As pedestrian and biker fatalities increased in the last decade, the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments is asking for volunteers…
Like most aspects of our everyday lives, our normal transportation habits and the regular activities that support our personal well-being have changed significantly with the Coronavirus pandemic. Most physical and social activities have been drastically modified or curtailed altogether. Early studies of these impacts confirm the scale of this transformation, showing a nation that is driving less, biking and walking more, and using public transit sparingly.
The reduction in vehicle traffic has resulted in significant improvements to air quality and safety. Greenhouse gas emissions associated with transportation were down 36% in early April of this year and traffic fatalities have been reduced in major urban areas like New York City where there have been no pedestrian fatalities for over two months. At the same time, walking and biking have become essential transportation modes for essential workers. Working from home has eliminated commutes for many, giving people a critical outlet to be active, socialize, and relieve stress at a safe distance during the largest global quarantine in modern history.
Yet, even with these positive signs for biking and walking, the sharp reduction in transit use is worrisome. For frontline public transit employees, the risk of infection is constant, and essential workers who rely on transit are faced with reduced service and concerns about personal safety and well-being. These impacts on transit, its essential workers, and people who rely on it now and in the future urgently need to be addressed as states begin to lift restrictions to varying degrees. For all Americans – essential workers or not – investments in active transportation can have a substantial positive impact on one’s mental health and quality of commute.
An Active Path Forward
In order to chart a path forward that ensures greater equity, the ability to adhere to social distancing requirements, and supports getting people back to work as safely as possible, we must ensure measures are taken to promote cycling and walking. We can look to several cities across the country, taking the lead with their actions. Oakland, CA has been a prime example of the steps communities can take to complement transit by accommodating the growing numbers of people biking and walking: the city is reallocating 74 miles of street space to create more space for social distancing and to relieve pressure on overcrowded sidewalks and bike routes. Many European cities have also created safe and open streets and have committed to making these facilities permanent as they begin to reopen. This rebalancing approach, known as “Safe Streets,” “Slow Streets,” or “Open Streets,” is crucial in addressing transportation and recreation issues currently and in the near future as communities begin to work toward reopening.
Transit, walking, and biking have always been natural partners in extending people’s trips without reliance on an automobile. In the League of American Bicyclists’ Bicycle Friendly Community® (BFC) program, one of the distinguishing features of the best communities is the strength of their connectivity between bicycling and transit options. For example, in Washington, DC (Gold BFC), Metro rail allows passengers to bring bikes on board and all Metro buses have racks for bikes. In Portland, OR (Platinum BFC), Tri-Met offers high-quality bike racks on its trains, convenient short and long-term bike parking, and has its own bike plan. The most forward-thinking agencies know that better bicycling access to stations means not only an expanded network of transit riders, it means a healthier, vibrant, and more sustainable community.
One of the little-known secrets of the bicycling utopia of the Netherlands is that 81% of people live within a 20-minute bike ride to a rail station. The bicycling culture of the Netherlands has been shown to have benefits to mental and physical health as well as the economy. Making biking and walking safer and more accessible are foundational to increasing transit use.
During this Bike Month, the League encourages people to recognize the way bikes are uniting us during this deeply challenging time. It’s healthy for us– both mentally and physically – to be outside and getting exercise. Hopefully, it allows us to do a little dreaming about the future that is possible if we act together for change. On May 26th, the League and bicycling advocates across the country are celebrating their appreciation for transit in a #BikesForTransit Day on social media. As we move toward recovery, biking and walking advocates will continue working tirelessly to protect transit capacity for essential workers through temporary and permanent bike infrastructure, education, and outreach.
In this final week of May, let’s ride together and think together about what kind of future is possible when we make it a natural choice to go by foot, bike, and transit.