Green Cities

COVID-19 forced us onto bicycles. Can we ride the green momentum?

The coronavirus has shaken our lives. And climate change isn’t waiting for us to catch our footing. Across the world, natural disaster after natural disaster are complicating our recovery and relief efforts. 

But amid these challenges, the pandemic also offers city and world leaders the opportunity to rebuild sustainably and avoid future catastrophes. One important trend, with cars off the streets and air pollution cleared in major cities, is the surge of cyclists around the planet. 

Bike shops are experiencing unprecedented shortages and lines out the door, according to Adam McDermott, founder of Linus Bike in Los Angeles. 

“Over the last few years, the bicycle industry has actually been in decline,” McDermott recently told KCRW. “So we’re always placing projections kind of early in the fall for the following spring. It’s a five-month kind of lead time. And so in no way did we anticipate for this.”

All regions across the United States (and 11 European countries) saw a strong increase in the number of bikes ridden during the last few months — with the southwest U.S. states seeing 100% growth. Shimano Inc., a 99-year-old cycling company from Japan, recorded ¥640 billion (roughly $5.9 billion) growth in their stock. 

Most of this rise is from recreation on weekends, as families fight to keep restless children busy. But bicycles have also emerged as an open-air, socially-distant alternative to public transportation for essential workers. 

Cities have been riding this momentum: Milan plans to expand bike and walking lanes by 35 kilometers over the summer; Mexico City built 130 kilometers of temporary bike infrastructure; Berlin and Madrid temporarily pedestrianized streets, with the hopes of revisiting legislation later this year.

The transportation sector makes up nearly 30% of global emissions. But by investing in more space for walking, biking and public transit, cities could cut these emissions drastically. If just 20% of city dwellers biked instead of drove, urban CO2 emissions could fall 11%

Post-pandemic green recovery plans allow for cities, states and countries to improve pedestrian protections and discourage car use.  Plus, these plans provide opportunities to address barriers to cycling faced by people living in poorer neighborhoods.

According to the United Nations’ 2018 Share the Road Programme Annual Report, municipalities continue to overlook the mobility needs of people who walk and cycle. And if they invested in pedestrian protections, cities could save lives, protect the environment and achieve greater health equity.

This World Bicycle Day, recreate responsibility: Go for a ride outside. And this November, Vote Earth — to hold your leaders accountable for a green coronavirus recovery.