Los Angeles and Houston are hardly cycling capitals. But both saw surges in biking after Covid-19 began, according to new data from the fitness app Strava.
Coupled with the effects of a warming planet, Covid-19 has produced little good news this year. Yet the two crises did pave the way for one positive social shift: a bike boom, including in some unlikely places. New data from Strava, the fitness tracking app used by 68 million global users, shows that several U.S. cities saw significant year-over-year growth in both bike trips and cyclists in much of 2020.
Among the six U.S. cities for which Strava provided data, Houston and Los Angeles, two sprawling metropolises where just .5% and 1% of the respective populations biked to work in pre-pandemic times, stand out. In Houston, the total volume of cycling trips in Houston was 138% higher in May 2020 than in May 2019. In Los Angeles, the jump was 93%. Unlike their peers, these two places also saw cycling increases in April, the first full month of widespread stay-at-home order and economic shutdowns.
Yet other major cities saw more people pedaling this spring and summer. After a drop in trips in April, New York City saw a steady rise in cycling in the ensuing months, with nearly 80% year-over-year growth in trips for July. Chicago saw significant, though more modest, increases, with a 34% bump that same month.
The numbers reflect all cycling trips by Strava users in these cities, for exercise and leisure as well as utility. While the app is best known as a tool for fitness enthusiasts, a spokesperson for Strava Metro, the division that provided the data, said users are increasingly logging trips to work, school, errands, health care facilities and other essential destinations. Research by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control comparing Strava users who track their bike and walking commutes on the app to U.S. Census Bureau commute data has found that Strava is a reliable indicator of how the broader population moves. On Wednesday, the company announced that a web platform that aggregates and analyzes Strava trips on foot or bike is now free for use by urban planners, city governments and street safety advocates who apply.