Corona-Update: Cycling as a means of transportation out of the crisis

It can be labeled a paradigm shift when news about kilometres of new pop-up bike lanes, new speed limits for cars and other promotions of cycle traffic are coming in from hundreds of cities in Europe. The European Union has also taken first steps to place cycle traffic on an equal level with car traffic. Some of these developments had already started before the pandemic. Many of them were, however, speeded up by the crisis. 

Here is a little review of Corona-related cycle traffic measures in European cities like Paris, Berlin, Brussels, Lissabon and London. Of course Vienna has to mentioned as well – as the only Austrian city with pop-up bike lanes.

Pioneer Berlin is aiming for something permanent

Berlin and Budapest were the first two European cities to install pop-up bike lanes in the Corona crisis. Those we reported about in the Berlin district of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg have already been evaluated and were assessed as successful. In total Berlin installed 10km of pop-up cycle lanes within a few weeks. Peter Broytman, cycle coordinator of the city government “Berliner Senatsverwaltung”, and Felix Weisbrich from the district authority Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, are explaining the secret to success: “Usually planning and implementation takes more than three years. By introducing agile administrative procedures this was reduced to one week of thinking and one week of implementing.” (Source: DIFU) Their aim is to seamlessly turn temporary bike lanes into permanent ones. Important basis for this are standardised planning matrices, so called “Regelpläne”. These templates can be used by administrations to identify suitable roads to implement temporary bike lanes.

Temporary bike lane in Berlin, Hallesches Ufer. Photo: Frank Masurat, CCO

Munich has also decided to implement five temporary bike lanes. Cologne and other cities are meanwhile mulling a general speed reduction to 30km/h. In Jena and Dresden “push to walk/cycle” traffic lights were switched to regular mode for pedestrians and cyclists. In many German cities (e.g. Berlin, Wuppertal and some in the Ruhr area) the use of public bicycle sharing was made free for the first half hour.

Portugal: Lissabon is taking major steps

The Portuguese capital surprises with a considerable extension of cycle lane kilometres during the Corona crisis. This is most likely preparatory work for the 2021 Velo-city conference which is set to take place in Lissabon. Several car parking spaces are removed and cycle lanes are being built: 56km of pop-up cycle lanes are to be installed by September 2020!

The expansion plans for cycle lanes in Lissabon: 26km by July, 30km by September, another 39km the following year

These plans were presented by mayor Fernando Medina on 3 June and are based on the “Lisboa Ciclável” master plan 2019. Additionally, 7,750 cycle parking spaces and a three-million fund for cycle traffic measures will be created: Lissabon citizens can apply for subsidies when buying a regular bicycle (€100), an e-bike (€350) or a cargo bike (€500).

temporary bike lane on the Rua Castilho in the centre of Lissabon. Photo: Bernardo Pereira

France: Paris to Nice

In France, 116 cities including Lille, Dijon an Le Mans, announced to make parts of the roads available for cycling and walking after the lockdown. Nice partly closed the famous Promenade d’Anglais for cars to create an uninterrupted cycle path. These cities are following the example of Paris which has already created 60km of (temporary) new bike lanes. Bicycle use has – according to the European Cycling Federation – already increased by 40% in Paris. For the post-Corona period the Paris city government announced the creation of 650km of new cycle paths in and around Paris. In Montpellier, mayor Philippe Saurel sprayed on the first pop-up bike lane himself, as can be seen in this video.

Piste cyclable temporaire – sprayed on and opened by Montpellier’s mayor Philippe Saurel himself. Photo: (c) City of Montpellier

The French government has earmarked €20m for temporary measures in cycle traffic. This can be used to top up financing for pop-up bike lanes or cycle parking at up to 60% of the costs. A new tax regulation now allows employers to pay their staff €400 in cycle premiums annually.

Italy: Milan bested by Rome

From Italy the race bike online magazine is reporting about a bicycle flashmob in Milan at the beginning of June. 400 cyclists met where the Giro d’Italia would have ended to protest for more measures to strengthen cycle traffic. Milan’s mayor Giuseppe Sala had promised 35km of temporary bike lanes for the time after the lockdown. As part of the comprehensive sustainable active mobility plan PUMS, Rome wants to re-dedicate 150km of roads. Mayor Virginia Raggi, is quoted here: “By encouraging active mobility, we will be able to limit the use of cars and reduce the strain on public transport.”

