also all occurring as cities adjust to wider use of micro-mobility options like scooters and bike-shares.

The big question: How many of these changes will be made permanent even once people are largely able to return, in theory, to pre-crisis norms?

  • Officials in Paris and London, for instance, have signaled that the changes could last, and Lydon tells me that European city officials are keen to improve air quality and address climate.

But, but, but: Cities could face pressure in the other direction. There's already evidence that driving levels are bouncing back from April's troughs in a big way.

  • "Many transportation planners are concerned that the combination of reduced capacity, as well as fears of using transit in a pandemic world, will result in a shift towards personal vehicles," said Regina Clewlow, CEO of Populus, which provides transportation data analytics to local governments.
  • However, it's unclear how much the increased driving that stems from mass transit's new problems will be offset by people working from home for a long time and even permanently.

It's hard to say at this point how much of the changes to U.S. streetscapes will stick around long after the pandemic, but some experts expect lasting changes.

What they're saying: Urban transportation expert Yonah Freemark points out that in the 2000s, New York City's then-transportation chief Janette Sadik-Khan experimented with pro-pedestrian and cycling changes. Many became permanent.

  • "I expect we will see similar results in many of the places where cities are implementing slow streets, expanding cycling infrastructure, and widened sidewalks," said Freemark, who authors The Transport Politic website.
  • "The clear benefits these improvements provide to neighbors, as well as their limited negative impacts on traffic, will likely build support for them, and make it difficult for political officials to walk back on these policies," he tells Axios.

The bottom line: "A moment like this — when millions of urban trips are temporarily up for grabs across transportation modes — is exceedingly rare. The stakes for cities could scarcely be higher," said Harvard Kennedy School urban expert David Zipper, writing in Slate.

Go deeper: Coronavirus may prompt migration out of American cities

Go deeper

Updated Aug 28, 2020 - Axios Events

Watch: The future of transportation in the era of COVID-19

RNC week: Axios' chief technology correspondent Ina Fried hosted a conversation on the future of how people get around in the era of COVID-19, featuring former Secretary of Transportation and co-chair of Building America's Future Ray LaHood, Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Transportation Gia Biagi and League of Cities CEO Clarence Anthony.

Ray LaHood discussed how the efforts to create more sustainable public transit have stalled with COVID-19, and called on the federal government to financially support existing transit systems.

  • On the need for the financial support: "Just as the federal government stepped up for the airlines...there will have to be a huge influx of federal resources in order to sustain transit systems until they can get back to some sort of sort of normalcy in terms of ridership."

Gia Biagi highlighted how COVID-19 has shifted people's mindset about what city streets can look like with fewer cars, and unpacked the existing inequities in Chicago's public transportation system.

  • How micromobility can supplement existing transit in Chicago: "What we're trying to do is connect the dots with micromobility and investments in the actual infrastructure. [Where we're seeing a need] also overlaps where we've seen the effects of structural racism and disinvestment that are fundamentally policy choices that have been made for many years."

Clarence Anthony discussed transit equity in cities, and the need for federal and state support to ensure that people have equal access to public transportation.

  • "What is our role as city leaders? It is to make sure that the equity is brought into the policy and the process and that we demand that all of those services — like ride share and public services — are brought to all communities in an equal way."

Axios VP of Events Kristin Burkhalter hosted a View from the Top segment with Lyft Chief Policy Officer Anthony Foxx, and discussed Lyft's role in the transportation ecosystem and how they're contributing to racial justice efforts.

  • On Lyft's relationship to public transit: "We feel like we're part of the ecosystem. We've never wanted to overtake public transit because we believe public transit is an essential service that only the public can do."

Thank you Lyft for sponsoring this event.

Ray LaHood predicts bipartisan push to aid public transit

Axios' Ina Fried (l) and former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he expects a bipartisan push in Congress to shore up public transportation during the coronavirus pandemic, as it did for the airlines earlier this year and is under pressure to do again.

The state of play: During an Axios virtual event, LaHood underscored that Americans are using cars, rather than public transit, during COVID-19 pandemic. Public transportation as a result has subsequently seen a massive drop in ridership and revenue along with it.

Updated Oct 16, 2020 - Health

U.S. coronavirus updates

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Data: The COVID Tracking Project; Note: Does not include probable deaths from New York City; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

The U.S. surpassed 8 million coronavirus cases on Friday, per Johns Hopkins data.

The big picture: Coronavirus infections jumped by almost 17% over the past week as the number of new cases across the country increased in 38 states and Washington, D.C., according to a seven-day average tracked by Axios.