PT: With respect to the future of urban transportation, we are in a fragile moment: the pandemic has resulted in some very bad consequences (a crash in transit use), some good trends (a growth in cycling) and some dangerous possibilities (Motordom Redux).
In the next few months, local government in particular will have to decide whether the temporary responses (like slow streets and flow lanes) become permanent, whether past commitments (like the Granville Bridge greenway) will be sustained, or whether it will all be swept away in a wave of single-occupancy vehicles and an attempt to accommodate their demands.
A survey Mustel Group conducted for the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade showed that 36 per cent of respondents in Metro Vancouver said they plan to increase their car use or ownership because of the pandemic.
These trends and choices are, like the pandemic itself, a global condition, as described in The Economist (registration required):
Cycling is one industry that probably won’t need any bail-outs.
Where statistics are available, they show huge rises in bicycle use across Europe and America. In Switzerland, the number of kilometres cycled since early March has risen by 175% (and fallen by 11% for trams). In Philadelphia cycling is up by 151%; usage of New York’s bike-share scheme rose by 67% in March, year-on-year. Even in Copenhagen, the two-wheel capital of the world, Jens Rubin, of Omnium Bikes, says his shop has been “busier than ever”; sales doubled in April and May compared with the same months in 2019. In March sales of bikes in America increased by about 50% year-on-year, according to NPD, a market-research firm. …
Western governments are seizing on cycling’s big moment to try to make such temporary measures permanent. Because social distancing is likely to endure for months, or even years, public transport won’t return to normal soon; it may never do so. So the bike will remain an essential tool in many countries’ strategies to taper their lockdowns. As the French environment minister, Elisabeth Borne, put it, “the bicycle is the little queen of deconfinement” …
But a two-wheel revolution cannot be taken for granted. Cycling novices in the northern hemisphere have been lucky to enjoy most of the lockdown in fine spring weather; just wait for winter. And some evidence indicates that many people are yearning to get back in their cars, also handy as lockdowns end but social-distancing rules remain. In China, for instance, one survey concluded that the proportion of people who want to use a car would surge from 34% to 66% after lockdown ends; the same survey showed that more Chinese were now keen on buying a car. Other surveys suggest huge drop-offs in enthusiasm for trains and buses. …
Thus the challenge will be to create incentives for those who abandon their buses to mount up rather than strap in. Technology may help. Electricity-assisted cycles allow commuters to venture farther without fear of running out of puff. Deloitte, a consultancy, is expecting e-cycle sales to take off, topping 130m by 2023. Germany’s Bosch has been leading the market in motors and batteries that can be installed on regular bikes. Venture capital is also pouring into e-cycle startups such as VanMoof (which recently raised $13.5m from Balderton Capital). Sales of e-bikes in America soared by 85% in March compared with the same month a year earlier.
But as Morten Kabell, head of the European Cycling Federation, a lobby group, argues, “physical infrastructure is the key”, particularly “separated, protected cycle tracks”. The hope is that today’s flimsy pop-up cycle lanes will be tomorrow’s dedicated, secure cycle tracks. …At least for now cyclists around the world can demand more of their governments, knowing they have a tailwind of public goodwill.