A POST PANDEMIC BIKE WORLD EXPLAINED
While these increases feel good, we need to remember that many commute trips still aren’t happening right now. Plus we’re not sure that those being counted now will continue riding once offices and businesses reopen. As StreetLight Data pointed out in a fall 2020 report, bike ridership actually fluctuated widely depending on location: Marked differences in stay-at-home compliance, work-from-home practices, safe bicycle infrastructure, and even climate impacted the degree ridership increased with six of the ten U.S. metros – those with the highest rates of bike commuting actually saw a decline in the total bike miles travelled.
PeopleForBikes may have come the closest to understanding the true number of new riders in the U.S. and whether ridership growth is sustainable. The national bicycle advocacy organization reported survey findings showing that “during the COVID-19 pandemic, 10% of American adults engaged with bicycling in a new way” and that the majority of those new to riding “plan to continue riding at least once per week in the coming year.”
(For an excellent summary of the increase in biking in Europe and the United States, check out COVID-19 Impacts on Cycling, 2019–2020, a study by researchers at Virginia Tech and Rutgers University.)
Bottom line: It appears more Americans are riding bikes now than past years, although ridership is actually down in some major metros. We’re hopeful that those who took up biking during the pandemic end up loving it enough to do it for their commutes.
Bottom line: The Biden administration isn’t specifically focused on bikes, although he’s been known to go on the occasional outdoor ride. Still with Buttigieg at the reins, the climate crisis backdrop, the restructuring of public space during the pandemic, and the spotlight on equity issues, we think bikes will fare pretty well. At least until 2024.
How is public space changing to accommodate bikes? Will changes last?
We don’t know about you, but we were overjoyed when streets in our cities closed to cars and became semi-protected havens for bikers, walkers, skateboarders, etc. Not to say that there weren’t equity problems with the rollout, but we haven’t seen this kind of collective investment and focus on non-car spaces since, well, ever, in our lifetimes.
How collective is the investment? According to PeopleForBikes, “approximately 200 U.S. cities changed the functionality of their streets to accommodate increased outdoor activity,” as a response to the pandemic. This figure includes everything from slow streets to parklets to reducing car speeds. (Note: For full accounting of these interventions, check out “Shifting Streets” COVID-19 Mobility Dataset or try a super simple map documenting Slow Streets initiatives in the United States).
But can we expect that the spaces cities created will be preserved once the pandemic risks subside? A new study doesn’t make us hopeful: Of 30 large U.S. cities that instituted Slow Streets or similar programs, only five were moving to make the changes permanent at the time of their research.
Bottom line: We believe that some (many?) of these COVID-era street changes will remain, although we can’t back that up with strong evidence. Cities have at least set a precedent…it will be tough to take outdoor dining and parklets away from residents once they’ve enjoyed them. Plus the emphasis on equity and inclusive-planning leads us to believe that we’ll at least see more “people-first” designs and the deprioritization of cars.
Bikes Make Life Better is dedicated to helping employees at large organizations use bikes for healthy sustainable transportation. They’ve helped design bike programs, facilities, and fleets for Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Netflix, Stanford, Uber and others.