Coronapaths: hit the saddle!

Nov 18, 2020 · 4 min read

After first quarantine, hundreds of km of bicycle paths appeared all over the world and were immediately adopted. It was love at first sight. A passion that’s here to stay.

Catch your breath out in the open air, choose your itinerary, avoid traffic jams, contribute to ecological efforts, get some physical activity in, and above all, avoid rubbing shoulders with thousands of other Parisians in the metro during the pandemic. For many, cycling in the city has become an obvious choice.

According to the latest figures published by the “Vélo & Territoires” network, bicycle path usage has jumped by 28% in the last three weeks of May 2020, in France, compared to the same period in 2019. For Paris, it’s an increase of 54%!

This historic comeback can be explained, in part by the sudden appearance of new bicycle paths just about everywhere, to make deconfinement easier. The so-called “coronapaths.” More than 50 km of yellow strips in Paris have been stuck to the ground to create the infamous bike lanes. Cyclists, buses, and cabs now use the emblematic Rue de Rivoli, once one of the most congested roads in Paris, the sound of horns and exhaust pipes has now given way to the soft hum of bicycle chains.

This post-confinement passion is a real godsend, according to Union Sport & Cycle, the sector’s leading professional organization. “The bicycle industry as a whole has seen its sales double compared to the same period last year (i.e., May-June 2019).”

A trend confirmed by Alexis, the owner of a small store selling, renting, and repairing bicycles in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris. The boutique and its colorful front, Allovélo, has seen its number of customers skyrocket since the end of the lockdown. And for this experienced salesman, the craze has every reason to last: “Bicycling is growing in all directions, due to corona of course, but also it’s trendy, economical, ecologic and healthy.”

Paris’s streets have taken on a completely different facet since the beginning of the health crisis, but the French capital is not the only city. Since the end of quarantine, over 1200 km of new cycle paths have been announced throughout Europe, with already 500 km of them implemented according to the European Cyclists’ Federation (ECF), which also counts 823 million euros, since the beginning of deconfinement, allocated to promote mobility on a European scale actively.

Rue de Rivoli, Paris fully transformed for bikes.

“The COVID crisis, while tragic, is also an extraordinary opportunity to accelerate positive change and reshape our cities — an opportunity we’re seizing,” said Jill Warren, co-CEO of ECF.

In the same sense, Milan has launched its “Strade Aperte” or “open streets” plan, including an additional 35 km of bicycle and pedestrian paths. The objective is to enable Milanese residents to get around while still respecting safety barriers, rid the city center of cars further, and ultimately clean up the world capital of fashion and design.

In France, the political class also seems to have decided to encourage its population to hit the saddle. During his public policy speech on July 15, 2020, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced “a very ambitious bicycle plan.” On May 11, the former Minister of Ecological Transition, Elisabeth Borne, launched the “Coup de Pouce vélo” (bicycle boost) operation, which provides systematic participation of 50 euros for each bicycle repair, thus encouraging French residents to get their two-wheelers back into shape and favor them to get around and about. The tone seems to be set.

All that remains to be seen is whether the passion for cycling in all major cities will be sustained over the long term.

For Nicolas Louvet, founder and director of the 6T research office, which specializes in mobility and lifestyles, the answer is yes. Yes, although the urban landscape will probably not be ready to accommodate.

“If there’s one mode of transportation that’s going to increase, it’s the bicycle. But we’re starting from far.”

Today, for every 100 trips in the Ile de France region, only three are made by bike. It’s not much. But we count 41 million visits per day. This is equivalent to a total of 1.2 million bike trips per day out of 41 million visits. The rest are by car or public transit. So even if the number of cyclist’s doubles, cycling will remain a minority mode of transportation.

Alexis, the owner of Allovélo, confirms: “Things are changes bit by bit, but we’re still a long way from countries like Germany or Belgium.

But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t support this rekindled passion for two-wheelers by perpetuating the infamous bike paths and continuously prepare new developments to make cities more bike-friendly.

“If the bicycle is taking back its rightful place, it’s because it’s well looked upon and well supported.”

But supporting bike infrastructures also means finding secure parking solutions that are sorely lacking in large cities. “98% of the time, bikes don’t move; they’re parked. So the real problem today is secure parking. Because Haussman simply hadn’t thought about spaces for bicycles.

Beyond health and practical considerations, Nicolas Louvet insists on what he considers to be the main advantage of bicycles in the city. And the reason why its use will continue to be a part of the way of life: “We will always prefer an individual mode of transport to public transport. It’s fun, we do what we want, that’s the real strength of the bicycle”.