Cycling epitomises people and health-centric mobility, and creates a range of social, economic and environmental benefits. At current levels, cycling produces global benefits of EUR 150 billion per year, with significant positive externalities for the environment, public health and the mobility system (ECF). With COVID-19 challenging the health and livelihoods of millions, cycling is proving not only resilient and adaptable to the climate crisis but also to the pandemic, and is helping to reduce the contribution of road transport to air pollution in cities, which increases the risk of premature death, lung and heart conditions, and COVID-19 (ONS).
During the COVID-19 pandemic, cycling has been recommended by the WHO as a transport mode with low contagion risks and no negative externalities (WHO). In 2020, more than 194 cities introduced dedicated space for pedestrians or temporary protected bike lanes, many of which are slated to become permanent (as in Bogotá and Lima) (CovidMobilityWorks). In Mexico City, the number of cyclists has doubled as a response to the city’s 54km of new cycling paths implemented during the pandemic, and by 2024, the city aims to have 600km of cycle paths and intends to more than double bicycle use from pre-COVID levels (Financial Times).
Travel has been shifting towards active mobility in many parts of the world. Budapest, has seen auto traffic recede and 3,000 cyclists take to the city’s Grand Boulevard each day, with temporary measures planned to become permanent (CGTN). Ethiopia has recently launched a National Non-Motorised Transport Strategy, and Addis Ababa has revealed its own city-level strategy. These guiding policies set ambitious targets to implement 1000km of pedestrian infrastructure and 500km of cycling lanes by 2030 to support safer and more equitable recovery (SLOCAT Partnership).
Global South cities can leapfrog the motorisation of transport by increasing production of bicycles for domestic and overseas populations. China saw the demand for bicycle exports rise continuously from April to August 2020, reaching a volume of USD 1.1 billion during the third quarter of 2020. (Sixth Tone) Bicycle exports from Taiwan included 410,000 electric bicycles in 2020, a 21% increase from 2019 (Focus Taiwan). And in Kampala, Uganda, bicycle mechanics reported a boom in business following public transport restrictions (Independent).
A well-designed network of cycling infrastructure is essential to creating safe and healthier transport options in the wake of the pandemic. With temporary and permanent measures in place, cycling has the ability to empower livelihoods across the globe and to create wide-ranging health benefits. Cycling also enables job creation and consumer activity, critical objectives for economies during COVID-19 recovery (SLOCAT Partnership).
This section was developed by SLOCAT Partnership on Sustainable, Low Carbon Transport with contribution from Despacio/ and World Cycling Alliance (WCA).