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Europe’s pop-up lanes are promising

As social and economic activity in Europe starts to expand in the wake of the receding coronavirus, hopes are high that the emergency expansion of bike infrastructure will yield more permanent results.

It has been estimated that on average 11.5 km of provisional bike lane has been announced or built across more than 100 cities.

Each additional kilometre has increased bike riding by 0.6 per cent.

German climate researchers have assessed that if the infrastructure was to become permanent, and the new cyclists continue and keep up their riding habits, there could be $3B in health benefits each year.

To come up with the figure they combined bike counts from more than 100 European cities over the last decade.

Then they obtained data on the day-to-day expansion of pop-up bike lanes from the European Cycling Federation and from news reports.

"We compare bike traffic in treated cities in the days before and after they get treated compared to control cities and find that one kilometre of popup bike lane increases cycling by 0.6%,” they said.

"When we multiply this estimate for a kilometre of bike lane with the average number of kilometres (11.5), we find that the average effect of bike lane programs is a 7% increase in city-wide cycling."

"We calculate that the additional cycling caused by the pop-up bike lane treatment during its first three months of operation has generated $800 million in health benefits.

"The new infrastructure will generate $3 billion per year in health benefits, if the new bike lanes become permanent and if cycling habits are sticky.”

One issue that is threatening the promise is the apparent rise in deaths and serious injuries of riders since the rapid roll-out.

Berlin’s bike fatalities this year are already double that of 2019.

According to Siegfried Brockmann, an accident researcher for the German Insurance Association, the coronavirus crisis has mainly reduced the number of passengers on public transport, while the number of cars on the city’s roads has risen back to normal levels or higher.

And truck traffic has remained high the entire period.

Although the pop-up lane themselves are regarded as safe, it is intersections where bikes have always experienced the highest crash risk.

“Two thirds of accident—involving but not caused by cyclist—occur at crossings, turnings or on property driveways, and so far authorities have failed to come up with solutions to reduce the risk”, Brockman says.

Berlin’s senator for transport, Regine Günther says that her government would prioritise equipping intersections with segregated traffic light sequences for cyclists and automobiles, but conceded overhauling the system was slow work.

“Secure infrastructure needs time,” Günther said.

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