Increased Cycling Could be COVID-19’s Silver Lining
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new generation of cyclists in Canada, with implications for municipal policy, road safety, cycling accident lawyers, and public health. In May, Global News reported that the country was ‘running out of bikes.’
“At first we were really concerned (about) not enough demand for our products, so all of us just scaled back our supply,” said John Williams, president of Live to Play Sports, which manufactures Norco bicycles. “Well, we quickly learned that it’s not a demand issue – in fact, demand is greater than ever. It’s now going to be a bit of a supply issue and we’ve got to crank up the supply.”
Across the country, municipalities are doing whatever they can to lure citizens out of their homes and onto socially-distanced roadways. According to the CBC, Vancouver, Victoria, Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Kitchener, Moncton, Montreal, and Toronto have all extended their cycling networks. International hubs like New York, Paris, Milan, and Berlin have also dedicated more street space to active commuters.
The City of Toronto has also intermittently closed Lake Share Boulevard, a major East-West roadway, to motor vehicles.
“We’re doing a lot of work that was meant to be spread out over a few years in a few weeks,” Toronto Mayor John Tory told the CBC. “It’s going to keep people safer because it’s going to give people an alternative to the transit system, where they’re still a bit anxious.”
Why is this happening?
Cycling has numerous public health benefits and is particularly suited to the current climate. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends cycling or walking above other modes of transportation during COVID-19. Cycling is also an accessible, affordable alternative to riding public transit, which commuters remain leery of.
“In the absence of having a vaccine and being unable to pack everybody on transit the way we have in the past, cycling is a viable option,” said renowned Toronto-based urban planner Jennifer Keesmaat to the CBC. “It’s simply impossible for everybody who takes transit to get into a car, and secondly, it’s not affordable. A lot of people don’t have access to a car or can’t afford one.”
As cycling accident lawyers know, increased cycling also contributes to safer streets. For this reason, road safety activists want to see temporary cycling improvements made permanent.
“We want to make sure what we’re seeing now isn’t just a short-term reaction,” Cycle Toronto’s interim executive director Michael Longfield told the CBC. He hopes that the changes inspired by COVID-19 mark “the beginning of Toronto embracing cycling and cycling culture.”
If cities like Toronto are able to maintain current levels of cycling after the brunt of the pandemic has passed, they will have earned a major public health victory. According to a recent article in The Conversation by Western University PhD candidate Wuyou Sui and Western University Professor of Kinesiology Harry Prapavessis, ‘the increase in cyclists diverts cars from streets, resulting in reduced traffic and pollution, while increasing pedestrian and cyclist safety and property values.’
Many of the people who have adopted cycling during the pandemic have done so because the roads are less congested than during normal times. They also feel empowered by the expanded bike networks and temporary bike lanes. In order for municipalities to convince these people to stay on the roads, they will have to invest in safety initiatives. Making separated bike lanes permanent is an important first step: cities with protected bike lanes report significantly fewer deaths.
Cities can also invest in connecting existing bike networks and improving winter bike lane maintenance for those brave year-round cyclists.
Motorists also have a role to play: they must remain cautious and alert in areas with heavy cyclist traffic. In other words, they should treat cyclists – and pedestrians – with the same respect that they treat other motorists. Everyone has an equal right to the roads.
Finally, cyclists themselves can take steps to protect themselves from injuries. These include: obeying the rules of the road, never riding under the influence of drugs or alcohol, always wearing a helmet, always wearing bright visible clothing, always equipping your bike with proper safety gear, and choosing streets with dedicated bike lanes where possible.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on almost every aspect of our society. The majority of its effects have been negative, but an increase in cycling activity in Canadian cities could be a rare silver lining. For cycling accident lawyers, the next steps are clear: cities must invest in cycling infrastructure to promote road safety and benefit public health.
If you or a member of your family has been injured in a cycling accident, contact Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with our team of experienced cycling accident lawyers. We will assess your claim and provide guidance as you embark on your legal journey.