The pandemic is changing how cities think about bicycles, and it's about damn time

I started cycling in Boston in 2006, initially as a way to get in shape and save some money. Over the years, I've seen a lot of changes in the city's bike infrastructure; the work of the Boston Cyclists' Union in particular has really helped me to understand the intersections of public transportation, bicycle infrastructure, red lining, accessibility, and the myriad ways that taxpayers subsidize the automobile industry at the expense of community building. Urban commuter bike lanes aren't just good for social equality and human health; they're also good for business.

Unfortunately, one of the hardest barriers for bicycle infrastructure is the fact that people are still driving cars (also, the psychological phenomenon of fundamental attribution error). But the pandemic has changed this. People are already spending more time outside, and fewer cars means more freedom to work on roads. This has opened up the possibility for cities to take more strides in their bicycle infrastructure progress. From Bloomberg City Lab:

In September 2020, Washington, D.C., lawmakers unanimously passed the Vision Zero Enhancement Omnibus Amendment Act of 2019, a bill that scales up a novel approach to building protected bike lanes that was first taken in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2019. The law, which went into effect at the end of December, promises to change the underlying DNA of the District's streets with an ambitious, conditional if/then statement: If a road segment undergoing construction has been pre-identified as a candidate for a protected bike lane, bus-only lane or private-vehicle-free corridor, then it must be rebuilt with that new feature.

The idea behind the law is simple: By mandating protected bicycle infrastructure whenever roadwork is undertaken, much of the usual political and community resistance to bike lanes can be eliminated, speeding the spread of safer streetscapes, block by block, across the city. Washington, D.C., like many of the American cities that have committed to the global traffic safety platform known as Vision Zero, has struggled to make progress towards its goal of completely eliminating pedestrian and cyclist deaths from traffic violence. 


"The pandemic has exposed structural inequities that go certainly on health and unemployment, but also on access to transit and the ability to move safely around your neighborhood," says Allen. Half of the traffic deaths in D.C. this year occurred in Wards 7 and 8, predominantly African-American areas east of the Anacostia River that together make up about a quarter of the city's population.

 D.C.'s New Vision Zero Law Could Be a Boon for Bike Lanes [Josh Kramer / Bloomberg City Lab]

Image: Fletcher6 via Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 3.0)