Success of schemes during pandemic has led many cities to plan vastly expanded bike networks.
When the coronavirus pandemic led to lockdowns a year ago, hundreds of cities reconfigured their streets to make walking and cycling easier to aid social distancing and reduce air pollution. Now, with an end to the lockdowns in sight, the measures have proved so successful that cities across Europe are betting on the bicycle to lead the recovery.
According to the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF), the continent’s cities spent €1bn on Covid-related cycling measures in 2020, creating at least 600 miles (1,000km) of cycle lanes, traffic-calming measures and car-free streets.
What’s more, it was not just the usual suspects in Denmark and the Netherlands taking action, but places with inadequate infrastructure. The pandemic revealed a latent demand for cycling and walking infrastructure and offered a chance to “build back better”, as politicians are fond of saying. Now many cities are busy accelerating existing plans to do just that.
The ECF’s Aleksander Buczyński said: “I think to a large degree the pandemic only accelerated some processes … The cities that made good provisional cycle paths were generally positively accepted by the inhabitants, if not uniformly.”
In Barcelona during the pandemic, public transport use fell by 50% and private car use by just 10%. In a city where many people own cars they previously used only at weekends, this was a congestion disaster waiting to happen.
An initial 13 miles of pop-up cycle lanes were installed in summer 2020 to plug holes in the cycle network and encourage people avoiding public transport to cycle, and four more miles are being added. Cycle use has now risen to 10% above pre-pandemic levels.
Barcelona officials are accelerating the construction of 100 miles of new or improved cycle routes, increasing the network to 190 miles by 2024. This also prepares the ground for the Superblocks programme, of which cycle routes are an essential element and part of targets to cut car use by 25% by 2024.
Milan’s Strade Aperte programme was launched in April 2020 with a proposed 22 miles of new protected cycle lanes and pedestrian priority areas. The cycle route on Corso Buenos Aires is now the busiest in town, used by as many as 10,000 cyclists a day, an increase of 122% in a few months. Milan has now expanded Strade Aperte to 42 miles and is aiming for 62 miles by this summer.
In Paris, streets once dominated by cars are filled with cycles. Since spring 2020, cycling is estimated to have grown by 70%, and 31 miles of temporary coronapistes installed early in the crisis are to be made permanent, with more added. The proportion of women cycling has grown, and a recent survey found 62% of residents wanted the lanes made permanent.