How the coronavirus pandemic is changing city streets for cyclists and e-bikes
The coronavirus pandemic has revealed a lot about society at-large. Many countries have come together to protect the health of their populations, regardless of political endeavours. Some, like the United Kingdom and the United States, have muddled their responses from the start and given in to conspiracy theories and political pandering. Regardless, one thing has become quite clear as lockdowns continue and the pandemic is slowly contained — cyclists are being given more freedom to safely use city streets; streets that are usually jammed with cars.
All around the United States for instance,cities are closing streets to vehicle traffic to allow for cyclists to literally own the roads. Some cities have even stated that a few of the street closures will remain limited to pedestrian traffic even after the lockdowns are lifted. In Berlin, cyclists are hoping that the city’s addition of temporary bike lanes also becomes a permanent change. While Berlin is a car-centric city, it’s possible that both could exist side-by-side if set up correctly.
This is all in response to a surge in cycling due to the pandemic. Either for simple commutes on newly closed streets, or for exercise, dense cities are seeing more people take to bikes (both manual and e-bikes) in order to get around. E-bike sales have skyrocketed, pointing to a possible shift from commuting short (but long in time) distances across city centres in a car, to a quicker, healthier ride on an e-bike. Cities are not blind to the effects of their efforts either.
Multiple cities in the EU are rethinking city streets, planning for wider lanes, bike paths and a shift in public transport thinking. Milan has gone so far as to publicly state that it plans to reduce car traffic after the lockdown. Air pollution has dropped considerably in Milan specifically, and around the world. Cycling is cleaner, healthier and if you’ve ever tried to drive two miles in NYC, faster.
Cities are taking this opportunity of low traffic to jump-start their plans for bike and pedestrian pathways.
Using already established “soft” bike zones (marked by signs and traffic cones) cities are pushing forward plans for creating permanent paths. This is something that cyclists have been lobbying for, for many years. It’s unfortunate that it took a global pandemic to get it done, but it appears to be getting done. We are going to see a total transformation of city streets as many people will be avoiding public transportation but also don’t want to be stuck in traffic and fight for parking for a several block commute.
Naturally, this conversation is limited to city centres. If your commute is 50 miles, you aren’t going to want to ride a bike to work. But if you live just outside the city, instead of sitting in traffic for an hour, a 20 minute e-bike ride on newly created bike lanes doesn’t sound too terrible. It’s better for you and the environment, that much we know.
This isn’t just conjecture or wishful thinking. Retail statistics for e-bikes prove that there is a shift in how we commute on the near horizon. E-bike sales are a solid indicator of how people are rethinking their commutes. Cars, while still needed for leisure and longer commutes, will find less purchase on city streets in favour of bikes. While it might not take purchase in the United States thanks to being beholden to the oil lobby, green initiatives around the world now have a chance to be put into full effect.
Pure cyclists are a pragmatic group of people and have adapted to riding alongside cars. New cyclists and e-bike users may have not yet experienced the full adrenaline rush of trying not to die in traffic while attempting a healthier and greener commute. The hope is that they never have to. With cities around the globe planning on putting their cycling and traffic reduction infrastructure policies in place, the future streets look great for cyclists.