Biking Surges in Popularity During Coronavirus, Let’s Keep It That Way

Image: Kevin Hagen/NYT

Around the world, as people have been asked to stay home and avoid using public transportation, bicycles have begun to soar in popularity. From local bike shops that can’t keep to with demand to cities that have started expanding emergency bikes lanes and bike share programs, people are increasingly relying on bikes to safely maneuver cities while keeping a distance from others.

Why This Matters: Cities in the United States and beyond are taking measures to make urban centers more walkable and bikeable. This has included blocking off streets to make them pedestrian-only and creating designated lanes for pedestrians and bikers to move about. It goes to show that people will walk and bike when they feel that they can do so safely. It’s also a reason why governments should continue to prioritize biking and walking as modes of transportation during and after the coronavirus recovery. 

Congressional Democrats have indicated that the next round of the coronavirus stimulus will center on infrastructure. Ensuring that we’re investing in infrastructure that makes us less reliant on single-occupancy vehicles is key. People like to walk and bike, let’s give them to option to do so.

Why It’s A Good Thing: As CityLab explained, the stats are undeniable as city dwellers are turning to biking in droves:

  • In New York, cycling spiked by 52% over the city’s bridges after social-distancing protocols were put in place.
  • In Chicago, bikeshare use doubled in early March.
  • In Dublin and London, advocates are offering support to new riders who are taking to the streets in droves.

But more than that, cycling has myriad societal benefits as well:

  • Cycling can help communities in “food deserts” access shops that are farther than a walk away.
  • It speeds the delivery of food and medicine for households without a car, or those who are quarantined at home.
  • And it helps people avoid car trips, cutting air pollution and freeing up public transit for those who absolutely need it.

Build It And They Will Come: CityLab also noted that networks of emergency cycleways could be built during the pandemic quickly and cheaply, using easy-to-install temporary bollards and wands, as the city of Seville once did.

In fact, cycleways have long been a good idea. In Los Angeles around the turn of the century, a cycleway was proposed from Pasadena to Downtown but was instead turned into a freeway. It’s an idea we can easily and cost-effectively implement around the world.

You can take a look at the specific ways that cities across the United States are reclaiming street space for bikers and pedestrians during the coronavirus crisis:

Surge in Popularity: In New York City, Citi Bike, the city’s bike share program, has seen demand surge 67 percent last month: Between March 1 and March 11, there were a total of 517,768 trips compared with 310,132 trips during the same period the year before.

Bike Culture: To go along with expanded biking and walking infrastructure, we’ll also need a cultural shift in the United States to ensure that drivers, bikers, and pedestrians all follow the rules of the road. Bike lanes are terrific but we must also make them as safe as possible to avoid needless accidents. 

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