Since the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been significant changes in the way people travel. Fewer cars on the road made it easier to appreciate how attractive our city streets look without traffic. More spaces for play, gatherings, cycling and walking. Sadly, fewer cars on the road also encouraged speeding and dangerous driving. Pedestrian deaths were higher in 2022 than in 2021.
We are coming to the end of our third year of the pandemic and it is essential to galvanize the movement around cycling and make temporary measures lasting. Redesigning cities to serve cyclists and pedestrians rather than cars have never been more critical. Reducing harmful emissions that we all know contribute to climate change should remain our highest goal. We should also prioritise our resilient and active forms of transport.
While providing more protected and connected safe cycling networks is important, another factor needs consideration.
We need to change the perception of who is riding bicycles and for what reason.
Victoria’s Department of Transport developed inclusive signage for its pop-up lanes to celebrate all types of bike riders (Source: Department of Transport)
Bicycles are not only for young fit men
In many areas, the perception is that bicycling is for younger, physically fit and wealthy men because this demographic has a larger group of recreational riders. However, this idea ignores the reality that older adults, families with children and women count on their bikes to travel. The fact remains these groups would ride more often if calmer, safer paths and cycleways were available. They would also ride more if a variety of bikes including e-bikes were affordable and accessible.
Not all people are impacted by policy equally. Therefore, providing for all groups and their individual needs will allow cities to support a large range of bicycle users. Peter McLean, CEO of Bicycle NSW explains ‘Our advocacy focuses on 8 to 80-year-olds including less able riders and this enables almost anyone to get out and ride a bike or be a passenger on a bike. It is critical that our bicycle infrastructure is built with all users in mind.’
For many city deliveries, the cargo bike can deliver much more quickly, inexpensively and with less environmental impact than the lumbering van that it’s replacing. Photo Credit: Curbside Cycles.
Recreation is not the only thing Bicycles are good for
Bicycles and bikeshare operators provide many options for outdoor recreation. Bicycles are not just a recreational device. They have been used for decades as informal street vendors and are a growing necessity for local commercial deliveries. Demand for e-commerce is increasing and there are logistical barriers for many delivery organisations. Large delivery corporations like Fed-Ex, Uber and DHL are piloting the use of e-cargo bicycles for delivery from the warehouse to the front door. Avoiding traffic jams and reducing greenhouse gas emissions are just some of the benefits.
A family enjoying the Miller Street cycleway in Sydney (Source: City of Sydney)
During the 2017 Mexico earthquake when streets were blocked by debris bicycles helped with the recovery effort. Moreover during COVID-19 bicycles were indispensable in the delivery of food and medicine in Gugulethu, South Africa; Semarang, Indonesia; several Indian cities; Mexico City and New York City. Imagine how many more people could have been helped if safe bicycle paths were available.
The Gugulethu Community Use Bicycles to Deliver Food to Neighbours
(Photo Credit: Gugulethu-Seaboard CAN)
Bicycles are not just for short trips
Bicycles fill in the gaps between modes within the transport network. Usually linking the first and last mile connections or just connecting those that would be too long on foot. For instance cycle lanes in Jakarta allow a 15 minute bike ride to Harmoni BRT station making it accessible to 400% more people than the population within a 15 minute walk. Reliable and quick access to public transport impacts how many people use it for more trips.
Understanding the diversity of riders and bicycle uses is important. So is beginning to change the beliefs and ideas around bicycling.
Changing the perception around cycling
- Bikeshare makes bikes accessible for everyone and increases the demand for more and safer places to ride on the street. Evidence indicates that bikeshare users ride more frequently and may even purchase their bike. Bikeshare companies are now offering a variety of rental options that include delivery workers.
- Fast-Build Cycle Networks that exist in places like Buenos Aires, Bogota and Seville are rapidly changing the experience of daily bicycling and moving the priority (if only marginally) away from cars. The reason, low-priced, flexible materials are usually used in the beginning; there is always the option to change the design if statistics show any issues. Pop-up cycle lanes connected to transit areas can enable people to seek alternatives to driving for long distances.
- Social marketing and bike advocacy will help to increase awareness about bicycle projects and their impact on our lives. Getting involved in regional and global campaigns like Cycling For All which look to improve cycling conditions and challenge societal issues like air quality and climate can continue to grow momentum in the direction of sustainable behaviour change.
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