This is what Romes cycle network is set to look like in future: The green lanes are already existing, the yellow ones are partly implemented, orange means “under construction” and red are the ones that have yet to be built. Photo: (c)

Brussels’ car-free zones

Brussels also wants to create 40km of new bike lanes. Additionally 3,000 new bicycle parking spaces are currently built. For this half a million euros of the city budget was earmarked. The European capital also was among the first to create car-free or traffic-calmed areas as part of the strategy to fight the spread of the Corona virus. The local recreation area “Bois de la Cambre” was completely closed for cars. Over the summer only certain roads leading through the forest will be open for cars. From September, 80% of all routes in the area will be closed for cars forever.

Mobility minister Elke van den Brandt (Metropolitan Region of Brussels) and Bart Dhondt (City of Brussels) are declaring Brussel’s city centre a traffic-calmed living area.

Brussels also implemented one of the most drastic speed reduction in its inner city: From mid-April a maximum speed of only 20km/h was allowed within the ring road. Mobility minister Elke Van den Brandt on the decision:  “Our hospitals don’t need to treat traffic victims at the moment. Respecting speed limits is also a way of showing solidarity.”

British cities from Brighton to London

Car-free zones and speed reductions were also introduced by many cities on the British Isles. In April, the British government had changed a law on road construction to allow cities and districts to implement changes to the road layout without prior public consultation to reduce the implementation period. Brighton and Hove used this to create car-free zones. Other cities are considering similar steps or have already taken measures such as changed traffic light phases or the creation of more space for cyclists and pedestrians.

Meanwhile, London is reporting first congestion issues on the so-called Supercycle Highways, i.e. the cycle highways that have been cutting through the city for some years now. Mayor Sadiq Khan has already started to create temporary bike lanes, to widen existing ones or to separate them from car traffic. Eventually, what is set to be the world’s largest car-free city zone is to be created. According to the Guardian newspaper, Khan warned of drastic changes: “If we want to make transport in London safe, and keep London globally competitive, then we have no choice but to rapidly repurpose London’s streets for people.”

This is what car-free zones in London are set to look like

Austria: The one and only Vienna

In most European cities it has become clear that the cycling infrastructure is insufficient as soon as a more significant number of people chooses to use a bike. Of course this is less true for cycling pioneers such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Those cities are regularly maintaining and expanding the cycling infrastructure on a sufficient budget. The Corona crisis helped to spread this mindset throughout Europe: Pop-up bike lanes not only appeared in the above-mentioned cities but also for example in Tirana, Glasgow and Malta.

Of course Vienna did not want to be left out: As per 18 June 2020 it had four protected temporary bike lanes (Praterstraße, Wagramer Straße, Hörlgasse, Lasallestraße). Their necessity is proved by the current cycling statistics: In May 2020, cycling traffic increased 45% compared to the same month last year (VCÖ as quoted by ORF). On working days the number of cyclists increased by 29%, on weekends by as much as 71%, the Austrian tv channel noted. City traffic councillor Birgit Hebein sees a need for “more space for people and fewer car traffic – this is a good idea not only in Hörlgasse”. Both in Hörlgasse as well as in Praterstraße permanent conversions are set to follow – those have already been negotiated in 2019.

City traffic councillor Birgit Hebein and district chairman Saya Ahmad opening the pop-up bike lane Hörlgasse.

Long-term restructurings are currently debated in Vienna and are demanded by cyclists – but they have not been fixed yet. A comprehensive proposal for 130km bike lanes and cycling streets was prepared by the “Platz für Wien” initiative in cooperation with the Technical University of Vienna and Cycle Competence member Radlobby. A proposal for a traffic-calmed city centre, which had been given the euphemistic label “car-free”, has already been turned into an election campaign. But this proposal has been on the negotiation table for years now, so it cannot be filed under “Corona measures”.

From other cities and regions in Austria no Corona-related bicycle traffic measures have been taken – not even in established cycling cities such as Graz or Salzburg.

EU confirms cycling as important part of Corona recovery strategy

Meanwhile on a European level, an important “breakthrough for cycling” was achieved. This is the wording used by the European Cycling Federation. “At a press conference (at the end of May), the Executive Vice President of the Commission Frans Timmermans announced that cycling can be funded as part of new mobility money that will be released by the EU, alongside other measures like electric car charging and public transport.” In particular, he mentioned, this money could be used for the financing of “bike lanes in cities” for which “a lot of request” is currently seen. He mentioned that was also the case “even in Brussels” and has “led to a complete change of attitude.” Timmermans – as can be seen in this video clip – notes that he thinks this change “is to be commended”. The ECF noted that this announcement meant cycling was put on an equal standing with other forms of mobility on the highest EU level.

In the wake of the Corona-lockdown, the ECF has now also created an interactive dashboard to monitor Corona-related measures in cycle traffic. Cities can compare their measures to those in other areas.

Posted on June 28, 2020