Our cities have looked a lot different over the past couple of months. In an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus, commerce has slowed down significantly and governments have asked their people to embrace a simpler mode of life. Schools have been closed, business owners are weary, and people are generally being forced to find new ways of doing things. Yet despite all the calamity and upset that the pandemic has caused, bicycles have emerged as a bright spot.
As soon as lockdowns were enforced, bicycle shops reported a surge. People were buying new bikes, fixing up old ones, and overall, were riding more than ever before. Some were riding out of necessity, as essential workers sought a socially distant way to get around, others were trying to stay fit, and many were just looking for a way to spend some time outside amid nationwide stay-at-home orders. And as the many cyclists ventured out, they noticed quieter streets, cleaner air, and generally an environment that was more hospitable to their chosen activity.
It remains to be seen if this uptick in cycling will continue once the pandemic subsides, but many cities are already taking advantage of the opportunity to push forward more far-reaching cycling policy and infrastructure. This all points towards a future that might just be a bit friendlier for those of us travelling on two wheels.
A major expansion of their cycling network was one of the first things the city of Brussels did after imposing lockdown measures. Rapidly upping the city’s cycling paths by about 40 kilometres, regional authorities also stepped in to encourage citizens to travel by bike.
It looks like most of the new cycling infrastructure is here to stay, too. Brussels Mobility spokesperson Steven Fierens said there would still be some “finetuning” to what has been added, but that the temporary measures were in line with the ‘Good Move’ mobility plan, an urban strategy for the next decade already adopted in March by the Socialist-Green coalition government.
Putting their money where their mouth is, the country that hosts the most prestigious cycling event in the world has just introduced a €20 million scheme to get more people travelling by bike. The €20 million will be allocated to a variety of different projects, including one that will pay for bike repairs done at registered bike shops, up to a certain amount.
France already had an initiative in place to triple the rate of daily bike commuters, from the current 3 percent to 9 percent by 2024. Naturally they recognize that more bike lanes are an important part of their strategy and the current situation has simply served as a push in this direction. Noting that upwards of 60 percent of trips usually made in France (pre-pandemic) are less than 5 km, the Minister for Ecological Transition Élisabeth Borne said, “We want this period to take a step forward in cycling culture, and that the bicycle becomes the little queen of deconfinement in a way.”
Having incurred the full wrath of the pandemic, the Italian city of Milan is eager to enact some big changes as things open back up. In an attempt to protect commuters from infection, and from forcing citizens to rely solely on cars, the city announced a major expansion of bike and pedestrian paths.
The ambitious Strade Aperte (Open Streets) plan aims to reallocate 35 kilometres of street space, in addition to lowering speed limits in some areas and introducing more bike lanes. The city has said they hope they can provide a cycling infrastructure roadmap for other cities in Italy, and around the world.
With a strong culture of cycling advocacy, organizations in the Canadian city of Vancouver were quick to ask their government to create more room for cyclists and pedestrians during the coronavirus outbreak. The petition they created, which was circulated by Hub Cycling, asked Metro Vancouver municipalities to give more space to active transportation in light of recent events.
In response, Vancouver’s park board announced that Stanley Park, a 405-hectare public park that borders the city’s downtown is now cycling and walking only. They also created more cycling and pedestrian paths, linking previously unconnected parts of the city and making the greenspaces safer for the city’s many park users.
The Colombian capital, already known for its extensive cycling network, expanded even further in March with the introduction of an added 100 kilometres of emergency bike lanes. Marked by traffic cones, the lanes mirrored the city’s TransMilenio bus rapid transit network, encouraging people to try an alternative to public transportation. Responding and adapting to how the lanes are being used, workers adjust width depending on daily traffic.
In a variety of innovative responses, other cities like Denver, Budapest, New York, and Mexico City have all introduced some system of short-term street closures or temporary bike lanes, making them places safer and healthier for those opting to go by bike. As cities come out of lockdown, the extent to which this rise in cycling will continue to shape policy remains to be seen. Nevertheless, as local and state governments look towards building better, more sustainable, and more resilient societies as they recover from the COVID-19 crisis, we’re glad to see the bicycle playing an important role.