World Bicycle Day celebrates a mode of transport that has been around for over two centuries and whose popularity continues to grow. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live, shop, spend our free time, and the way we move. Restrictions in many European cities have resulted in a reduction in motorized traffic and an increase in people choosing to walk or ride bicycles to avoid crowded public transport and follow health authorities’ advice for physical distancing.
As cities start easing restrictions and large numbers of people head back to work, there has been a sharp rise in bicycle and e-bike purchases, with some stores in the UK and Germany battling to keep up with demand. With this comes an urgent need to re-assess how we can shift to more sustainable and efficient mobility in the post-COVID-19 recovery.
The United Nations and governments in Europe have launched a new taskforce to develop a set of principles for greener and healthier mobility. But already, some countries and cities are taking immediate measures to improve mobility for cyclists as numbers grow.
The European capital, Brussels, approved a half million euro budget to improve cycling infrastructure, adding bicycle racks to offer an additional 6000 parking spaces for bikes, as well as 40km of new cycle paths. In the city centre, vehicle speed has been reduced to 20km/h and pedestrians and cyclists now have priority on the streets, not just on sidewalks and in bike lanes.
In Italy, subsidies are available in certain municipalities to purchase bicycles and e-bikes. The city of Rome announced up to 150km of new cycling paths, and in Milan, the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in Europe, the municipality is putting in place new bike lanes, enlarging sidewalks, and setting speed limits for vehicles to 30 km/h. Over the course of the summer, the city plans to transform 35 km of road to better serve cyclists and pedestrians.
Paris has created 50km of new cycleways, and in the UK, the government announced a £2 billion package to put cycling and walking “at the heart of” Britain’s post-coronavirus transportation plan.
Initiatives to improve mobility aim to reduce overcrowding on public transport and gridlock on roads as restrictions are lifted and efforts are made to prevent a second wave of infections. While the planned improvements are to be lauded, many have been announced as temporary measures only. Yet, making transportation more sustainable is of critical importance for people and the planet’s health and wellbeing. There is growing expectation by the public that at least some of the improvements will be made permanent and any return to normality will come with changes for better mobility.
The bicycle is a simple, affordable, reliable, clean and environmentally sustainable means of transportation. World Bicycle Day appeals to governments at all levels to provide safe access to public space, protect those who walk and cycle, and ensure – through mobility – equal participation in society. Investment in better conditions for cycling – including e-cycling, cargo cycling and public bicycles – will help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Learn more about Cycling for the Global Goals through our NEW webpage.