Millions of people have turned to cycling for safe transport and exercise during the coronavirus outbreak. As lockdown restrictions ease and more people will be returning to work and school, people will need to consider making permanent changes to their choice of transport to keep public transport safe and prevent extreme traffic congestion. For a cycling boom to flourish, improvements in road infrastructure are necessary to keep routes safe, with many cities already making permanent and “pop-up” bike lanes. If cities can accommodate the safety of increased rider numbers, a golden era of cycling can be sustained for the long-term benefit of society.
Public transport capacity will need to reduce by 85% to keep it safe for essential workers and people who have no other option. A recent report prepared by the Institute for Sensible Transport found that public transport trips in Melbourne will need to drop from 382,000 to 58,000 to meet safe distancing guidelines. Institute for Sensible Transport senior analyst Liam Davies says that “never before in Australia’s history has there been a requirement for peak hour public transport to shed 7 out of every 8 passengers.” He suggests that to reduce peak hour crowds 137,000 commuters will need to avoid PT and 54,000 of those people will need to travel to work by bicycle.
Switching to cycling will not only make PT safer but prevent unprecedented traffic congestion. Dr. Ben Beck from the School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine at Monash University says that “if a significant volume of trips usually taken by public transport is replaced by car-based travel, this will have substantial, and potentially irreversible, negative consequences on the health of our people and the health of our cities.”
A movement towards active modes of transport like cycling will benefit the wellbeing of people and cities as they transition out of lockdown restrictions. But urgent improvements in road infrastructure are necessary to make the switch safe and easy for everyone. Already, Melbourne has seen an increase in rider numbers. Bicycle Network recently recorded thousands of riders, runners, and walkers on various shared paths in Melbourne in a two-hour window and found large increases compared to pre-coronavirus counts. Locally, there was a 221 percent increase on the Capital City Trail, from 219 cyclists in November 2019 to 703 on April 25, 2020.
Bicycle Network is asking governments to turn roads into cycling-friendly routes to ease the load on busy shared bike paths to ensure safe distancing and encourage people to remain active.” It is essential, and not optional, that we rapidly invest in infrastructure to support healthy and safe walking and cycling,” says Bicycle Network CEO Craig Richards. Sydney Road in Brunswick and Chapel Street, South Yarra are great examples of roads that could easily be transformed into a cyclist only routes. “Australia should follow the lead of other countries and quickly create more space to ride separated from vehicles,” says Richards.
Temporary or “pop-up” bike lanes have facilitated safer transport for riders in cities during the coronavirus crisis.
Temporary bike lanes being propped up in Germany. Photograph: Annegret Hilse/Reuters
- In Berlin, bike lanes have been temporarily widened and the Berlin Roads and Parks department have commissioned new lanes to ensure safe distancing between riders and allowing frontline workers a safe way to get to work.
- In Ottawa, temporary closure of Queen Elizabeth Driveway (equivalent to Alexandra Parade in Melbourne) to motor vehicle traffic has allowed thousands of active commuters safe space to travel during daytime hours.
- In Auckland, 17km of temporary cycle space has been installed to allow a two-meter distance between cyclists and walkers on popular roads.
- In Bogota, 47km of temporary bike lanes have opened to reduce PT crowds.
City of Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp has to be created in the CBD area. Action needs to happen fast to ensure Melbournians have a safe way to commute, with expanded routes also necessary in suburbs outside of the CBD. In a recent poll conducted by RACV asking twitter followers whether they’d like to see pop-up bike lanes in their local area, 94% of respondents said yes.
Accommodating for active commuters will promote healthy lifestyles and help prevent a resurgence of COVID-19. Scientist David C Nieman says that reducing the risk of COVID-19 should not only involve physical distancing and sanitary measures but “regular-moderate intensity physical activity too”. The safety risks of cycling are minor in comparison to the health benefits. Researchers in the UK found that 100 cyclists are killed in a year as opposed to 100,000 dying of ailments related to inactivity. Even in heavily polluted areas like Beijing and New Delhi, the benefit-risk ratio of commuting by bike is seven-one.
We can all work towards making Melbourne a rider-safe city. Whether you’re a seasoned cyclist or a riding newbie, here are some things you can do help the cycling boom flourish as we transition into the “new normal”:
- Support bicycle advocacy groups such as We Ride and Bicycle Network that rally for improvements in rider safety and infrastructure.
- Write to the Transport Minister and your local Councillors and MPs, letting them know you support safer transport options like cycling.
- Take extra caution on busy trails by riding slower and ensuring visibility.
- Find the bike that suits your needs. For people who live in hilly areas or don’t want to arrive at work sweaty. If you’ve got extra passengers or heavy loads to cart across town, a cargo bike is your ideal car replacement.
- Visit your local bike shop for a service to ensure your bike is as safe and easy to ride as possible.
Our top bike picks for riding out of lockdown:
Carry 3 extra passengers (and a week’s worth of groceries) through city sprawl. Grocery runs, school pick-ups, day trips – you name it – The Tern GSD replaces the need for a car.
Get from A-B and beyond without breaking a sweat. A longstanding favorite, this e-commuter bike is brimming with quality components for an affordable price.
The ultimate Melbourne commuter. Lightweight, sturdy, and built with quality parts, the Coda S2 tackles anything urban commuting throws at it.
For effortless commuting, look no further than the Focus Planet 6.7. Our latest arrival, this decked-out bike features dynamo lights that are powered by your pedals.
We offer FREE instructed test rides to take the guesswork out of buying your new bike. A certified riding buddy will help you find the right bike, do any adjustments, and accompany you during your ride. Contact us now to book your FREE instructed test ride:
Velo Cycles offers FREE membership to our Velo Love Club when you buy your new bike from us. Benefits include 1hr FREE mechanic servicing per year, 10% parts during your service, priority servicing if you have an emergency, and guaranteed access to loan bikes. Membership is valid for as long as you ride your bike!