Bikes have been part of the urban landscape for the longest time. A healthy, affordable, no-emissions form of transport, cycling has seen quite a resurgence over the past 50 years. But on the back of the current crisis, the next wave of the peddle-revolution is here, with all of us striving to have our social distance covered.
When my hometown Munich went into lockdown on March 16 I realized what a treasure the smallest of private outdoor spaces can be. My 0.75 square meter south-facing balcony – large enough to house one potted plant and one folding chair – became my sanity’s salvation. From out there I watched life in the city come to a screeching halt. The busy, inner-city connection to the park and famous beergardens became very quiet.
After what felt like an eternity, but was probably a few days at most, I was greatly relieved to find the streets come back to life. But differently. The once crowded buses that passed on larger intervals, now transported a handful of passengers. Where stressed-out drivers would before honk their irritation about the unknown rules of engagement at one of Munich’s very few roundabouts, pedestrians and cyclists now take charge.
Undoubtably a happy byproduct of lockdown regulations that always allowed and encouraged outdoor exercise. Cycling being a great choice as it is also proven to positively impact cardiovascular fitness and lower the risk of developing diabetes – both of them risk factors for pulmonary diseases. But not only sports cyclists are to be seen. My balcony tells tales of bikes being used for a commute and much needed recreation as well – proving the renaissance is gaining momentum.
Despite having been in leading positions in previous years, Munich dropped out of the Copenhagenize Index’s Top 20 in 2019. The index ranks the world’s urban hubs on how much they’re doing to promote life on two wheels, so naturally you will find the usual suspects of Danish and Dutch cities at the top of the list. However, newcomers like Bremen, Bogota and Taipei acknowledge the potential of being bicycle-friendly all the while showcasing cycling’s potential to relieve public transportation systems of additional riders.
What we are now witnessing is nothing less than a thorough re-organization of public space. Policy makers in Munich, and around the world, are taking action to ensure increased numbers of pedestrians and cyclists can move at a safe distance in this time of crisis. One of the first was Bogota, who closed lanes of its normally congested highways to create pop-up bike lanes. In New York pedestrians and cyclists can now use the roadbed of 40 miles of streets opened up under the Department of Transportation’s open street program. The UK meanwhile announced a £2 billion package to encourage and create a new era for cycling and walking.
If ever there was a good time to get on your bike, it’s now. You will be helping take pressure off public transport. You will be looking after your health. You will be looking after the health of others and you will be helping the environment.
Sir Dave Brailsford, Team Principal of Team INEOS, www.gov.uk
A sustainable move?
I see two major determining factors to these scenarios developing. First and foremost, the question of how many of these current radical crisis measures – mostly described as temporary – will become permanent fixtures. Could the temporary not become the new normal? It wouldn’t be a first within the urban mobility system. And secondly, there are several digital technologies that could help cities support the urban cycling ecosystem to flourish permanently. Be it prioritization mechanisms for cyclists, which can be integrated into existing traffic management set-ups; bike and eBike sharing solutions could be introduced and promoted; or easing citizens’ commutes by making multimodal and intermodal trip planning available in real time.
For now, I am looking forward to taking advantage of the changes in my own backyard, beyond my balcony. This week the city council here in Munich voted to transfer lanes of five major central arteries into pop-up bike lanes. Grab your helmet, change is coming to car country. #GetPedalling!