Driving into the Pandemic, Walking and Cycling out with 


Walking  Bike
April 14, 2021
Joshua Blom, Lexie Isbell, Brayden Allsop, Dylan Apelu
CE EN 361

    What may have started as a necessary form of transportation in April 2020 could continue to be the preferred choice in the future of the United States. Research shows that biking and walking are becoming a more prevalent choice when it comes to traveling from point A to point B, especially in big cities across the country. Necessary health precautions due to the outbreak of COVID-19 have caused cycling and walking to become a more prominent and permanent means of transportation.

The Pandemic’s Gift to Society

    Many cities have been trying for years to encourage the use of biking and walking in transportation, and this pandemic may be the catalyst to the normalization of non-motorized transportation. Evidence of this is shown across the country as cities initially dedicated more street space to pedestrians or added additional bike lanes to streets in order to accommodate for COVID-19 restrictions, but are now considering leaving things the way they are. What’s interesting is many of these cities like Oakland, CA have already created plans to make these changes permanent due to the positive response from the citizens and the high usage they have seen. Even if it was initially forced, this opportunity for society to see how beneficial active transportation can be , may just be a silver lining of the pandemic.
    A questionnaire was carried out via google with a diverse sample  spanning people of  different genders, ages, professions, and modes of transportation regarding their travel habits before and after the outbreak of COVID-19. This questionnaire found that 43.6% agreed that micromobility, such as shared bicycling and scooters, would increase in use after lockdown. In addition, 40.6% agree their walking will increase after lockdown and 61.3% agree more use of cycling will increase after the lockdown. Using regression models, staticians were able to predict an increase in frequency  of cycling and walking by  those who, before the pandemic, did not use these modes as forms of transportation. Before the pandemic there was already a rise in use of cycling and walking, so why did the COVID-19 Pandemic magnify the evolution of active transportation?

Into the Unknown of Active Transportation

    A quote said by famous latin writer Publilius Syrus can be applied to Transportation, specifically Public Transit, “You don’t know what [it] can do until you try.” There are many commuters who have not used public/active transit and are unaware of all the benefits provided by this form of transportation; Such as an increase in health and advantages to the environment and user.  When the COVID-19 Pandemic began a little over a year ago, many nations and states implemented precautions and regulations to reduce the spread  of the virus. Part of these regulations were stay at home orders and limits to capacity on public transportation. When social distancing and stay-at-home mandates were implemented there was also an increase in anxiety and stress. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) professed those with underlying medical conditions were at higher risk of severe illness and urged all to be physically active. This motivated many people to use their extra time, (possibly from not having to commute to work and school), to be active by going on a jog/walk, hiking, bicycling and other workouts. Furthermore, those who were working from home had more time to explore new hobbies, while those who were essential and still needed to work were swayed to find alternate modes of transportation. These consequences of the pandemic led to society discovering the rewards of active transportation.

Active Transportation, Good for the Body, Good for the Earth

    The world has begun moving in the right direction by increasing walking and cycling as a main mode of transportation.
This increase of popularity in active transportation has brought many benefits to the world including an increase in health and positive environmental changes. According to the Am J Public Health article, Walking and Cycling to Health, over the past 30 years many nations throughout the world have experienced large increases in obesity rates. Obesity comes with an increase in risk for diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. One of the best ways to counteract this issue is through physical activity. Physical activity is more important than ever in preventing weight gain and living a long and healthy life.  As shown in Figure 1 below, cities that have a higher percentage of workers commuting by bicycle or foot also have a higher percentage of adults that achieve the daily activity recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is unmistakable that active transportation brings the benefit of an active lifestyle and reduced chances of obesity and various diseases. 

Figure 1
    Alongside the benefits of health, the increased trends in active transportation have had measurable environmental impacts. With the significant reduction of air, road, and railways travel due to the COVID-19 restrictions, there have been large falls in air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. According to The Environmental Impacts of the Coronavirus by Dieter Helm, greenhouse gas emissions fell sharply at the start of the pandemic in China, and “the scale of the falls may have been around 20%”. Other major cities have been experiencing similar trends. And these numbers should come as no surprise; air pollution goes down when people switch from public and private transportation to limited travel and active transportation, given that active transportation such as walking and bicycling are emission-free activities. Active transportation also supports wildlife protection. Less vehicles on the roads allows for more connectivity between animal populations and less roadkill incidents. In short, the rise of active transportation has actively changed the world to be healthier and have a better environment.

