Generously Fund Cycleways, Experts Say As Covid-19’s Spread Boosts Bicycle Use

Written by Carlton Reid | Published by Forbes on March 22, 2010

New York City, Mexico City, and Bogotá are rolling out “emergency” cycleways to boost bicycle use during the Coronavirus epidemic. The “Big Apple” has witnessed a surge in people cycling as they avoid crowded trains, and Bogotá introduced 100 kilometers of “temporary” cycleways to enable essential journeys. Mexico City is considering a four-fold increase to its existing cycleways network.


Brooklyn-based TV producer Doug Gordon—one of the three hosts of The War on Cars podcast—said he hopes New York City is “ready for what will happen when things slowly return to normal.” He believes the city will witness the “biggest surge in cycling ever.” He adds that “temporary” bike lanes “must be made permanent” and “there will have to be serious efforts to make sure all the cars don’t come flooding back.”


Writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) on March 14, U.S. public health academic Anne Lusk urged that governments around the world should “support new [cycling] infrastructure that tackles some of the world’s biggest issues,” including “public safety, health, economic development, equity, and climate change.”


While the many health and social benefits of bicycling are well understood, the activity is facing restrictions and outright bans in some parts of the world reeling from the spread of the Coronavirus.


“You can ... exercise outdoors if you stay more than 2 meters from others,” states the current government advice in the U.K.


“At times like these, it can be easy to fall into unhealthy patterns of behavior,” continues the advice, “which can make you feel worse.”

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (L) and Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr Jenny Harries (R)look on as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (C) speaks during a daily press conference at 10 Downing Street on March 20, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Simmonds - WPA Pool/Getty Images)


During a 10 Downing Street briefing on March 20, deputy chief medical officer Dr. Jenny Harries said it was “absolutely fine” for people to go for a “bike ride together” so long as they cycled two meters apart.


Dr. James Woodcock, program lead for public health modeling at Cambridge University’s MRC Epidemiology Unit, has called for cycling to be safeguarded. “Protecting the right to safe cycling is crucial,” he says.


“With public transport restricted, it will be increasingly important for journeys that people, such as key workers, still need to make.”


He adds that cycling can help people avoid unnecessary car trips, thereby improving air quality and reducing the risk of respiratory illnesses.


He is in favor of creating new cycleways.


“To cater for increased demand, reduce injury risk, and keep cyclists spaced apart, we should be following the example of Bogota, where temporary protected cycle tracks have been constructed on major roads,” he says.


Bogota already has 450 kilometers of protected cycleways. In her BMJ editorial, Anne Lusk, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Ma., wrote that “creating aesthetic cycle tracks is problematic because government funding for transport infrastructure has historically benefited motorized vehicles, not bicycles.” This “must be challenged,” she stressed.


“Enhanced cycle tracks in dedicated space beside sidewalks should be as revered and generously funded as historic buildings and trails,” she concluded, proposing an international “Bike Beautiful” movement, echoing the late 19th Century “City Beautiful Movement,” a reform philosophy of U.S. architecture and urban planning.”


Eighty-four public health and transport researchers have signed an open letter to support safe cycling during the Coronavirus crisis.

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