Beyond Equity — A Strategy for Developing Critical Leadership in Transportation

National Bike Month: Riding Through A Pandemic

by Farrah Daniel, Better Bike Share Partnership Writer

Photo courtesy of Peoples Advocacy for Trails Hawaii

This year, National Bike Month doesn’t look like any other one in previous years. On March, nearly 4 billion people worldwide were asked or ordered to stay home to prevent the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus.

For two months, one thing became more evident: Amidst lockdown measures, bicycles and bike share emerged as one of the most resilient ways to stay connected and healthy — I think this alone makes 2020’s National Bike Month the most prolific one yet. 

Bike share and bicycles can fill the gaps in many ways:

  • Better bike accessibility can support economic recovery after COVID-19
  • Biking improves public health and quality of life
  • Biking infrastructure can help cities become more resilient to future shocks

Many cities have embraced bike share as a response to the pandemic, much like the incredible recipients of our Emergency Response Grant, for example. To support the marginalized people who are on the frontlines stocking grocery shelves, delivering goods, driving buses, caring for the sick and more, we must center their lives and ask how we can make their movement safe.

That’s what bike share is and can be for many people. This National Bike Month, we’re sharing the stories of first-time riders, essential workers and habitual riders who turned to bike share for several life-enhancing reasons during COVID-19:

Colorado

Photo courtesy of PikeRide

PikeRide is Colorado Springs, Colorado’s bike share system that has provided an array of emergency relief options to support its community through COVID. Here’s what PikeRide is offering: Adopt-a-PikeRide bike for employees of Penrose St. Francis and UCHealth Memorial Hospital; PikeRide for deliveries; and free, unlimited 30-minute rides. Their limited three-person staff even supports delivery to seniors every Thursday in collaboration with Colorado Springs Food Rescue.

Dmitriy Rybitskiy, Essential worker

“I live downtown in Colorado Springs and work as a surgeon at Penrose Hospital. I use the PikeRide e-assist bikes mainly to commute to work. I also like that I get to exercise while decreasing my carbon footprint. Sometimes I ride with my family. Once I even took my wife on a bicycle picnic date. We rode to Monument park and had a picnic date on one of the benches overlooking the trail; we had a blast!”

Nebraska

A social distancing graphic courtesy of Heartland B-cycle

Throughout the COVID pandemic, Heartland B-cycle provided local healthcare workers with free annual Heartland B-cycle passes. The team intentionally decided to give annual passes to better serve Omaha’s healthcare workers throughout and after the pandemic. The pass will provide transportation and a stress-relieving healthy activity that will last beyond the initial crisis period. However, it wasn’t just essential workers who felt the support of Heartland during a difficult time. 

Marq, Habitual rider

I appreciate the bike share programs so much. They have changed my life in so many ways. Having them available during this pandemic has made me appreciate them even more. The crew in Omaha has shown that they really care about the riders that use their bikes and their effort eliminated what could’ve been a complicated and laborious (and dangerous) commuting situation for me.” 

How his commute has been affected by COVID:

I usually ride the ride bike share to work and home daily, but in the winter depending on the weather I sometimes ride a bus. When COVID hit, I stopped riding the bus and had to learn and adjust and buy clothing to ride in extreme cold and snow, so I learned how to become more of a winter rider this year. 

The availability of bike share:

Bike share has been available throughout COVID. When things started to shut down, I was making plans to walk the five miles to work as I thought for sure that they would be shut down. Heartland knows I’m an active rider and they reached out to me personally (without any prompts from me) to let me know that they would be slowing down but not stopping, and that they would try to make sure that bikes were at places I normally use for my commute. They have been updating riders through newsletters and have been very proactive. I was never once without a bike. 

Differences in his riding before and after the pandemic:

I ride more. I ride to and from work 100% now, whereas it was 80 to 90% most weeks. I also used to ride for pleasure on my days off and explore, completing maybe 10 to 15-mile rides. Now, I do 30- and 40-mile rides as all of my entertainment options have dried up. Riding these bikes has been what has allowed me to maintain some sense of freedom and serenity through all of this.  

Bike share commuting:

One year ago I did not ride a bike. Since I discovered the bike share, it has become my primary mode of transportation for commuting, errands, going to concerts and movies and events, and just pleasure riding. 

Safety during COVID:

I carry a bottle of cleaner in my backpack and disinfect the bikes before and after. I mask up on busy parts of any trails I’m on or in busy parts of the city where there’s foot traffic and other bikers. 

Hawaii


Photo courtesy of PATH

Peoples Advocacy for Trails Hawaii (PATH) is a not-for-profit organization that has been advocating for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure since 1986. In 2015, the County of Hawaii’s Department of Research and Development asked PATH to manage a bike share program in the county. Shortly after in 2016, PATH went on to establish Bikeshare Hawaii Island, a non-profit and low-cost flexible transportation service that provides on-demand access to a network of rentable bicycles. 

Enter COVID-19: PATH’s bike share program lost 95% of its business due to imposed — and necessary — travel restrictions. To support county residents during this time, especially those who rely on bike share for transportation, PATH offered three free months of bike share through what they call the Stay Healthy Hawaii plan. After launching on April 10th, 91 Hawaii residents had signed up. Here’s what some riders think about bike share:

Ashley, Pandemic rider 

(This person preferred to stay anonymous, so their name has been changed for privacy.)

