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Coronavirus: How pandemic sparked European biking revolution

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By Kate Vandy
BBC News, Brussels

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media captionThe French authorities has invested hundreds of thousands of euros in biking for the reason that begin of the pandemic
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From Bucharest to Brussels, and from Lisbon to Lyon, the coronavirus pandemic has triggered unprecedented funding in biking round Europe.

More than €1bn (£907bn; $1.1bn) has been spent on cycling-related infrastructure and a pair of,300km (1,400 miles) of latest bike lanes have been rolled out for the reason that pandemic started.

“Cycling has come out a big winner,” says Jill Warren of the Brussels-based European Cycling Federation. “This time has shown us the potential cycling that has to change our cities and our lives.”

But what has all this cash been spent on? And what would possibly the long-term impacts of this funding be? This is what 4 main cities have been doing.

Milan adjustments path

“We tried to build bike lanes before, but car drivers protested,” says Pierfrancesco Maran, Milan’s deputy mayor for Urban Planning, Green Areas and Agriculture. “Someone said to me: ‘You needed coronavirus to [introduce them] here!'”

This industrial hub in northern Italy was one of many first cities in Europe to put money into biking as a option to get folks shifting round once more. There are 35km of latest cycle paths, though many of those are momentary.

“Most people who are cycling used public transport before. But now they need an alternative,” Mr Maran says. “Before Covid we had 1,000 cyclists [on the main shopping street], now we have 7,000.”

But this rise in recognition has put strain on many bike-related companies.

Cyclists ride on a brand new cycle path on Via Monte Rosa on September 30, 2020 in Milanimage copyrightGetty Images
picture captionNew cycle paths have proved in style in Milan

Alessandro, a younger apprentice at 92-year-old bike producer Pepino Drali, says their enterprise reopened in early May. “People were standing on the streets with their bikes in their hands and the line was right around the corner,” he recollects.

“It’s been complicated to keep manufacturing our bikes; coronavirus meant we couldn’t find a lot of parts anymore,” he provides.

Despite the enhance to companies, not everyone seems to be comfortable. Many assume the adjustments do not go far sufficient.

“There have been a few lanes that have been built, but compared with the need and the necessity of this city and the will of people they are really a drop in the ocean,” Anna Germotta, an environmental lawyer,” says.

She, like many others, believes this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to redesign our cities so they’re suitable for all cyclists.

“Coronavirus is a second through which each coverage maker can change their very own cities,” she believes. “The failure to have the braveness to alter now, in a state of affairs through which you could have a while to organize the folks, may very well be actually disastrous.”

In an attempt to prepare people, the regional government in this part of Italy has spent €115m to stimulate cycling. The government has pledged subsidies of up to €500 if citizens want to buy a new bike or an e-scooter in a bid to keep people off public transport and out of cars.

Graphic showing additional cycling investment around Europe per person
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Paris leads the way

More than 800km away, Paris Deputy Mayor David Belliard talks of a big transformation in the French capital, with €20m invested since the start of the pandemic.

“It’s like a revolution,” he says.

“The most iconic change is on the notoriously busy Rue de Rivoli, which stretches throughout Paris from east to west. Some sections of this highway at the moment are fully car-free. The extra you give house for bicycles the extra they’ll use it.”

A woman wears a protective face mask while cycling across Pont Mirabeau bridge, near the Eiffel Towerimage copyrightGetty Images
image captionIn Paris, the deputy mayor speaks of a revolution on two wheels

Cycling levels have increased by 27% compared with the same time last year. This is partly due to the extensive approach taken by the French government, which is offering a €50 subsidy towards the cost of bike repairs.

“It’s like paradise for me now,” says Rémy Dunoyer, a bike mechanic in downtown Paris. “It’s actually turning into so in style.”

His repair shop stayed open throughout the whole of lockdown and, while other businesses were furloughing and shedding staff, his actually expanded. “We needed to rent extra staff simply due to the extent of repairs,” he explains.

