COVID-19 pandemic fuels resurgence in cycling

AP
As countries seek to get their economies back on track after the pandemic, bicycle use is being encouraged as a way to avoid unsafe crowding on trains and buses.
AP

Halfway through his 30-minute bike ride to work, police ordered Juan Pasamar to dismount, accusing him of breaking Spain’s coronavirus lockdown rules by exercising in public.

The officers were not buying his explanation he was commuting to his job outside Zaragoza, the northern city where he lives.

“You have a car, don’t you? Why don’t you use that?” he said he was asked.

Pasamar eventually had to hire a lawyer to convince police that the government had not banned cycling during the lockdown.

As countries seek to get their economies back on track after the pandemic, bicycle use is being encouraged as a way to avoid unsafe crowding on trains and buses.

Cycling activists from Germany to Peru are trying to use the moment to get more bike lanes, or widen existing ones, even if it’s just temporary.

The transition to more bike-friendly urban environments “is necessary if we want our cities to work,” said Morton Kabell, who co-chairs the European Cyclists’ Federation.

“A lot of people will be afraid of going on public transportation, but we have to get back to work someday. Very few of our cities can handle more car traffic.”

Kabell backs subsidizing electric bicycles, which could encourage commuters who have longer or hilly journeys.

The benchmarks are Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, where half the daily commuters are cyclists, and the Netherlands, with its vast network of bike lanes.

Still, countries around the world are catching up at different speeds.

In Berlin, the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg council simply painted yellow lines on the some roads to take space from car lanes.

This bike infrastructure builds on what is called “tactical urbanism” — low-cost changes that are technically simple and reversible, and can make an immediate difference.

If arguing for environmentally friendly transportation was a key factor for activists before, the economic fallout from the virus is adding momentum, said Laura Vergara, head of Spain’s ConBici advocacy group.

Beyond infrastructure, cycling advocates say many minds must still be changed, noting that many officials have called for prioritizing the use of private vehicles under the lockdown.

That’s where differences by country are sharper.

In Britain, where people are still allowed to leave home to exercise, cycle shops stayed open during the lockdown that began March 23.

In Spain, gas stations were considered essential, but not bicycle repair shops.

Special Reports
Top