American bicycling trips skyrocketed 26 percent at the height of the COVID-19 bicycling boom, but the surge was much larger in small metros than big cities that liked to bike before, a new study finds.
And the same study — from mobility analytics firm Streetlight Data — found that as cars returned to the road, communities of all sizes failed to implement the kind of safe street redesigns that could have kept more of their residents on two wheels.
In their new report, Streetlight studied the movements of millions of anonymized cell phone users and applied a proprietary algorithm to see if, when, and where they biked during the various state lockdowns. What the number-crunchers found quantified what countless road users have anecdotally observed: 88 of the 100 largest U.S. metros experienced year-over-year increases in cycling this spring that reached a crescendo in June, before tapering off throughout the summer as cars returned to the road.
But even though the bike bubble started to leak, it never fully burst. Riding was still up 11 percent by September — even as driving rates stayed down 6.5 percent. That’s a major shift in modality that experts think can’t be explained by an increase recreational riding alone.
“I’m an avid cyclist I definitely saw more people on bike lanes and in the road than I normally do [this spring and summer. — and a lot of people those people seemed to be new to cycling, or at least, they weren’t wearing spandex like me,” said Phaedra Hise, director of content for the firm. “It was pretty gratifying to look at the national data…It’s really a planner’s dream.”
Editor’s note: CBSA stands for “core based statistical area,” which is geographer-speak for “metro area.”
Interestingly, the cities that sustained the largest increases over time weren’t always the best-known bike Meccas before quarantine — though many had acted proactively before the pandemic to keep cyclists safe.
Just 15 of the cities that experienced a 75-percent or better increase in bikes on the road at the peak of the boom also managed to maintain a 50-percent increase come September — and while cycling-obsessed and infrastructure-rich Little Rock comes as no surprise, Grand Rapids, Mich. isn’t nearly as well known for welcoming riders. That may be evidence that the city’s recent investments in increasing cyclist safety are paying off big during the pandemic.