Like far too many traditions beneath COVID, the annual Bay State Bike Month was postponed and reimagined this yr. Sometimes scheduled in Could to coincide with the beginning of peak biking season, Bike Month officially started on September 1 and other people throughout Massachusetts are inspired to affix occasions which can be largely digital. However this yr, encouragement is hardly needed as biking has turn out to be an more and more widespread, socially distant, and dependable solution to transfer round through the pandemic.
Even previous to COVID, ‘micromobility’ – together with shared and owned bicycles, e-bikes, e-scooters, e-skateboards, and many others. – was already poised to breakout in 2020. Charges of bicycle commuting proceed to rise because of the crippling gridlock in metro-Boston. BlueBikes expanded into Everett final yr and is at present launching in Arlington, Chelsea, Newton, Revere and Watertown. The ‘Emerald Community’, a rising system of motorcycle paths that may finally span 200 miles all through the area, has a number of key connections and extensions at present under construction, with many more coming.
Nonetheless, we face a elementary query: Is that this a tipping level, or will automobiles proceed to dominate?
Nationwide and worldwide traits present some constructive indicators. The 2019 Shared Micromobility report by the Nationwide Affiliation of Metropolis Transportation Officers measured 136 million journeys on shared bikes and scooters, a 60% improve over 2018. In keeping with the North American Bikeshare Affiliation, 36% of those rides replaced a car trip. And e-bikes, the quickest rising section of bicycle gross sales globally, are projected to achieve 40 million units in annual sales by 2023. E-bikes prolong sensible biking distances, accommodate a wider vary of ages and talents, and make hauling groceries or kids by bike an actual possibility for a lot of. E-bikes additionally free riders from worrying about sweat and needing particular garments, that are enormous obstacles for many would-be commuters.
This development has occurred regardless of vital challenges, each bodily and political. Protected bicycle infrastructure has been substandard, disconnected, and overly contentious for cities to construct. Rules stay imprecise and disjointed, leaving many riders not sure whether it is authorized to trip an e-bike on the Minuteman Bikeway, or if scooters are allowed on the Paul Dudley White Path. This confusion extends to enforcement brokers and public officers as properly.
Regulatory inconsistency doesn’t assist riders on the road, and the present enforcement sample disproportionately punishes riders of colour. Motion on the state stage is required to categorise these automobiles and the place they’ll function. Hopefully, these vital insurance policies could be handed into state legislation this fall.
COVID as a Catalyst
When Governor Baker ordered a statewide lockdown, he ultimately deemed bike shops as ‘essential businesses,’ permitting them to stay open. Inside weeks, low to mid-priced bikes and baby fashions bought out. Demand for repairs surged as properly. With peak commute site visitors gone, these as soon as hesitant to trip on busy roads started to enterprise out. Biking flourished as a bodily distant and accountable solution to spend time outdoors through the lockdown.
For these important employees nonetheless commuting, owned and shared bicycles supplied a substitute for public transit throughout a time when little was recognized about coronavirus transmission. In April, BlueBikes supplied free 90-day passes to hospital employees, a program since prolonged to incorporate grocery, retail, and pharmacy employees. A number of A Higher Metropolis (ABC) member corporations have reported excessive demand for bicycle parking, each of their garages and at public bike racks.
According to the altering occasions, Boston launched an Electric Cargo Bike RFI to know how e-cargo bikes may match into Boston’s supply panorama. For context, Amazon is already piloting ebike delivery in NYC. Such progressive but sensible options are desperately wanted in our cramped metro the place delivery drivers and large trucks flout the rules, endangering all different street customers.
Shared Streets have been carried out throughout the area, slowing automobiles down, proscribing entry to cut-through site visitors, and permitting individuals to maintain 6’ aside. Boston’s “Wholesome Streets” program – initially a brief community – will be made permanent this fall. This represents the kind of roadway rethink that’s essential to encourage non-car journeys as teleworkers come again to the workplace.
Devoted bus lanes, painted in purple to prioritize public transit, are being put in throughout the Higher Boston space. In July, Boston accomplished a devoted bus lane lane on Washington Road that shaved 12 minutes off the travel time between Nubian Sq. and Downtown Crossing. The MBTA plans to put in 14 additional miles of bus lanes this fall.
In help of collaboration and realizing economies of scale, the Metropolitan Space Planning Council (MAPC) has introduced a regional purchasing agreement for supplies wanted to create these lanes. This collective shopping for energy will save an estimated $2 million and help a large growth of this infrastructure that prioritizes the motion of individuals, not simply automobiles. And since bus lanes are de facto bike lanes, they additional enhance the circumstances that may make individuals comfy using.
Lastly, we see EU countries offering e-bike subsidies like those the U.S. gives for electrical automobiles. Would that work right here? All choices needs to be thought-about to avert a return to gridlock.
Roadblocks and Realities
Sadly, biking just isn’t the one mode that’s surging. Driving journeys have rebounded roughly 80% regardless of a shift to telework for a big portion of the downtown workforce. Regardless of the MBTA’s elevated cleansing protocols, added capability to busy bus strains, masks distribution at key stations and extra, ridership knowledge confirms many individuals have but to return to mass transit.
So, why does that matter for bicycling? For many individuals, bicycles complement transit rides for the primary or final mile of their journey. And for the typical individual, biking is essentially a three-season endeavor. With out belief within the T by winter, commuters with a alternative will doubtless select to drive. Vehicles account for 40 % of greenhouse gasoline emissions in metropolitan Boston and half of all automotive journeys are 4 miles or much less, so it’s important we avert that final result. If we rethink our streets and insurance policies for more healthy, extra environment friendly motion and socially distant interactions, we’ll get that. If we don’t, pre-COVID gridlock will doubtless return.
We now have an actual alternative for a safer, extra resilient, and extra equitable transportation future and each motion issues. This yr’s distinctive Bay State Bike Month is almost over, however there are year-round alternatives for us to get on the market, expertise the brand new infrastructure, and assist make Boston a greater metropolis.
The most effective half? It’s identical to using a motorcycle.
Scott Mullen is the TDM Director for A Better City, specializing in progressive transportation insurance policies that may allow establishments and people to ’assume outdoors the automotive’. By roles that spanned operations, improvement, and public affairs, ‘Mully’ had a entrance row seat within the formation and development of three transportation sectors: automotive sharing; bike sharing; and micromobility.