The EU has identified that the cost of combustion engine transport on the rest of society is around €1 billion, which represents 7% of EU GDP. This includes environmental degradation, poor air quality, noise pollution, CO2 emissions, congestion and road crashes. Each kilometre by car costs an estimated 50 euro cents; each bike kilometre brings in eight cents.
The situation during Covid is critical, says Baldwin, and the situation after Covid will be even more so. He cites a recent survey by Belgian newspaper, Le Soir, which found 46% of respondents scared to use public transport, 40% wanting to cycle more, and three-quarters wanting wider and better pavements and cycle paths. The worries about public transport could easily mean more cars on the roads.
While there is currently less traffic, the roads don’t seem much safer for cyclists, he felt. The fall in traffic volumes in some countries has been 70% but there has not been a proportionate fall in deaths and serious injuries. The reasons for this need to be analysed but increasing speeds could be a factor.
Paris, Milan, Bogota, Manchester, London, Oakland, Brussels, Wellington and other cities are delivering pop-up bike lanes at pace but will they become permanent? A recent article by Forbes magazine drew parallels between now and the bike boom in the US and elsewhere in the 1970s in part due to the oil crisis. The author, Calton Reid, wrote: “While the Netherlands used the oil embargo to rein back the dominance of the motorcar in its cities and expand its cycleway network, there was no lasting bicycle-shaped legacy for the US. The boom went bust, and now few remember how bicycle-crazy America went for a few short years.”
To try to ensure permanency, the EU is seeking to come up with new guidelines for pop-ups, share best practices, provide funding and embed smart and sustainable transport within its European New Green Deal.
Baldwin points to almost a celebration of traffic jams in Beijing as a reflection of the return of normality. “The old normal may close in over our heads. I really think we have just a few weeks, in most of the global north at least, to get these new arrangements in place.”
Main photo credit: Andrew Gook, Unsplash