While the coronavirus pandemic and consequent physical distancing rules have created challenges for public transport, a 200-year-old device has been increasingly upheld as a viable solution: the bicycle.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has underlined the benefits of both cycling and walking as key means of transport, allowing for physical distancing and enabling exercise. At the same time, C40 Cities have also noted that without investment in walking and cycling, cities are likely to see increased car traffic – leading to increased congestion, greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, noise pollution, and road casualties.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, numerous cities worldwide have been very rapidly implementing temporary measures (with, in certain cases, a permanent objective) to promote cycling. These include rearranging urban streets to welcome potential new waves of cyclists, allowing them to respect social distancing guidelines while traveling safely.
Pop-up bike lanes are, as the name suggests, popping up in numerous cities, to facilitate cycling during the current crisis, while at the same time demonstrating how streets can quickly be redesigned to accommodate more people moving through the city in a healthy and sustainable way. Such learnings were the key focus of a webinar recently hosted by the chairperson of the Cycling Embassy of Denmark – with whom the UCI launched the Cycling: Danish Solutions platform - and Market Manager for Ramboll Smart Mobility, Marianne Weinreich. Very successful and recent examples of pop-up bike lanes being implemented Berlin (Germany), Bogota (Colombia) and within New Zealand were shared with over 400 digital attendees – and can be viewed here.
Berlin, and in particular the very densely populated district of Kreuzberg, was one of the first cities to implement pop-up bike lanes to react more efficiently to evolving mobility patterns caused by COVID-19. The city has since been sharing practical advice and guidelines to allow other cities to learn how to plan safe, temporary infrastructure that can be implemented in only 10 days. In Bogotá, 76km of temporary cycle lanes have been created using traffic cones to reduce congestion on public transport and improve air quality, bringing the city’s cycle network to over 600km.
Such examples of tactical urbanism, aimed at improving the urban environment, are increasingly being featured in news articles around the world. Brussels (Belgium) has made the inner city centre a pedestrian and cyclist priority zone, with cars, trams and buses limited to 20 km/h, and has been working on implementing 40km of additional cycle paths to ensure fewer people use public transport as restrictions are relaxed.
In France, the government announced a €20 million plan for repairing bicycles, installing temporary bike parking spaces and financing cycling training sessions, to ensure the bicycle plays a key role in the post-lockdown period. Paris, a UCI Bike City since 2019, has plans to create 50km of new bike lanes by the summer, while Bordeaux has identified 100 priority “zones” within the metropolitan area that lack appropriate cycling infrastructure, and is consequently building 78km of temporary bike lanes.
The Spanish city of Barcelona has budgeted €4.4 million to create 21km of bike lanes and 12km of streets reallocated for public use. In Milan (Italy), 35 kilometres of roads will be transformed to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians: measures include temporary experimental cycle lanes on some of the main routes into the centre of the city along with wider pavements for pedestrians, 30 km/h zones and priority for pedestrians and cyclists in certain streets.
In the US, where a bicycle shortage has been observed, the cities of Boston, Minneapolis and Oakland have transformed numerous streets into car-free zones, while New York announced that it would temporarily open 100km of roads to pedestrians and cyclists. Numerous other examples have also been observed throughout the US and Canada, with Seattle planning to permanently close 20 miles (32km) of roads, while Toronto is seeking to create 25km of new bikeways.
As cities progressively ease confinement measures, cycling uptake – facilitated via such tactical urbanism strategies – will hopefully continue to strengthen and grow, enabling citizens to enjoy its numerous benefits for health, the environment, air quality, road safety and accessibility. Let’s all be inspired by the words of Matthew Baldwin, Deputy Director-General of the European Commission's Directorate-General for Transport and Mobility, who during the Ramboll webinar on pop-up bike lanes stated: “If you get the lanes out there, people will use them”.