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The Bright Future Of Cycling

25 May 2020

by Preeti Viswanathan

Earlier this year, former Olympian cyclist Chris Boardman told the UK Parliament: “Pick a crisis, and you’ll probably see cycling is a solution.” He may have been referring to environmental issues, but his stance holds true as the world faces the coronavirus.

Social distancing recommendations are easing in much of the country, but the threat of Covid-19 remains with us, and likely will for a while.

Crisis has always bred invention and had lasting impacts on how people work, travel, and live, and this virus will be no exception. As people navigate this strange new reality, bikes are one of their primary tools—so much so that the future of transportation and the design of our cities may be changed forever.

Crammed public transportation can feel unsafe, even a taxi or an Uber can spark anxiety—did someone just sneeze in here? As reported by the BBC, 61% of Brits are nervous about public transportation, and many are turning to cycling. Since the coronavirus hit the UK, there has been a 200% increase in bicycle orders. Bike shops have seen massive spikes in sales, and cities are creating pop-up or even permanent bike lanes to accommodate all the new cyclists.

This trend is occurring across the globe. Paris is building over 500 miles of bike paths, as are Milan, Sydney and many German and Scottish cities.

In the US, New York City Council is considering restricting vehicle traffic along 75 miles of “open streets” to provide more space for pedestrians and cyclists and to reduce proximity and congestion. Cycling in the city has spiked by 52%. Citi Bike saw demand surge 67 percent in March, while subway ridership is at a historic low. Similar surges have occurred across the country, from Denver to Cleveland to Chicago.

Cities are finding ways to encourage this swell in biking, and to protect cyclists. The Seattle City Council recently approved a new ordinance that requires the Seattle Department of Transportation to build protected bike lanes any time a paving project costing over $1 million is completed.

This unprecedented increase in bike commuting dovetails with a time in history where more and more people are thinking about sustainability and trying to minimize their environmental impact.

Companies have responded—there has never been a better time to find efficient and accessible bike commuting options. With the advent of e-bikes and bikeshares, commuting via bike no longer has to mean intense exertion or a big commitment, meaning that people of all ages, abilities, and incomes are more likely to be able to ride to work or the store. 

Pure Electric, an eScooter and eBike company, is selling innovative and top of the line products out of the UK with the goal of eliminating air pollution. Their scooters and bikes are sleek and fast—the scooters top out at 15 mph, while the bikes can go up to 30. 

Rad Power Bikes have some of the most thoughtful eBikes on the market. They’ve believed that electronic bikes might be the future of transportation since 2008, and they’ve worked to create innovative products, from an electric fat bike to an electric cargo bike to the electric utility bike—a classic Schwinn cruiser shape that will take you up any hill with a kid on the back in style. 

For those not ready to invest, companies like CitiBike and Bird allow for easy pickup on city streets across the country—they can be used for an hour or a day. With more and safer bike paths and protected streets, it’s a great time to experiment.

Bike accessories are also adapting to consumers’ changing needs. Kulie Bags can be used not just to get to the office, but to pick up groceries or drop off mail. They transition on and off the bike easily, and some can be hitched to ride share bikes.

While the coronavirus has created unprecedented challenges, its legacy will not be just devastation. People are remarkably resilient and adaptive, and crises have often spurred transformation that would have otherwise happened slowly, or not at all. Specifically, bikes have been a bright light during otherwise dark times.

This was the case in Tokyo after its devastating 2011 earthquake, and again in Mexico City in 2017 after a quake ravaged the city. Public infrastructure failed, subways weren’t working, and walking near crumbling buildings was dangerous. As the director of pedestrian and bicycle mobility of the World Resources Institute Mexico said “going on foot is not a very good way of travelling in an area struck by disaster. The best option is the bicycle.” Not only are they practical, but bikes brought joy to a grief-stricken region.

Now, the Netherlands is famous for its unique, thriving bike culture, but that was only born of deprivation. The 1973 fuel crisis shifted daily lives across the world, but the Dutch government reacted by enacting a mass program of cycle track construction that is used to this day.  Now, nearly 30% of all trips in the Netherlands happen on bike—making it amongst the most sustainable of developed nations.

The coronavirus could be instigating event that makes America a biking country. Already, towns and cities are shifting around new constraints, creating new pathways that cyclists, veteran and new alike, are flooding to. While the virus will eventually fade, we hope a love for biking will only grow stronger. 



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