Popular options like public transit and ridesharing, now carry the risk of potentially exposing passengers to COVID-19. As a result, more people have taken to cycling and bike shops across the country are seeing record sales.
This recent surge in cyclists is beneficial for several reasons. From a public health perspective, cycling is a form of physical activity that can improve physical and mental health, prevent a host of chronic diseases, such as heart disease and Type 2 diabetes and reduce burden on the health-care system.
There is also a high return on investment from installing cycling networks. The increase in cyclists diverts cars from streets, resulting in reduced traffic and pollution, while increasing pedestrian and cyclist safety. Overall, the benefits of investing in cycling infrastructure and increasing the number of cyclists on the road far outweigh its associated costs. The room for growth in terms of new cyclists is enormous.
Some cities, like London and Toronto, have closed roads to cars to make streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians. Major metropolitan cities like New York and Paris have passed bills to expand cycling infrastructure to promote and maintain accessibility and safety.
These measures have been put in place in response to COVID-19 and physical distancing regulations but they make so much sense they need to be implemented globally and permanently.
Three key factors that can facilitate and maintain cycling are safety, efficiency and cost:
Construct separated bike lanes: Safety is a concern for all cyclists. Separating vehicle and foot traffic from cyclists increases safety for all groups and should be a priority.
Connect existing bike networks: Many cyclists feel the connections from one bike route to another limit their cycling. Cities should identify popular routes and extend existing networks to support those routes. This will help create a more safe and efficient means of transportation.
Improve bike network maintenance during the winter: Winter cyclists identify poor road surface maintenance as the primary deterrent to winter cycling — not the air temperature or weather. Some snowy countries make road and bike network maintenance during the winter a priority. Doing this means there are fewer cyclists on main roads and arteries, leading to a safer, quicker commute for all.
Incentives for cycling: We know cycling is hugely beneficial to health and well-being over the long term, yet people rarely start or continue a behaviour because of possible future rewards. Incentives, however, can help keep new cyclists on the road; tax deductions for bike-related purchases and services, reduced insurance premiums for bikers, employee benefits similar to the Cycle-to-Work and BiketoWork schemes popular in the U.K. and Ireland.
Ultimately, these strategies normalise cycling and encourage the new COVID-19 generation of cyclists to stick with it. Enacting these strategies can transform cycling from an alternative mode of transportation to the safest, fastest, and most cost-effective mode of transportation, well beyond the duration of COVID-19.