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Public Sector

Life during COVID-19: why cycling is surging

When it comes to getting around in a pandemic, cycling, it seems, is emerging as a resilient way to stay connected. Here's how urban planners can use location technology to accommodate the growing wave of pedal people.

As countries around the world learn to live with lockdown to curb the coronavirus, there's an unexpected victor in this saga. The humble bicycle.

Whether it's for a daily dose of exercise, or as a means to get to work while swerving the potential germ-ridden perils of public transport - cycling is surging.

During the first few days of March, New York's Citi Bikes ride-share scheme saw a 67% year-on-year uplift, with more than half a million rides. In Philadelphia, Martin Luther King Jr Drive closed to motor vehicles after bike traffic increased by 471%, and in Minneapolis 18 miles of roads have been temporarily pedestrianized to give walkers and cyclists more room for social distancing.

The increase in cycling isn't just a US thing either. Amid a nationwide lockdown, bike stores are one of the few non-food businesses allowed to remain open in the UK and Germany.

Cycling Scotland meanwhile reported a 215% increase in cycling at just one site after it deployed a network of 60 automatic cycle counters. And from London to Bogota to Budapest, health workers have been given free access to docked and dockless bike schemes to help them move around more safely and easily.

The route of the matter

But as many people switch from public transport and cars to two wheels to get around during the pandemic, the need for segregated cycle lanes is clear.

In New York, for instance, the NYPD reported a 43% increase in bike-related injuries in only a week, with unseasoned riders mixing with traffic traveling faster than usual.

On March 19th, 2020, Transportation Alternatives told StreetsBlog NYC that the statistics show the need for “a more comprehensive network of protected bike lanes" – and the very next day two temporary bike lanes were built to help separate drivers and riders. For many cyclists, especially those unaccustomed to riding in big cities, a reliable navigation app can help improve their experience.

In Berlin, Germany, pop-up cycle lanes were created after demands from cyclists for more space to practice social distancing. While in Bogotá, Colombia, the mayor created almost 72 miles of bike routes in March to encourage cycling as a way to move around during the coronavirus crisis while also cutting air pollution. This is in addition to the city's existing 340 miles of cycleways and a weekly event that bans vehicles on major roads.

At HERE, we've a number of tools and solutions to help you plan and reconfigure the roads to make way for increasing numbers of bikes. Real-time traffic at lane-level, combined with sensor and historical flow data, gives you the complete picture of how traffic moves around your city (both now and during normal times) to help you design where bike lanes will be most effective.

How does it change based on time? What are the mobility patterns? "This is where software comes into play," adds Pratik Desai, public sector product marketeer at HERE.

"Using HERE Traffic, we can see what the nature of the congestion is in real time. Is it a volume issue, a space issue or a coordination issue? These are the things our software can uncover. Software allows you to solve congestion issues intelligently."

Time will tell whether the surge in cycling is a trend that will last. But it could reveal solutions with far-reaching benefits long after the crisis ends, such as multi-modal journeys that make it easier for people to string together different types of transport seamlessly in one app.

After all, an urban center with more cycling encourages healthier lifestyles, safer communities, cleaner air and better connectivity.

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