29 Apr 2020

Cycling popularity changes gear during lockdown and supporters look to capitalise

6:35 pm on 29 April 2020

Whether heading off on a family outing, or just a trip to the shops to top up on supplies, or even for an essential worker's new way of commuting to work, cycling has been a clear winner of the lockdown.

bike. cyclist. cycling.

Cycling has proven a popular activity during the lockdown. Photo: Unsplash / Roman Koester

Cycling advocates are encouraging work to be undertaken to ensure this momentum isn't lost, and that when cities are fully re-opened, there is enough space for people to continue pedalling.

Research undertaken in Canterbury showed some people used the lockdown to pick up a new form of exercise.

Cycling was the most popular, at 78 percent, on top of walking (64 percent), at-home workouts (38 percent), and running (37 percent), as the most popular new form of exercise.

The survey - organised by the Christchurch Adventure Park and completed by around a thousand people over Anzac weekend - tried to tap into some of the habits people picked up during the lockdown.

Around a third of the people said they thought their diet had improved, and a third said it had worsened; there was a similar breakdown when it came to how people thought their mental health had changed - one third said improved, one third worsened.

Adventure Park Manager Anne Newman said people were enthusiastic to keep their new activities going.

"Cycling specifically was named as one of the things that they had picked up or had continued doing through the lockdown that they'd like to continue," Newman said.

"A lot of people had dusted off old bikes from the garage, and got out there and actually really found that they enjoyed being outside cycling, and it was good for both their physical and mental wellbeing."

The research in Christchurch isn't isolated: in Auckland, evidence suggests cycling and walking accounted for over 60 percent of local trips taken over the lockdown.

Bike Auckland spokesperson Jolisa Gracewood, who compiled the data, is in no doubt why there was such a jump.

"In order to get more fresh air and to get out and about, they were walking and cycling," Gracewood said.

"Then once you're out there, and you discover the streets are relatively stress-free because traffic is low then you're more encouraged to do more walking and biking.

"That's why we saw so many families, especially with young kids, out enjoying the streets they live on."

Safer streets for more cyclists and walkers

The next step was making sure the streets were safer, so people's enthusiasm was not curbed.

The government has set up a fund to pay for 90 percent of the costs for improvements councils want to make to their streets.

The funding doesn't come in until June, however, and Gracewood said immediate steps needed to be taken - reducing speed limits to 30 kilometres per hour and installing temporary bike lanes.

"In the same way that people all over the country have been experiencing what it is to make do and mend, let's see what we've got in the garage, we can't just dash out to the shops, I think cities are taking the same approach."

Auckland ahead of the bunch

Auckland is leading the way, having installed 17km of temporary bike lanes over the weekend.

In a memorandum sent to councillors, Auckland Transport chose which places to target based on areas "that are showing increased active mode activity and/or where we expect this type of activity to increase following a move to AL3."

A set of other measures to be completed were also outlined including the widening of footpaths and the introduction of 30 km/h speed limits outside of six schools, and the reduction of pedestrian wait times at signals.

Plans on works to be undertaken for alert level 2 were well underway, the memorandum said.

More pop-up bike lanes would be selected based on their ability to support connectivity to the city centre.

The Cycling Action Network's Patrick Morgan said: "We're waiting for other New Zealand cities to take advantage and to protect their citizens who ride bikes.

"The money's there, the support is there from the public, but some councils are being too slow to take action."

Public health at the heart of making cities safer

Public Health Doctor Dr Rhys Jones.

Dr Rhys Jones. Photo: Supplied

Dr Rhys Jones, a senior lecturer in Māori health at the University of Auckland, said any approach to improved cycling infrastructure must consider marginalised communities.

"Car dependency and unsafe neighbourhoods have disproportionately negative impacts on Māori, Pacific and other marginalised communities," Dr Jones said.

"At the same time, the potential benefits of reducing barriers to encourage more everyday physical activity are also much greater. Hence the need to prioritise investment in these communities, and work in partnership."

However, reshaping cities through safer speeds, wider footpaths, and more cycle lanes was about more than just getting people to continue cycling.

Environmental Sociologist Dr Kirsty Wild said now was the critical time to set cities up for the foreseeable future.

"We're probably going to need to socially distance for the next 18 months until we've got a vaccine, so now's the point where you really have to think about the sustainability of that.

"How do we make it possible for people to actually do this and stay sane and stay healthy? So you've really want to be thinking about your long-term strategy at this point."

With a number of people now taking to cycling, and a pot of money there to assist, advocates hope councils will be starting to put their foot on the pedal.

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