And in an attempt to establish a cycling culture here, the government is also offering free cycling lessons.

“Normally, we now have about 150 adults annually studying to cycle and now we now have simply doubled to 300 folks,” says Joël Sick, a teacher at Maison du Vélo, on the banks of the River Seine.

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An uphill battle in Brussels

Further north in Brussels, 40km of cycle lanes have been installed along some of the city’s busiest roads.

A map illustrating the new bike lanes around Brusselsimage copyrightBrussels Ministry of Mobility and Safety
image captionNew bike lanes have been introduced around Brussels

In order to free up space so that social distancing rules can be adhered to, there is a zone where pedestrians and cyclists have priority over cars. Speed limits have also been reintroduced across the entire city.

Back in April, regional Transport Minister Elke Van den Brandt wrote an open letter to residents asking them to avoid public transport.

“Packed buses at peak hours is certainly not what we wish,” he said. “The solely various could be to ask folks to take a automotive. That is not an answer.”

And it seems the latest measures have encouraged people to take up cycling. Bike use is up by 44% on last year.

“Everyone has a motorcycle now,” says Diana, who is queuing outside a repair shop. “I had one earlier than the disaster however now I take advantage of it day by day.”

Image shows a new bike path in Brussels
image captionNew bike lanes in Brussels have extra space to ensure social distancing is maintained

But there’s been an unforeseen challenge as a result of the pandemic/

“I had this picture of myself shopping for a gorgeous new bike with an identical helmet… however there have been no bikes,” explains Brussels resident Vesselina Foteva. “I needed to order one, however they stated I would want to attend no less than two months.”

She moved to Brussels two weeks before the start of the pandemic and saw the city change before her eyes. “I made a decision I needed to take all of the measures I may to remain wholesome and keep away from public transport.”

Unable to get her hands on a new bike, Ms Foteva turned to subscription-based bike service Swapfiets. “Our enterprise grew by 60% in Brussels throughout the lockdown,” its founder Richard Burger says.

“Milan and Paris have invested in a significant method in infrastructure throughout this time, so that’s the place we are going to open outlets subsequent.”

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Cycling grows in Amsterdam

Unlike most big cities, Amsterdam already had a cycling infrastructure long before the pandemic. The Dutch capital famously has more bikes than people and 767km of well-established cycle lanes.

But the impact of coronavirus on urban mobility has been far-reaching, and it has still had an impact here.

“It’s been loopy to see what we thought would occur within the subsequent 10 years immediately occurring in three to 6 months,” says Taco Carlile, whose electric bike brand Van Moof sold more bikes in the first four months of 2020 than it did in the previous two years.

“People noticed how rather more lovely their metropolis may very well be and the way rather more habitable it might be with extra bikes and fewer vehicles,” Mr Carlile says. “Now they do not need to return.”

Image shows three cyclists

The e-bike is now the most commonly sold type of bicycle in the Netherlands. And cargo bike sales are surging too – up 53% since the start of the pandemic.

Judith and Johan Hartog bought their cargo bikes right at the start of lockdown. “It did not really feel proper to go by public transport anymore, and so it was really the suitable time now to get a cargo bike,” Judith says.

They wanted to keep their family safe from the risks public transport posed, she says, and like many others they invested savings into cycling they otherwise wouldn’t have had.

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So will this shift last?

Many cities are preparing for an uncertain future – unsure if the old way of living will be possible again. “A pandemic actually shifts mindsets in a short time,” says Jill Warren of the European Cycling Federation.

Cycling is proving to be a solution for more and more people.

But the question is whether they will they keep it up once the fear of coronavirus subsides and whether the move to the bicycle if permanent.

“It takes political will, it takes funding, it takes activism on the a part of residents who need that,” argues Ms Warren. And she believes it will need courage from politicians to make the changes stick.

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