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Milan Plans to Limit Cars After Coronavirus Restrictions Are Lifted

Climate
Milan Plans to Limit Cars After Coronavirus Restrictions Are Lifted
General view of Milan during the lockdown due to Coronavirus emergency on April 12 ,2020. Mairo Cinquetti / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

Climate activists from across the globe on Tuesday welcomed an ambitious new plan for Milan that will, according to the Guardian, transform 22 miles of street space currently reserved for cars "with a rapid, experimental citywide expansion of cycling and walking space to protect residents as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted."


Greece-based author Julian Hoffman declared, "Turning 35km of Milan's streets over to cyclists and pedestrians shows how there are openings amidst the crisis to boldly and beneficially reimagine our lives, landscapes, and future on the other side."

The coronavirus pandemic has sparked calls for a global Green New Deal and just recovery that incorporates climate action—particularly a swift transition to 100% renewable energy and other initiatives to cut planet-heating emissions—into rebuilding the world's economy. The crisis has also elevated concerns about air quality, as studies have shown that high levels of pollution may be "one of the most important contributors" to deaths from COVID-19.

As the Guardian reported:

The northern Italian city and surrounding Lombardy region are among Europe's most polluted, and have also been especially hard hit by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Under the nationwide lockdown, motor traffic congestion has dropped by 30-75%, and air pollution with it. City officials hope to fend off a resurgence in car use as residents return to work looking to avoid busy public transport.

The Strade Aperte or "Open Streets" plan, which the Guardian called "one of Europe's most ambitious schemes reallocating street space from cars to cycling and walking," will be implemented this summer. Milan Deputy Mayor Marco Granelli said that "we worked for years to reduce car use. If everybody drives a car, there is no space for people, there is no space to move, there is no space for commercial activities outside the shops.

"Of course, we want to reopen the economy, but we think we should do it on a different basis from before," he said. "We think we have to reimagine Milan in the new situation. We have to get ready; that's why it's so important to defend even a part of the economy, to support bars, artisans, and restaurants. When it is over, the cities that still have this kind of economy will have an advantage, and Milan wants to be in that category."

Granelli's comments were applauded by Greenpeace U.K., which tweeted that he was "hitting the nail squarely on the head."

News of the plan was also welcomed on Twitter Tuesday by C40 Cities, Extinction Rebellion Camden, and Swedish teen climate leader Greta Thunberg, who founded the global Fridays for Future movement. Others celebrated the plan as an "excellent example of #BuildBackBetter" and called for crafting similar schemes for other major cities like New York, London, and beyond:

"As cities across Europe move out of lockdown, it's a superb opportunity to say goodbye to traffic-clogged streets," wrote Sylvia Thompson, a contributor to The Irish Times who covers health, nature, science, and environmental issues.

Janette Sadik-Khan—a former transportation commissioner for New York City who is working with cities including Milan and Bogota on their transport recovery programs—told the Guardian that Milan's scheme could serve as a model for the rest of the world.

"A lot of cities and even countries have been defined by how they've responded to historical forces, whether it's political, social, or physical reconstruction," said Sadik-Khan. "The Milan plan is so important is because it lays out a good playbook for how you can reset your cities now."

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take a fresh look at your streets and make sure that they are set to achieve the outcomes that we want to achieve: not just moving cars as fast as possible from point A to point B, but making it possible for everyone to get around safely," she added. "I know we'll be looking to Milan for guidance from New York City."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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