COVID-19 Cycling surges in popularly during Covid-19
We’re almost all at home but there’s still a need to get to where we need to go. Cycling has experienced a boom in popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic. Is this an opportunity to create a new normal for city planners? And how are micromobility providers responding to the challenge?
While the majority of people are spending their time at home, the reality is that some travel is still necessary. Those in essential services need a way to get to work, while the supermarket is a priority for all of us. Most of us are avoiding public transport for good reasons, but traveling by bike or scooter with appropriate precautions might be the antidote. Cycling can epitomize perfect social distancing with limited exposure to others. It has the added bonuses of fresh air, stress relief, and improved cardiovascular health.
In the UK, researchers have called on the government to maintain safe walking and cycling during the Covid-19 pandemic with an open letter that states:
"Walking and cycling, particularly in greenspace, is good for mental as well as physical health. People should be encouraged to exercise at home, but for most of us, it is unlikely that this will replace the walking and cycling we do outdoors.
Social distancing will make many sports and gym-based exercise impossible. However, walking and cycling can be compatible with social distancing if people are responsible. Transmission risks will be very low if people stay 2-3 meters apart."
London Cycling Campaign has released a campaign to help riders keep safe during Covid-19, which includes a phone line and Facebook chat.
In Germany, the government encourages cycling, and a joint statement by bicycle industry groups Zweirad-Industrie-Verband (ZIV) and dealer cooperative Zweirad-Einkaufs-Genossenschaft eG (ZEG) said:
"Millions of people will follow the advice of Health Minister Spahn and will use their bikes instead of buses and trains in the next few weeks. That is exactly right! Some are already doing it, others will have to get their bike out of the basement and repair it. This is not the only reason why there will be a high demand for bicycle workshops. After all, the bicycle will be the most important form of transport next to the car in the next few weeks, as it is infection-proof and can be used by everyone."
In Germany, despite the majority of businesses having been forced by the government to stay closed for the next few weeks, bike repair stores can remain open if they choose to under essential service guidelines. However, bike manufacturers are experiencing significant supply chain disruptions.
Cycling is popular
Cities are reporting an increase in cycling. According to the New York Times, Citi Bike, the city's bike-share program, has seen demand surge 67 percent this month: Between March 1 and March 11, there were a total of 517,768 trips compared with 310,132 trips during the same period the year before. There were as many as 21,300 bike crossings on a single day this month (March 9), up 52 percent from a peak of 14,032 bike crossings for the same period a year ago.
In Philadephia, Indego clocked 14,000 rides during the first nine days of March, that's close to twice the number from 2019. Bike hire companies in China also report higher numbers of hires with longer duration of journeys.
Cities have been building emergency bikes paths
The recent surge in cycling is an opportunity for cities to review their commitment to cycling infrastructure and build greater transport resilience by taking into account the number of bike paths, street widths, and road safety.
In Colombia’s capital Bogata, the council has opened 76 km (47 miles) of temporary bike lanes in a bid to reduce crowding on public transport, improve air quality and prevent the spread of coronavirus. These efforts expand the city's 550 km (340 miles) of existing permanent bike lanes. Part of these bike lanes were created by reconfiguring car lanes.
According to Queen Anne Greenways, Mexico City is planning to follow Bogota's lead and create an emergency bike network as shared on twitter.
An opportunity for social good
People’s growing interest in cycling is also an opportunity for bike hire companies to build new clients and create positive marketing potential. In the UK, Brompton Bike Hire is offering free bike hire to all National Health Service (NHS) staff during the Coronavirus pandemic. All NHS staff can access a free bike from the scheme's 50+ hubs nationwide. In Scotland, Forth Environment Link is offering NHS key workers free use of an electric bike during the Covid-19 crisis. Other mobility providers are also providing free and discounted services.
In Europe and Latin America, UBER is working with public authorities to offer rides for healthcare workers to hospitals and their homes. They launched discounted trips in SF, Washington DC, and Seattle to connect low-income and vulnerable communities to food. In Rome, they reduced the price of JUMP e-bikes to one euro per trip.
Micromobility companies struggling
However, some e-scooters and hire bikes are having a less salubrious experience despite reports of increased cyclists and riders. Last week Lime announced,
"In all of our markets, except for South Korea, we will begin winding down and pausing our service to reflect public health guidance."
Its possible part of the issue is having enough people able to work to collect the bikes and scooter each night, a gig economy role typically without job protection or rights. All providers are sharing posts on their apps and social media explaining the appropriate safety precautions - regular handwashing, wearing gloves, cleaning the bike, and avoiding travel when unwell. In the U.S., Spin has limited their operations and announced increased disinfection and introduced a series of paid leave options to ensure no one in their staff is working while unwell.
While transport numbers are falling in all verticals as people stay at home, the challenge will be how to maintain and further nurture the interest in cycling when (if?) daily life returns to something resembling normal and other modes of transport prove more enticing.