Will Local Cycling’s Popularity Survive Vaccination?

After a year of spousal haircuts and avoidance of any tightly enclosed public spaces, Better Burque got a haircut yesterday, followed by a long-needed trip to the local bike shop. The double-masked, had one vaccine shot (thanks for asking) trip to the barber was quick and it felt very good to be “out there again.” The visit to the bike shop was also good, yet illustrated a missed opportunity.

Needing about seventy-eleven things on multiple bikes after a year of not taking them into the shop, I rode up and re-discovered, as we’ve all heard everywhere, that many, many, many people have taken/re-taken up bicycles in this time of pandemic. And several of these folks, ranging in all ages and apparent economic classes, were with me in a line at the small shop waiting our turn to get our bikes some long-denied love.

In Albuquerque, as around the world, sales of everything bicycle have exploded during the pandemic. Ridership has gone up all over, including on the unfortunately low number of sites with permanent bike/ped counters around the area (Bosque, North Diversion, next to Erna Fergusson Library, and over by Jerry Cline Park). To illustrate, here are looks at Spring 2019 v. 2020 on the Paseo del Nordeste Path and Fall 2019 v. 2020 on the Bosque Path:

Anecdotally, we’ve all seen the far more important rise in numbers of families riding quiet neighborhood streets. In a year that has needed all the heartening news we can get, there’s been nothing more heartwarming that seeing kids on “training wheels” making their way while mom, dad, and older siblings ride along, none of them on pricey bikes and lycra nowhere to be seen.

Meanwhile, what has government done in response to the pandemic-related explosion in cycling popularity? To quote Tom Hanks’ character on SNL’s “Black Jeopardy,” “What is not a damn thing?”

Yes, Mayor Keller and the City of Albuquerque have declared our town a “Vision Zero city,” with some tiny baby steps toward safety. Yes, just yesterday APD released information on the thousands of driver speeding/racing citations filed through increased enforcement such as its “Stop the Race” campaign.

But do you feel safer yet, Albuquerque? Safe enough to ride a bike with your kid on training wheels anywhere other than up and down your block of quiet neighborhood street, or maybe the Bosque Path?

No, that paradigmatic change in mindset will take a long time AND more than merely proclamations of “Vision Zero” and spurts of increased enforcement. Until our streets are engineered with a primary focus on safety that includes barriers to speeding and full separation of cyclists/walkers from drivers, we’re not going to see the current rise in cycling interest translate into a lasting explosion of popularity such as that transforming Paris.

But at least the City is taking those baby steps.

As mentioned here yesterday, the just-completed New Mexico Legislative Session was a complete bust on measures to address traffic violence and thus did absolutely nothing to further encourage cycling. The only measure even indirectly increasing cycling safety was the banning of alcohol “minis,” far much less than one might expect from a Democratically-controlled executive and legislature.

Given all this, or lack thereof, it will be interesting to see if our local relative cycling mania will end with vaccinations, leaving only a historical legacy of more unused bikes filling up more and more garage spaces. The days of lines at the local bike shop may unfortunately be numbered.

One thought on “Will Local Cycling’s Popularity Survive Vaccination?

  1. I hope people keep cycling, but even if they don’t, hopefully their experiences give them empathy toward cyclists and pedestrians. As for the ban on minis, though it seems like an attack on the homeless and poor, those tiny bottles left in bike lanes have nearly caused me to crash more times than I care to count. I’ll be happy to have slightly less debris to negotiate.

    Liked by 1 person

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