I received an email this week from a senior real estate executive who was sharing the fact that, in response to COVID, he had decided to give up driving completely. He was now cycling everywhere — whether for work or for personal errands. And it was doing wonders for his health and his overall well-being.
Indeed, this feels like some sort of golden era for urban cycling. Back in May I wrote about how Toronto City Council had just approved the largest ever one-year expansion of bike lanes. Some 40 km. When have we ever moved this quickly and without months (okay, years) of painful debate? Probably never.
Of course, it’s not just Toronto. This is happening all over the world. Here are some of the numbers (taken from this recent Journal article):
- Paris added 400 miles of pop-up bike lanes across the region — all of which didn’t exist before the pandemic – some of the streets being tracked have seen a doubling in usage
- Oakland closed almost 10% of its streets to cars
- Montreal is adding an additional 70 miles of pedestrian and cycle paths
- Bogota is the midst of planning for 47 miles of temporary bike lanes
- The UK has fast tracked over $315 million in capital spending for bike infrastructure — referring to this as a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity
- New York’s bike share service (Citi Bike) saw year-over-year usage surge 67% in the first 10 days of March alone — before any shelter-in-place rules were even imposed
There are obvious reasons for this rush to build out cycling infrastructure. We’re in the midst of a global health crisis and people are staying away from public transit in big numbers. But I think it’s also important to keep in mind that in many / most cases, there is really no other viable mobility solution. You cannot take all the people that used to ride the tube in London and plop them into cars. There isn’t enough space.
So cities all around the world are doing the sensible thing and acting fast to make sure that it’s safer for people to move about on bikes. But as we all know, humans tend to have a bias toward the status quo. And so when this is all said and done, I suspect that many of these pop-ups will end up sticking around. And that will be a good thing for cities.