While fears accumulate as to the health risks in public transport during the deconfinement, the practice of cycling could get out of the game. Several cities have announced to accelerate their cycling facilities in view of May 11.
Will cycling be the big winner in the Covid-19 health crisis? While the French population has their eyes on May 11, the scheduled date of deconfinement, concerns are mounting about the recovery. Faced with health risks in public transport, elected officials fear that users will fall back massively on the car, at the risk of monster traffic jams and explosion of air pollution. Cycling promoters believe, however, that cycling could be the solution to the insoluble equation
“In addition to being good for health, the practice of cycling is adapted to social distancing. It is easier to limit the risks of contagion by bicycle than in public transport”, explains Olivier Schneider, president of the Federation French bicycle users (FUB), interviewed by France 24.
The bicycle, a suitable mode of transport against coronavirus
“We will have spent two months locked up. We will not at all want to go congregate in public transport and the bicycle is a much more pleasant mode of transport. But, beyond this individual benefit, it would be to allow people to take transport only when necessary and that those who are forced to do so can do so in good conditions “, boasts Olivier Schneider.
Read also >> Air pollution and Covid-19: an explosive mixture for health?
The massive use of the private car could worsen the health crisis by relaunching air pollution. However, according to researchers from Harvard University, fine particle pollution, notably from road traffic, increases mortality linked to the coronavirus. Other scientists are questioning the ability of these particles to carry the virus.
Cities seize the subject
In Île-de-France, deconfinement could continue the “bicycle revolution” after the acceleration of its use following the strikes last winter. The president of the region Valérie Pécresse considers it possible “to go from 400,000 to 800,000” people by bike a day, especially as the spring weather lends itself to it “.
To achieve this, she works “with the RER-Vélo”, a collective of associations, which has imagined nine cycle lines, up to Mantes-la-Jolie or Melun, making it possible to effectively mesh the Paris region and its major centers. The idea is to “assess everything we can do, very quickly,” explains Valérie Pécresse to AFP.
Paris, which has already increased the number of cycle paths, plans to “encourage commuting between work and home” by bicycle after the deconfinement, AFP told the deputy mayor in charge of transport, Christophe Najdovski. This will go through “light fittings, inexpensive, quick to set up, secure and reversible” on the road usually reserved for cars and motorized two-wheelers, he continues. The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo – on ballot for a re-election – already aspired before the pandemic to make of its city a “capital of the bicycle”.
Other French cities have announced their intention to speed up their own bicycle plan to avoid saturation of transport at the end of confinement: Rennes, Lille, Lyon, Grenoble, Nice … Montpellier has already inaugurated new cycling sections.
Globally, cycling is also on the rise. In New York, for example, a whole part of 2nd avenue in Manhattan has been converted into a cycle path. The Colombian capital Bogota has created an additional 76 km of cycle paths by closing axes hitherto used by cars. In Brussels, “velorution” is underway since pedestrians and cyclists will have priority inside the Little Belt, and vehicle speed limited to 20 km / h, as soon as the deconfinement is effective.
“Tactical town planning”
“The metropolises certainly did not wait for the Covid-19 in terms of cycling. Most of them had already done some planning and identification work on the major axes. However, creating bicycle facilities is a long-term job. and the deconfinement is planned for the moment for May 11, “recalls Olivier Schneider. “In this emergency, the cities therefore resort to what is pompously called ‘tactical town planning'”.
“Tactical town planning” was originally a civic practice where local residents developed the neighborhood without waiting for the authorities. Today, this emergency planning method and with the means at hand are being invested by the communities with a view to ending containment.
“The idea is to redistribute public space in favor of cyclists but also pedestrians,” explains the president of the FUB. “One of the advantages of these temporary arrangements is that you can experience things. And with confinement and in the absence of heavy traffic, cities can set up quickly and safely for their agents.”
However, this tactic has its limits as pointed out by urban planning consultants. In a tribune, they refute the idea of a “magic solution, creating in the process a curious confusion on the temporalities: between temporary and final, between speed and urgency”. They fear that these hasty decisions will be made at the expense of a long-term reflection on the city of tomorrow.
“There are clearly announcement effects in the flood of current declarations. But it should be noted that we are currently in the longest between-towers that France has ever known and, during the municipal elections, the square biking has been debated. We have never been so much in favor of advancing the place of biking, “notes Olivier Schneider. “So, sure; there might be a temptation to go back to old habits, but the fact that a return to normalcy will take time can help perpetuate this temporary.”
But this temporary must be well designed and Olivier Schneider argues that communities no longer think in terms of simple cycle sections but lead a reflection on an effective network of the territory in terms of bicycle development.
Get people on the bike paths
“One of the challenges will still be to get people on its cycle paths. We will not get anywhere if we have empty paths and traffic jams next to it,” said the president of the FUB. “There must also be a whole system around the bikes that sets up. If you have cycle paths but you cannot park, buy or have your bike repaired, it’s normal for tracks remain empty. “
One of the challenges will therefore be to equip the population with a bicycle in the hope of breaking with old habits. In addition to the existing bonuses for buying electric bikes and cargo bikes, the FUB defends the idea of a check for 100 euros to “finance the repair of bikes”, which now sleep in cellars or purses to used bikes, respecting barrier gestures. Bicycle repairers, which are among the priority businesses, but many of which have closed, could reopen before May 11. Proof of success to come: bicycle shops are already planning a flood of customers when they reopen, according to the business newspaper Les Échos.
“The bicycle has another advantage: it is a cheap mode of transport. This is not negligible, when many people will have been economically affected by the Covid-19 crisis.”
However, Olivier Schneider admits that the bicycle cannot be a magic solution to the May 11 puzzle to avoid a second wave of Covid-19.
“The bicycle is only one tool among others which France must seize if it wants to succeed in its deconfinement”, he warns.