Society

COVID Is Pushing These 6 Cities To Bet On Bicycle-Friendly Futures

After slowly shifting in some cities to a more bicycle-centric model, the pandemic has accelerated the shift from cars to bikes in cities around the world. Here are some prime examples

COVID Is Pushing These 6 Cities To Bet On Bicycle-Friendly Futures

Ready, set, go!

Carl-Johan Karlsson

In the two centuries since they were invented, bicycles have tended to be much more about recreation than transportation. Sure, there's the occasional Dutch commuter biking through a small city or a poor person in the developing world who can't afford a car or an American kid delivering newspapers. But, otherwise, the bicycle has been meant for fun and exercise, and competitive sport, rather than as an integral part of the system of transport.

That may be about to change for good. After a gradual shift over the past decade to accommodate bicycle use, the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the shift from cars to bikes in cities around the world. Beyond the long-term environmental and health benefits, the change of attitude is also linked to the lack of street traffic and pollution during lockdowns, and the social distancing that bicycles provide compared to crowded public transportation.

To give an idea: In Europe alone, cities spanning the continent spent an accumulated €1 billion on Covid-related cycling measures in 2020 — building some 1,000 kilometers of cycle lanes and car-free streets.

From Milan to Tokyo, here's what cities around the world are doing to support the two-wheeled world of transport:

BOGOTÁ

In Latin America's leading biking city, Bogotá, the daily number of cyclists increased from 635,000 in 2016 to 878,000 in 2020. Today, with the city authorities having added another 84 kilometers of bicycle lane during the pandemic, that number is set to increase even faster. In fact, the government has already announced the planned allocation of one billion pesos to extend the network by an additional 289 kilometers in the coming three years.

In addition, the extension of bicycle lane infrastructure has led to a 33% reduction in cyclist fatalities in 2020 compared to the previous year, according to a government report. This is good news, as safety has been given as a leading reason for why fewer women than men are riding bikes in the eight-million strong Colombian capital. While currently only one out of four riders is a female, the city looks to achieve two-wheeled gender parity by 2039 — with actions including increased personal and road security as well as the broadening of bike lanes to better allow women to travel in the company of children, daily El Tiempo reports.

Love of two wheels in Milan

Abi Schreider via Unplash

MILAN

In Milan, the city government launched its Strade Aperte ("open streets") program in 2020, which includes the construction of 35 kilometers of new bicycle lanes. While the northern Italian city was one of the hardest-hit early in the pandemic, the lockdown also cut motor traffic congestion by 30-75% — and air pollution with it. The regional government is now hoping that the bike boom will work to change Milan's status as one of the country's most polluted cities.

In April 2021— one year after Strade Aperte was launched — the cycle route on the major street Corso Buenos Aires had already become the busiest in town, used by as many as 10,000 cyclists a day — an increase of 122% in the first few months of the year. What's more, in a city where sidewalks were routinely used as parking spaces, Milano Corriere reports there are now fewer than 600 cars per 1,000 inhabitants — a new low in Milan's recent history.

According to the Confederation of the European Bicycle Industry, Italy is also one of the European countries that experienced the sharpest increase in bike retail last year — with more than two million sales nationwide.

PARIS

Two-wheeled transportation has increased in Paris for some time — with bicycling lanes increasing five-fold between 2015 and 2020 — and the city expects the trend to continue in full force in the years ahead. The first "de-confinement" led to the creation of coronapistes, or bike lanes — typically following metro routes — that the city's mayor recently promised to make permanent through an €80-million investment, French business monthly Capital reports.

Already in the year following the city's first springtime lockdown in 2020, cycling increased 70%, as the combined length of bike lanes reached 1,000 kilometers.

Other initiatives aimed at boosting bicycling culture include government-funded cycling lessons, a €50 subsidy towards the cost of bike repairs, as well as an ongoing project to make the notoriously busy Rue de Rivoli car-free.

