Cycling is the future of urban mobility – and an effective response to crisis

In order to prevent the spread of the current pandemic, public transport has been reduced substantially. This challenges many people who still need to get around the city. Many work in jobs relevant to the system such as health and care providers. Others need to buy food. Staying mobile is highly important and especially in these times facing new challenges.

As a reaction to the crisis bike sharing companies provide their services free of charge to allow access to medical workers and those with urgent needs (WDR, April 2020). A platform for volunteers in Marburg has been initiated that uses bicycles to deliver essentials to people who are stuck at home. Some cities are temporarily or even permanently expanding their cycling infrastructure in response to COVID-19 such as Berlin that recently implemented temporary bike lanes. New York City’s public bikeshare system Citi Bike experienced a 67% increase in demand in March compared to the same period last year (The New York Times, 2020).

Cycling has many positive impacts on environment and health and the World health Organization recommends cycling and walking to meet physical exercise requirements. Even though many people prefer to take the car.The concept of bounded rationality helps to explain that everyday decisions such as choosing the mode of transport are not necessarily rational, consistent and efficient choices, applying cognitive processes of decision making that maximise ones economic utility. People are more likely to seek a satisfactory solution than an optimal one. The impact of habits should not be underestimated (Gravert and Olsson Collentine, 2019). Day-to-day living induces people to ignore (preventable) future risks.

One way to alter sustainable behavior is by setting the incentives or by nudging. Nudging describes intervening  and inducing a shift in decision making in order to influence behaviour in a certain way without limiting their freedom of choice. The improved bike infrastructure could include the installation of protected bike lanes so that bikers feel safe and comfortable while cycling through the city. Or the creation of spaces for bicycles such as adding parking spots at key destinations like stations or grocery stores contributes to make cycling more attractive. An access to bike sharing systems i.e. via Bluetooth at low costs makes cycling affordable and easy to use.  So called bike footrests, simple railings at intersections that provide a place for cyclists to lean on while waiting for the light to change. Or a traffic light system that favors cyclists in the rain would favor people to use the bike more often because it makes cycling more comfortable. There are different ways to nudge sustainable transport behavior but these could be small adjustments that encourage people to use the bike more often.

Response to climate and the aftermath of Covid19
Each kilometre cycled avoids the emission of 250 grams of CO2 (World Resources Institute, 2020). Thus, bicycles are the key option for zero emission transport. Furthermore, studies have shown that cyclists spend up to 3 times more money than car drivers with local businesses and that cycling infrastructure is correlated with higher retail (Dutch Cycling Vision, 2018; Reid, 2013; Badger, 2012). Many governments are considering massive infrastructure projects that generate employment and thus, economic activity.

Cities need more sustainable mobility. This is also useful with regard to being resilient against crisis. Access to bikes provides a key to people handling constrained economic and transportation conditions. The increased mobility offered by bicycles during pandemics, power outages or natural disasters to urban transport systems seems obvious.

Given the global climate crisis and the worldwide trend towards urbanisation, urban transport planning concepts are needed to promote the shift towards a climate-neutral transport system. Cycling is the best way to protect the environment while doing physical exercise which in the long run increases individual resilience.


Badger, Emily (2012). Cyclists and Pedestrians Can End Up Spending More Each Month Than Drivers.

Bezirksamt Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (March 2020).

Dutch Cycling Vision (2018).

Gravert, Christina Annette; Olsson Collentine, Linus (2019). When Nudges Aren’t Enough: Incentives and Habit Formation in Public Transport Usage. In SSRN Journal.

Reid, Carlton (2018). Cyclists Spend 40% More In London’s Shops Than Motorists.

Sunstein, Cass (2014). Nudging: A Very Short Guide. Journal of Consumer Policy 37, pp. 583-588.

The New York Times (2020). A Surge in Biking to Avoid Crowded Trains in N.Y.C.

Westdeutscher Rundfunk (April 2020). Car- oder Bike-Sharing in Zeiten des Coronavirus.

World Health Organisation (2020). Moving aroung during the Covid19 outbreak.

World Resources Institute (2020). Biking Provides a Critical Lifeline During the Coronavirus Crisis.

Stadt Marburg (March 2020). Zentrale Koordination der Nachbarschaftshilfe.

One thought on “Cycling is the future of urban mobility – and an effective response to crisis

  1. Thank you for this interesting and inspiring article. Now I have finally the legitimation for buying a new gravel bike!


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