Bikes emerge as op­tion for com­muters af­ter lock­down

Tourism po­ten­tial seen; ac­tivists seize mo­ment to push for cy­cling lanes

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - NATION&WORLD -

MADRID — 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 of 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 dev­as­ta­tion wrought by the coro­n­avirus 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 a tem­po­rary mea­sure to make space for com­muters on two wheels.

The tran­si­tion to more bike­friendly 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,” he said.

In ad­di­tion to bike lanes sep­a­rated by curbs, 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 of 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.

The French govern­ment asked cy­cling ac­tivist Pierre Serne to draw up a plan for when its lock­down ends May 11. His rec­om­men­da­tions, in­clud­ing bi­cy­cle lanes sep­a­rated from other ve­hi­cles at an es­ti­mated cost of 50,000 eu­ros per kilo­me­ter (around $90,000 per mile), have been sub­mit­ted to the Trans­porta­tion Min­istry.

For now, France has said it will sub­si­dize rid­ers up to 50 eu­ros (nearly $55) for re­pairs so the French can get their bi­cy­cles ready for post-lock­down rides.

In Berlin, the Friedrichs­hainKreuzb­erg 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 they can make an im­me­di­ate dif­fer­ence.

Sim­i­lar ini­tia­tives are pop­ping up else­where. Of­fi­cials in Lima, Peru; Barcelona, Spain; and Mi­lan, Italy, are speed­ing up plans to ex­pand bike paths or take space from cars or cur­rent park­ing sites.

In Bogota, where bi­cy­cles are used mostly by Colom­bia’s bluecol­lar work­ers, Mayor Clau­dia López has urged ev­ery­body re­turn­ing to work this week to cy­cle in­stead of us­ing pub­lic trans­porta­tion, which is now op­er­at­ing at 35% of ca­pac­ity.

With many U.S. nonessen­tial busi­nesses closed, there is lit­tle point now in cy­cling that isn’t re­cre­ational. But cities like Oak­land, San Fran­cisco and New York are clos­ing some streets to traf­fic to al­low room for run­ners and cy­clists.

Pe­dro Díaz, a mem­ber of Pedal­i­bre, a Madrid cy­cling club, sees this as a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­nity to take over space from cars and re­sist giv­ing it back when the pan­demic ends.

“If we wait for proper in­fra­struc­ture for bi­cy­cle lanes, we’ll need a mu­nic­i­pal plan, which will take at least four years to be de­signed and get ap­proved,” Díaz said. “This way, it’s just a mat­ter of putting a fence and stop­ping cars from us­ing a lane. Then it will be a fait ac­com­pli.”

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.

With tourism ac­count­ing for nearly 15% of the gross do­mes­tic prod­uct in Spain, out­door va­ca­tions — whether on two wheels or not, but away from crowded beaches and re­sorts — could keep the in­dus­try afloat, she said.

“In Aus­tralia, bi­cy­cle sales have al­ready sky­rock­eted,” Ver­gara said. “Why couldn’t that hap­pen here?”


A cou­ple stops walk­ing to ob­serve so­cial dis­tanc­ing from pass­ing cy­clists on a road in Lisse, Nether­lands. As coun­tries across the world seek to get their economies back on track af­ter coro­n­avirus lock­downs are over, some peo­ple are en­cour­ag­ing the use of bi­cy­cles as a way to avoid un­safe crowd­ing on trains and buses.

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