Bike lanes in Paris

Ugur Arpaci via Unsplash

BARCELONA

In the city of Barcelona, the pandemic prompted a huge drop in the use of public transport (down 50%), yet only a small decline in private car use (down 10%) in the first year after the outbreak. Starting in the summer of 2020, 20 kilometers of pop-up cycle lanes have been installed to fill the gap in the bicycle network, while city officials are currently accelerating the construction of 160 kilometers of new or improved routes — with the goal to increase the network to 300 kilometers by 2024.

In June this year, bike use had shot up with 20% compared to pre-pandemic values, Spanish daily El País reports, while car traffic is 7.5% lower. The increase in cyclists has also had an impact on the number of subscribers to Bicing, a city-wide bicycle-sharing service launched in 2007. From May 2020 to July 2021, the app gained 17,000 new subscribers — an increase of 16%.

The growing interest in safer, more sustainable transportation has also given rise to a communal project dubbed Bicibús – or Bike Bus. It started in the Eixample district of Barcelona in September, when a group of parents organized a bike ride to school for a handful of kids. Today, more than 100 children gather each day at 8 a.m. with their parents for a 25-minute ride down Entença Street, where three schools are located. The parents are also hoping that their project will prompt authorities to build a school-friendly route that shields the children from the 20,000 vehicles driving down Entença Street every day.

TOKYO

The Japanese capital has been no exception to the global bike boom. With the government launching its "new lifestyle" campaign in May 2020 to promote more pandemic-adapted ways of transport, shopping and socializing, cycling became a way to avoid Tokyo's infamously packed subway trains.

A survey in June 2020 found that 23% of businesspeople had started cycling to work since the pandemic spread, according to the Japan Times. During the same month, national sales produced the largest year-on-year jump at 43.3% — that's despite nationwide bike prices having increased throughout the pandemic, Nikkei Asia reported last week.

Still, biking advocates argue that the increased number of cyclists demands new dedicated lanes rather than "vehicular cycling" — where geared-up road bike riders share the road with cars — that is typical of Tokyo. Some of the proponents are pointing to Beijing, which opened its first cycling highway in 2019 in the form of a six-kilometer bike lane designed to connect multiple cities.

TORONTO

From Toronto to Calgary and Halifax, bike shops in Canadian cities are slammed from a sales surge that started in March 2020, with popular shops receiving hundreds of purchase inquiries every day. In an interview with national broadcaster CBC, bike parts and accessories distributor HLC Canada predicted the industry will be dealing with the turmoil caused by the pandemic for years to come, as store backlogs show no sign of letting up.

Through the public initiative ActiveTO — a program aimed at limiting vehicle traffic and expanding the cycling network in Toronto — 40 kilometers of new lanes were added in 2020, with surveys showing that 29% of people rode a bike for the first time or rediscovered cycling throughout the year. It has also led to a membership spike for Toronto Bike Share, with the city-wide service counting half a million more trips in 2020 than in 2019. Trying to keep up with booming demand, the city added 160 stations and 1,850 bikes last year, bringing its fleet to 6,850 bikes docked at 625 stations.

However, as a large portion of the new infrastructure was built on existing networks, socio-economically disadvantaged areas are yet to enjoy the same benefits of the bike boom. The city now aims to focus on further extension of new lanes to poorer areas — using cycling as a tool to increase equality in society.

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Pro-life and Pro-abortion Rights Protests in Washington

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Håfa adai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where new Omicron findings arrive from South Africa, abortion rights are at risk at the U.S. Supreme Court and Tyrannosaurus rex has got some new competition. From Germany, we share the story of a landmark pharmacy turned sex toy museum.

[*Chamorro - Guam]

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🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• COVID update: South Africa reports a higher rate of reinfections from the Omicron variant than has been registered with the Beta and Delta variants, though researchers await further findings on the effects of the new strain. Meanwhile, the UK approves the use of a monoclonal therapy, known as sotrovimab, to treat those at high risk of developing severe COVID-19 symptoms.The approval comes as the British pharmaceutical company, GSK, separately announced the treatment has shown to “retain activity” against the Omicron variant. Down under, New Zealand’s reopening, slated for tomorrow is being criticized as posing risks to its under-vaccinated indigenous Maori.

