Boom time for bicycles?

Cycling could take precedence over cars in cities across the globe if proposed bike lane plans go ahead.

Cycling is good for your health and the planet. 

All over the world cities are beginning to restructure their public spaces in favour of cyclists and pedestrians. Pavements and roads laid empty as coronavirus lockdown procedures took hold, giving authorities the opportunity to move forward with large-scale projects.

Gil Penalosa, head of the non-profit organisation 8 80 Cities expressed that lockdown restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic present an “opportunity of a lifetime” to make cities more bike friendly. 

At the beginning of May, the UK  government announced an ambitious £2 billion plan to support safe cycling and walking spaces in England. The project’s first phase involves the development of pop-up bike lanes with protected space for cycling, wider pavements, safer junctions, and cycle and bus-only corridors, which is currently underway - according to the Department for Transport. 

Other European cities have launched similar initiatives.

The mayor in Athens has stated his intention to “liberate” public space from traffic. While Berlin has seen bike lanes across the city pop-up seemingly almost over night. 

Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor in Paris also recently announced their plans to add 50km of cycle paths in the city centre and 100km in the suburbs. Many Parisians are also being offered €50 to support getting old bikes repaired as part of the French capital’s €20 million (£18 million) planvélo to encourage people to use bicycles.

Budapest introduced 12 miles of temporary bike lanes to provide an alternative and safer way to travel to work. 

Classified as one of the most polluted cities in Europe, Milan is understood to be transforming 22 miles of streets over the summer as part of a scheme to reallocate space from cars to cycling and walking.

The decline in road use during coronavirus lockdown has seen dramatic reductions in air pollution in cities across the world. Plans to encourage citizens to travel and commute via bicycles rather than cars or public transport could potentially help to continue to control pollution levels.

Could the coronavirus pandemic lead the pathway for a boom time for bikes?

As London recently announced plans to develop the “largest car-free zones in Europe”, cycling advocates and environmental activists fear that these plans, though positive, could fall by the wayside if car lobbyists develop momentum once lockdown is fully lifted. 

The city has expressed its commitment to encourage cycling, so that people can commute while also social distancing - but only time will tell if these cycling initiatives in London and other major cities in Europe will be long-standing. 

If plans to champion cycling across European cities are maintained, research suggests this could be financially beneficial for countries. 

A report from We are Cycling UK, on the long-term potential impact of more bikes on UK streets says, “if all cycle journeys increased from the current level of 2% in the UK to 25% by 2050, the collective benefit would be £248 billion.”

Health benefits of cycling

Cycling is not just good for our planet and the economy, it’s also good for our health. 

The benefits of general exercise in supporting good health are widely reported.

Regardless of age, the benefits of being physically active outweigh potential harm, for example through accidents. By becoming more active throughout the day in relatively simple ways, people can quite easily achieve the recommended activity levels.

According to NHS England, for health related benefits, adults and older adults should do at least 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity activity each week. While children and young people should aim for at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each day.

Something especially good about cycling is that it’s a low-impact sport, meaning it’s kinder on the joints than other aerobic sports such as running.

Regular cycling can reduce the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and strokes says NHS England.

According to British Cycling, the UK’s national governing body for cycling, studies have shown that “regular cyclists enjoy the general health equivalent to someone approximately 10 years younger than their actual age”. 

Cycling to work is linked with a 45% lower risk of developing cancer and a 46% lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), compared with commuting by car or public transport.

Cycling for positive mental health 

As with physical health, cycling also has well-established benefits for promoting positive mental well-being. Taking to the road on two wheels can help reduce stress, anxiety and general worry,  can help to boost your mood and allow your brain to take some well-deserved time to breathe, after - for example a challenging day at work.

Dr Ruth Anderson, former lead psychologist for the Great Britain Cycling Team and author of The Cycling Mind says there is “a clear and direct link between physical activity and good mental health. Getting out on a bike for just a relatively short period of time is a fantastic way to combat the stress of everyday life and enhance your psychological well-being.” 

Any physical activity is valuable when it comes to supporting positive mental health, but cycling is particularly useful. It’s on average cheaper than a gym membership over the course of a year or several years – and some studies have shown that exercising outdoors is better for your mental well-being than exercising indoors.

Strict lockdown restrictions have begun the process of de-escalation in a number of countries across Europe, including Spain, Italy and the UK, meaning cycling is once again becoming a good exercise option (taking all the relevant social-distancing and hygiene precautions) for many.

Regular cycling can be incorporated into your daily routine – for example, commuting to work. It’s more cost-effective than most other forms of transport too; only walking is cheaper.

World Bicycle Day

As bicycles and cycle lanes are pushed to the forefront of public policy plans across Europe and beyond, the United Nations will further reinforce the public value of bikes with their celebration of World Bicycle Day, on 3 June. Marked annually, the day aims to promote cycling as a simple, affordable, reliable and environmentally-friendly transportation solution.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), safe infrastructure for walking and cycling is also a pathway for achieving greater health equity. 

It seems that if the globe continues to move forward towards more bicycle friendly spaces, the benefits could be wide-reaching. 

Katie Burt

Katie Burt

When not found with a laptop at my fingertips, it's likely I'll be running, swimming, attempting to cycle or seeking out decent coffee.

Continue reading