How to Sustain the Pandemic Bike Boom

With bike sales soaring as people seek out safe outdoor recreation, institutional support and investment can maintain the growth of cycling as commuters start going back to work.

January 6, 2021, 12:00 PM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Old Man Cyclist

Kamyar Ad / Flickr

As Americans sought out socially distanced ways to stay active and roads were suddenly cleared of intimidating traffic for much of 2020, bicycling boomed in popularity. In the United States, bike sales grew by 62%, while e-bike sales rose by a whopping 144%. However, writes Andrew J. Hawkins, American roads have also become more unsafe in recent years, with cycling deaths increasing by 38% in the last decade. And the traffic is coming back: after dropping by close to 40% in April, vehicle miles traveled in the United States rebounded to almost-average levels(down only 9% in September compared to the same month in 2019).

To sustain the growth of biking as a mode share rather than a short-lived trend, Hawkins argues that cities must take active steps to improve bike infrastructure and make new riders feel safe on the road. He suggests the federal government can fund programs that direct money toward bike lanes and offer tax credits for bike purchases to incentivize consumers, while cities can expand upon pandemic-prompted "slow streets" programs and temporary bike and pedestrian improvements. "It will be a turf war, as bikes will need to take physical space away from cars to maintain any forward momentum," Hawkins predicts, but the advances of 2020 gave us a glimpse into a world where two-wheeled transportation gets serious institutional support.

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