COVID-19: the age of the cyclist
The World Health Organisation has advised walking or riding bicycles as a method of transport whenever feasible to allow physical distancing and to help individuals meet minimum requirements for daily physical activity. Cyclists around the world have been enjoying traffic and pollution-free roads provided by lockdown rules, for both commuting and daily exercise.
As most retail businesses desperately struggle to survive government-mandated closure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, cycle shops have remained open and are enjoying bumper sales. In April, the Association of Cycle Traders put out a call for bike builders, reporting that there was ‘extreme demand upon the industry’ from ‘essential workers and the significant adoption of cycling for exercise, travel and family leisure during the pandemic, further fuelled by the unseasonably good weather’.
Not only as a doctor, but as a pedestrian I had witnessed enough bike versus car accidents and near misses to be deterred from cycling in the capital. However, as my hospital started to fill with coronavirus patients in early March – and the ease at which it could be transmitted became clear – I was concerned about unwittingly passing the virus onto others and so abandoned public transport in exchange for two wheels. When lockdown was imposed on 23rd March 2020, what was usually a vehicle-congested route from home to work became blissfully quiet.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan has announced that large areas of London will be closed to cars and vans, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to travel more safely as we emerge from lockdown. Grant Schapps the Transport Secretary announced a ‘once in a generation opportunity’ to boost cycling and walking, promising £2 billion of investment that has started with a £250 million injection for a ‘pop-up’ cycling and walking infrastructure.
With its increasing investment and popularity, it would be good to see an uptake of cycling in all groups of people as a healthier, and cleaner, mode of transport. Data from the Office of National Statistics shows that before the pandemic, men made up 74% of those who commuted to work by bike. Research from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine reports that cycling in London is disproportionally enjoyed by white, affluent men.
After feeling the physical and psychological benefits of biking to and from work, I hope investment in cycling infrastructure drives a lasting switch to cycling as a healthier, economical and less-polluting transport method for the benefit of all society. What are your thoughts?