I took up bike riding with Bikshare when the COVID pandemic [started] because I knew I needed to find ways to get my exercise in. I’m battling health issues due to being overweight, and I was already a year into working hard on weight loss and becoming healthier [by] improving health issues like diabetes and high blood pressure. When the COVID pandemic came about in March, I walked to my gym one day and saw it was totally shut down. This was the saddest part for me as the gym was a way for me to relieve stress from an extremely stressful job, and again, a place in which attending was improving my health. Also, being more active combats anxiety and depression, and I felt these things spike after the gym closed. A week after my gym shutdown, I stumbled upon an ad sharing the free membership offered to Kama’aina. That was seriously the light at the end of the tunnel for me — there was hope to remain healthy! I had not been a bike for years! I immediately signed up and got a few friends to also sign up. We were so excited and happy.

I mainly use bike share to stay active and healthy physically and mentally. Exercise is crucial to the immune system, and it combats COVID. Also, it has not only kept the anxiety attacks and depression at bay, but the sense of adventure of being on a bike brings me unexplainable joy. I am so happy during and after a bike ride and it sets a great mood for the day. Bike rides have also been wonderful a way to socialize during COVID pandemic. To keep safe, we like to make sure we wear helmets and also sanitize bikes before and after rides.  

I also feel so much better that I can get around Kona and Hilo and save money on gas during these trying times of having been furloughed during this pandemic. Riding around Kona and Hilo has been the highlights as the best times during this awful pandemic. It’s such a great way to enjoy what Hawaii has to offer in better ways than driving a car around. We get to holo holo (translation: cruise) and ride around and get things done as well. 

I’m in big support of this program and have introduced five to six friends to it — they all agree that after a bike ride, the world seems like a better place. I would for sure continue to use bike share after the pandemic if it’s free to the community. The high costs of living in Hawaii and the challenges after the pandemic are still very significant to my finances.  

Neil Erickson, Essential worker 

An essential county worker for the Department of Public Works in Hawaii County, Neil was an avid road bike rider until he was in an accident. Now, he’s slowly getting back to riding by using the bike share bikes, and he’s still an adamant advocate for helmet use. 

I began bicycling as a kid and rode while in college. After moving to Hawaii, it became important to my lifestyle so I began cycling seriously again, both alone and with groups. I heard about the 120-day Stay Healthy program and wanted to give it a try. After commuting from home three to four days a week for over six years, the accident that sent me to the hospital for over a week made me determined to find a safer way to ride. I now cycle “virtually” and drive to work, but I like to use the bike share program during my lunch hour when the weather permits. 

Our weather is ideal for bicycling outdoors but one must be on constant watch for motorists. Cycling in and around Hilo is awkward since few dedicated paths or trails really come or go anywhere. They are not connected in any way, so much of the time is spent on the road or searching for the connectors. After many, many years riding here, it is clearly a case of the chicken and egg — there are no paths and trails because there are few cyclists, but that may be because there are few safe places to ride. 

During the COVID Stay at Home order, it has been clear that some feel cyclists should not be out. This is disappointing since the health of our community is related to our ability to exercise. The same drivers who shout out or give a “stink eye” should look at themselves and wonder if their own lifestyle makes them susceptible to colds, the flu, obesity, and diabetes, among many other issues with health and mobility. I hope my presence outdoors on a public bicycle is a source of inspiration and motivation to others rather than making people feel bad. 


Photo courtesy of PATH.

Gene, Pandemic rider

Being an outdoors/athletic type all my life, I looked for an unconventional way to stay in shape. I’m not a runner or even a walker, and Planet Fitness closed their doors because of COVID-19. As a kid, bike riding was in my “genes” as my dad bought me a Schwinn and later a Columbia model bike to ride around the neighborhood. I was never interested in skateboarding and loved my bikes instead. Although I had a couple of serious falls, I never lost interest in the freedom, inexpensive exercise and excitement that riding provides. 

So in lieu of Planet Fitness and being laid off of work, I had the time and interest to pursue biking. Funnily enough, I almost bought my own bike before the pandemic hit, but because I was downsizing my game since being laid off of work, I was drawn to the possibilities of Bikeshare Hawaii. Enter Tina, who was nice enough to drive to AT&T bike docks to promote and sign me up to a month’s worth of biking — the rest Is history. 

I love riding around our great town of Kona. I challenge myself to expand my territory as I get fit again, like going from the Kona Commons Shopping Center and Target to Honokohau North and Nani Kailua South. So far, I ride in the evenings when traffic slows and it’s cooler, and I’ve already have lost 10 pounds. I also love riding to Kona Pier to swim and hang out with the fisher people. Needless to say, what a great idea to bring bike share to Kona. I don’t know if it was inspired by COVID or if the idea was here before pandemic — whichever it was, I thank Tina so much for the courage to do business in this environment.

Bikeshare has been an important means of getting around town. Luckily, Kailua Business District is confined to a small area and is easily accessible by bike. Once back to work, I hope to continue my attempts at fitness by biking in Kailua.

Becky, Pandemic rider

A new rider post-pandemic, Becky signed up after she saw learned of the free, unlimited rides provided by the Stay Healthy Hawaii program. “I signed me and my son up for the program and have been frequently using the bikes for exercise,” she says. “I used it to get exercise mainly at Queen Liliuokalani Park, and it was great.” Learning how to use the app was the only challenge she’s encountered and quickly conquered. And to stay safe, Becky and her kids adhere to social distancing rules as they enjoy bikes in a new way.

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Happy National Bike Month! Please continue staying safe while riding: wear a helmet, keep your social distance, and wash your hands. Share with us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram to tell us about your bike month!

*Answers have been edited for clarity and accuracy. 

The Better Bike Share Partnership is a JPB Foundation-funded collaboration between the City of Philadelphia, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) and the PeopleForBikes Foundation to build equitable and replicable bike share systems. Follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram or sign up for our weekly newsletter. Story tip? Write farrah@peopleforbikes.org