Tactical urbanism is a quick and affordable approach to piloting and practically demonstrating change in the built environment, led by either planning authorities or civil society. It identifies a current need, and then reallocates road or other public space using short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions to catalyse long-term change. Such approaches were applied widely during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, to offer opportunities for physically distanced travel for both non-motorised and public transport. Yet piloting through tactical urbanism is not an approach readily used in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) cities to date, neither routinely nor during 2020. Instead, SSA governments focused on capacity-reducing requirements on road and rail-based public and paratransit transport rather than also introducing pop-up infrastructure to facilitate walking and cycling and, potentially, public transport reliability and frequency.
This paper investigates why tactical urbanist approaches were rarely considered in SSA cities as a pandemic response, and considers further why ‘infrastructure-lite’ approaches to public and non-motorised transport, more generally, might not find favour in local contexts. Pilots, in this form, could have particular value for resource-constrained authorities that have multiple and contested demands on budget allocations, and a need to demonstrate the legitimacy of cycling and public transport spend. The paper synthesises a series of research reports led by both authors: ‘Learning from COVID-19 pop-up bicycle infrastructure: an investigation into flexible and user-led bicycle planning in Cape Town, Nairobi and Kampala’, and ‘Fast-tracking public transport priority: Investigating the potential of Tactical Transit Lanes in mitigating the impact of COVID-19 in cities in Sub-Saharan Africa’.