• Supreme Court poised to gut abortion rights: The U.S. Supreme Court signaled a willingness to accept a Republican-backed Mississippi law that would bar abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. A ruling, expected in June, may see millions of women lose abortion access, 50 years after it was recognized as a constitutional right in the landmark Roe v. Wade case.

• Macri charged in Argentine spying case: Argentina’s former president Mauricio Macri has been charged with ordering the secret services to spy on the family members of 44 sailors who died in a navy submarine sinking in 2017. The charge carries a sentence of three to ten years in prison. Macri, now an opposition leader, says the charges are politically motivated.

• WTA suspends China tournaments over Peng Shuai: The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) announced the immediate suspension of all tournaments in China due to concerns about the well-being of Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai, and the safety of other players. Peng disappeared from public view after accusing a top Chinese official of sexual assault.

• Michigan school shooting suspect to be charged as an adult: The 15-year-old student accused of killing four of his classmates and wounding seven other people in a Michigan High School will face charges of terrorism and first-degree murder. Authorities say the suspect had described wanting to attack the school in cellphone videos and a journal.

• Turkey replaces finance minister amid economic turmoil: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan appointed a strong supporter of his low-interest rate drive, Nureddin Nebati, as Turkey’s new finance minister.

• A battle axe for a tail: Chilean researchers announced the discovery of a newly identified dinosaur species with a completely unique feature from any other creatures that lived at that time: a flat, weaponized tail resembling a battle axe.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

South Korean daily Joong-ang Ilbo reports on the discovery of five Omicron cases in South Korea. The Asian nation has broken its daily record for overall coronavirus infections for a second day in a row with more than 5,200 new cases. The variant cases were linked to arrivals from Nigeria and prompted the government to tighten border controls.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

¥10,000

In the northeastern Chinese city of Harbin, a reward of 10,000 yuan ($1,570) will be given to anyone who volunteers to take a COVID-19 test and get a positive result, local authorities announced on Thursday on the social network app WeChat.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Why an iconic pharmacy is turning into a sex toy museum

The "New Pharmacy" was famous throughout the St. Pauli district of Hamburg for its history and its long-serving owner. Now the owner’s daughter is transforming it into a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys, linking it with the past "curing" purpose of the shop, reports Eva Eusterhus in German daily Die Welt.

💊 The story begins in autumn 2018, when 83-year-old Regis Genger stood at the counter of her pharmacy and realized that the time had come for her to retire. At least that is the first thing her daughter Anna Genger tells us when we meet, describing the turning point that has also shaped her life and that of her business partner Bianca Müllner. The two women want to create something new here, something that reflects the pharmacy's history and Hamburg's eclectic St. Pauli quarter (it houses both a red light district and the iconic Reeperbahn entertainment area) as well as their own interests.

🚨 Over the last few months, the pharmacy has been transformed into L'Apotheque, a venture that brings together art and business in St. Pauli's red light district. The back rooms will be used for art exhibitions, while the old pharmacy space will house a museum dedicated to the history of sex toys. Genger and Müllner want to show that desire has always existed and that people have always found inventive ways of maximizing pleasure, even in times when self-gratification was seen as unnatural and immoral, as a cause of deformities.

🏩 Genger and Müllner want the museum to show how the history of desire has changed over time. The art exhibitions, which will also center on the themes of physicality and sexuality, are intended to complement the exhibits. They are planning to put on window displays to give passers-by a taste of what is to come, for example, British artist Bronwen Parker-Rhodes's film Lovers, which offers a portrait of sex workers during lockdown.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I would never point a gun at anyone and pull a trigger at them. Never."

— U.S. actor Alec Baldwin spoke to ABC News, his first interview since the accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust last October. The actor said that although he was holding the gun he didn’t pull the trigger, adding that the bullet “wasn't even supposed to be on the property.”

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

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