Toilet paper, alcohol, hand sanitiser… and bikes! The “must have” items in 2020 are still pretty popular in 2021 (particularly bikes). So you’d think that the number of riders passing our bike counter just outside our main store, Velo Cycles, on the Capital City Trail would be rocketing off the chart, right?
We know lots of people were out riding. We know you’ve been buying bikes as fast as we could get them in. So what’s going on? Basically we can sum it up in five words:
Quiet streets are safe streets
With the transition to working from home, far fewer people needed to jump in a car to get to work – particularly during Level 4 Lockdown. Most cars languished unused on the streets or in garages, collecting dust and cobwebs, batteries slowly going flat.
It’s amazing how different our streets and suburbs felt. The white noise of suburban traffic ceased. We jostled for space on footpaths and cycling tracks instead of as traffic on the roads. We marvelled at how safe it felt to walk around our own neighbourhoods and we took back ownership of our suburbs.
Fewer cars on streets and roads meant we could spread out (at least 1.5m apart) and still feel safe. No one to door us, no one to turn in front of us, no one to simply “not see” us riding a bike. No wonder we felt we could ride wherever we pleased.
Our 5km travel limit from also encouraged us to explore our local streets, rather than just stick to paths. People started “burbing” and racking up some serious km’s in their 1-2hrs of permitted daily exercise.
Melbourne lockdown restrictions started to lift in November last year. The upward trend in rider numbers is probably more reflective of the warming weather, rather than anything specifically due to relaxed restrictions.
Over summer, Victorian office workers were restricted to a 50% capacity. This was raised to 75% in mid February(1). It wasn’t until late March – a year after we entered lockdown – that offices in the CBD could resume 100% capacity again(2).
Notably, it wasn’t until March that the flow of bicycle riders along Canning Street started to feel ‘pre-Covid normal’ again. Riders are fed onto Canning Street by the Capital City Trail (east and west) and from the north through a series of back-streets in Brunswick East. At 92,852 riders, March 2021 saw our greatest number of riders since Covid lockdowns commenced.
Indicators point to bike commuters contributing a reasonable percentage to our historic totals. For example, rider numbers are down by an average of 25% over the first four months of this year compared to 2018, our best year to-date. Compared to the average of the last four years (2017 to 2020) for the same four month period, this year’s figures are down 17%.
What would take bike commuters away from a well-ridden route?
There are probably a few reasons, but a really exciting one is… pop-up bike lanes! The roll out of bicycle infrastructure along routes into the city has made previously unfriendly (and some down-right hazardous) routes safe for riders of all levels! Heidelberg Road in Clifton Hill and Rathdowne Street in Carlton are two local examples where improvements have been made (although more and better infrastructure is always desired). When people have a choice of routes, we’re not all funnelled down the same street – or past the bike counter out the front of our store.
Of course we’d love to see rider numbers reach the 1 million figure again this year. But if it doesn’t happen because people have found other safe paths to ride, then that’s cool. Just keep riding – and encourage your colleagues, friends and family to join you. Bikes aren’t just for Covid lockdowns!
See you out there.