As recently reported by Time magazine, in addition to dwindling fare collections, tax revenues that help subsidize transit systems are taking a dramatic hit. “Perhaps nowhere is public transit more vital, or the budget crisis more serious, than in New York City,” writes Time magazine reporter Alejandro de la Garza. “Ridership in the city plummeted as people stayed home or sought out alternate modes of transportation they perceived to be safer.”
In this era of social distancing, public transit underscores just how much everyday life and behaviors continue to change during the pandemic. Even when the current health crisis is in the rearview mirror, how people get from point A to point B could well have changed permanently.
“Not everybody is mourning the sorry state of American public transit,” he goes on to report. “Transit opponents often point to data showing that national ridership had been slumping since 2014 as evidence that Americans were choosing other forms of transportation even before the pandemic, though the dropoff began to reverse last year.”
He goes on to report that some transit advocates see the current situation as an opportunity to free up needed public space by closing streets to car traffic and transforming car lanes into temporary bike and pedestrian lanes. This is attributed to the fact that people are driving less, says de la Garza. In May, Seattle had chosen to close 20 miles of city streets to most cars. Other cities are seeing it as an opportunity for more permanent infrastructure changes. They are building special lanes or revamping streets to accommodate a mostly nonmotorized form of transportation — cycling.
As reported by Outside magazine, many bike shops are reporting booming business, far above even the normally busy days of the spring selling season. According to one industry report, which tracks the sales of retail sporting goods, children’s bike sales in March were up 56% compared with March 2019. Adult leisure bike sales were up an impressive 121%. So are requests for bike service, as “riders pull old, disused bikes out of garages and basements,” Outside writes.
“Public transportation is not necessarily the easiest or safest route right now,” Adele Nasr, chief marketing officer at Aventon Bikes, an industry leader, tells Outside. “People are finding alternative ways to get around, and bikes make sense. Some of the markets where we’re growing most are where public transit is most popular.”
This trend is not just happening in America. “Just like the 1970s oil shocks which turned Amsterdam into a cycling town, the trauma of the pandemic is transforming Paris,” NPR’s Eleanor Beardsley recently reported. “Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has promised to transform Paris from a car-centered town to a pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly city, and the changes are already quite dramatic,” she says.
“London plans to spend $100 million to build new bike lanes and widen sidewalks during the pandemic,” added NPR’s London correspondent, Frank Langfitt.
Though bicycles have been a mode of transport in America since the late 1880s, according to Wikipedia, ridership dropped off dramatically in the United States between 1900 and 1910 as bicycles gradually became considered children’s toys, and automobiles became the preferred means of transportation.
As a recent study by market research company Mordor Intelligence points out, “Individuals all across the globe are increasingly becoming more aware of their fitness, which is eventually resulting in the growing demand for the bicycle as an alternative way of transport.”
“Will these new cyclists stick with the bike once things settle on some kind of new normal? And will their numbers and the new riding landscape we’re all experiencing lead to permanent, positive change and safer places to pedal?” Outside writes. “Some in the bike world think the answer to both questions is yes.”
The health benefits of such a switch are undeniable. As a low-impact aerobic exercise, cycling is hard to beat. It is a great way to avoid a sedentary lifestyle and its accompanying health issues. According to Healthline, among the benefits of cycling are its abilities to lower body fat levels and promote healthy weight management while being easy on your body. Without overstressing your body, cycling can increase your metabolism and build muscle.
Focusing on the road while you are cycling helps develop concentration and awareness of “the present moment,” Healthline adds. Biking can ease feelings of stress, depression or anxiety, and it is especially useful when going places that are a bit too far to walk, but you would rather not take a car and fight for a parking space.
Will it overtake the automobile as a primary means of transportation? Not likely. As noted by the international auto transport experts at Corsia Logistics, since its introduction in the early 1900s, the automobile has been synonymous with freedom and independence. For most Americans, it is no longer a luxury; it is an integral and necessary part of their lives.
A recent survey by Cars.com during the pandemic on the way Americans are using their cars supports this sentiment. Says Matt Schmitz, Cars.com assistant managing editor for news, “People may be sheltering in place across the country but make no mistake, they are hitting the roads for a brief escape from their homes.”
The pandemic has also revived a tradition that should bring back more than a few childhood memories — the return of the Sunday family drive. According to Cars.com’s research, nearly 60% of parents and 45% of nonparents have resurrected the leisurely Sunday drive as an activity to get out of the house.
That’s not all. Cars have found new utility when merely parked. According to the survey, the car is the new office. “As many adjust to a work-from-home lifestyle, more than 1 in 4 Americans are using their cars as a makeshift office — particularly parents,” says Cars.com.