Beyond empty shelves of hand-sanitzer and REM’s “End of the World As We Know (I Feel Fine)” climbing up to #39 on the Most Downloaded Song, COVID-19 is having a dramatic impact on our lives, businesses, and lifestyle. Individuals and families around the country and the globe are adopting to their circumstances—singing out windows in Italy, for example—some Americans have taken adopted alternative transportation methods to get to around town.
The Venerable Bicycle Leads Alternative Transportation Choices
According to the New York’s Department of Transportation, the city has seen a 50% increase in bike traffic on bridges connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn and Queens compared to last March. New York City’s bike share program, Citi Bike, has also seen an upswing in demand–up 67 percent compared to a year ago.
Chicago is apparently seeing even more dramatic increases with a nearly 100% jump in cycling compared to the same time last year.
While many of the new Bike to Work commuters may also be first-timers, the increased number of other cyclists create a safety-in-numbers effect that protects new and inexperienced riders. The increase of bike commuters and the corresponding decrease in vehicle traffic (down 15% in New York) along with moderate temps has created a fascinating situation where vehicle volume and exhaust is lower, bicycle ridership is higher, and everyone involved adhering to new social distancing norms.
One of the biggest underlying factors leading to the rapid spread of coronavirus around the world has been the virus’ ability to spread among people packed in close quarters, often days before symptoms emerge. Avoiding public transportation has been an important element in social distancing, resulting in the NYC Transit system losing 18.5% ridership in March, almost 1 million riders fewer per day. San Francisco reports a decline of 35% while Amtrak reports decreased ridership of 50%.
Micromobility Options Also Experiencing Increased Demand
Micromobility is poised to be another beneficiaries of social distancing. Electric bicycles, electric scooters and other personal electric vehicles have long been touted for their economic and environmental benefits. But now we’re seeing how these types of vehicles are being effectively employed as one more option to defend commuters from contracting and/or spreading coronavirus.
While some riders have shown a preference for privately owned e-scooters and e-bikes over shared mobility services, both have become popular options recently.
Lime, however,one of the largest shared electric scooter operators, announced today (19 March) that it is pulling its shared electric scooters from 20 countries and 21 states, as the number of COVID-19 cases spread across the world. It is expected that other Mobility as a Service (MaaS) operator will soon follow suit.
The Big Apple Seizing the Moment
In New York, Mayor de Blasio asked residents to bike to work in a tweet earlier in March. Even though the mayor said he would not bike himself, the increased ridership of private bicycles, shared bicycles, and micromobility options have put pressure on Mayor de Blasio to follow recommendations by Transportation Alternatives to make streets safer for the new riders. The group called on the mayor to:
- Create a zero tolerance policy on vehicles blocking bike lanes
- Build pop-up bike lanes to support new bike and micromobility traffic
- Create separated cycling paths on the Brooklyn and Queensboro bridges.
- Fast-track permitting and construction of sidewalk and on-street bike parking
- Expand Citi Bike into underserved neighborhoods and subsidize a Citi Bike discount program to incentivize new riders.
For people who must go to work and cannot work from home, bicycling to work provides a virus-free and healthy alternative to public transportation and vehicles. Undoubtedly, some bike to work commuters will return to their established methods once the crisis is over. Imagine, however, that “social distancing” in turn becomes “traffic mitigation” and municipalities around the country adopt bike-friendly provision that encourage and protect bike and micromobility commuters in the future.
Shellback6 is GrüneStrasse’s regular blog contribution to the Bike to Work and Alternative Transportation Movement. Comments, suggestions, and dissenting points of view welcome!