Active Transportation, Power to the User

    Public Transportation systems are in high risk settings for contracting and spreading diseases such as the Coronavirus because of its highly dense and frequently used space. In an effort to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus, policy changes, such as limiting capacity, were implemented to public transit where commuters were compelled to turn away from public transit and seek other modes of transportation. This alternative usually took the form of active  transportation: Bike Sharing Services, walking, or cycling. As commuters began to use these  forms of transportation, they began to realize the low-cost and flexibility of active transportation compared to buying a car and using public transportation. The cost of a bicycle is extremely cheaper than buying a personal vehicle and constant fares of public transit. Furthermore, active transportation has the benefit of being flexible to the user in choosing their route, whereas public transit has predetermined routes. One study in New York shows how active transportation will now combine with public transportation creating a more resilient transportation system. Active Transportation such as walking and biking are very popular and efficient in condense cities where there is a short commute, such as New York City. With an increase in popularity for active transportation there will be less demand for other forms of transportation.

Setting in Stone Active Transportation Infrastructure

    The addition and improvement of cycling infrastructure after the COVID-19 outbreak is evidence of the greater prominence and permanency of cycling as a means of transportation. A major concern of experienced and novice cyclists is the lack of safety when sharing a roadway with automobiles. After the outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent government interventions, hardly any vehicles used the roadways, which increased cyclist safety and led to a significant increase in non-commuting cycling activities. This increase in cycling activities is evident in a study done using counters in Seattle, New York City, and Houston (See Table 1). Shortly after the “Stay at home” order was given, each of these cities saw a count that exceeded the pre-pandemic predicted count of cyclists and pedestrians for the year 2020 (Doubleday). This increase in demand for cycling infrastructure caused governments to accelerate it’s construction. This construction of cycling infrastructure allows cycling to become a more permanent, safe, and prominent means of transportation.

Table 1
    Seeking a way in which to lower the chances of contracting COVID-19 and boosting public health, governments and public health agencies began building active transportation infrastructure. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, pedestrian and cycling infrastructure took years to plan, design, fund, and implement. After the outbreak, governments and public health agencies began to implement measures in which new active transportation projects were completed within weeks, and in some cases these projects were completed only days after their planning had begun. This swift response and the completion of these new projects was accomplished due to the reallocation of existing roadway space away from motor vehicles and towards pedestrian, cycling, and active recreation. Evidence of these practices in the United States and around the world can be found in the “COVID19 Livable Streets Response Strategies'' dataset created by a US-based consultancy. Examples include the implementation of automated pedestrian signal phases in Arlington, Virginia, the closing of portions of roadways in order to offer safe walking and cycling infrastructure in Austin, Texas, and the implementation of a “Slow Streets'' program in Baltimore, Maryland, wherein “traffic calming barriers” are used to reduce vehicle speeds and restrict vehicle access to all except local traffic, thereby creating areas in which people can safely participate in active transportation. These examples provide a brief insight into the many different actions taken throughout the United States that create, improve, and promote active transportation and active transportation infrastructure.

A Win-Win Situation

    In conclusion, what was already beginning to grow as a popular mode of transportation, will now surge in users after the COVID-19 pandemic. With the help of the pandemic’s regulations and worries, society was able to experience active transportation and realize the various benefits from this form of transportation. As we join in with others in choosing walking or biking as alternative modes of transportation, we will experience the benefits of improved personal health, less CO2 emissions in our atmosphere, increased flexibility with choosing routes to our destinations, and saving money. COVID-19 brought active transportation to the spotlight as an important and beneficial mode of transportation. Commuters are learning more about the benefits of active transportation and choosing them over other modes of transport. In response, cycling infrastructure is being improved. Through this pandemic, active transportation has proven to be a smart, healthy, and a more permanent mode of transportation