The grief and misery apart, the pandemic has automatically solved some problems that had remained unresolved despite the world community striving hard for it – a paradigm shift in the outlook towards lifestyle and fitness.
People have rediscovered their passion for cycling and it is adequately evident in the spurt in bicycle sales for the second year in succession. Bhubaneswar is no exception. New cyclists and more frequent cyclists have developed new habits of commuting and greater familiarity with cycling. Both factors increase the likelihood that they will continue to cycle in the coming years.
In a survey of new cyclists in Bhubaneswar (first time ever or in over a year) people were asked whether they intended to continue cycling after the pandemic. About 48% expected to cycle every day, 73% several times a week, and 79% about once a week. Only 29% anticipated not cycling at all or only very infrequently after the pandemic. As daily trips to work, school, university, shopping, restaurants, and entertainment rebound after COVID19, many of the utilitarian cycling trips lost during the pandemic will probably be regained.
It seems likely that the increase in the number of cyclists in 2020 was due to public transport passengers who shifted to cycling because they were afraid to ride crowded autos and buses. Public transport use during the COVID19 pandemic declined sharply.
A February 2021 random survey found that 75% of respondents in Bhubaneswar reported that they intended to use public transport less than before, even after the pandemic is over as they have switched to an alternate mode, not necessarily bicycle. Thus, some of the public transport riders who shifted to cycling during the pandemic will probably continue to ride a bicycle, especially with improved cycling facilities and greater availability of bicycles.
Given these factors, it seems likely that the number of people cycling will remain higher in the coming years than in 2019. It is crucial, however, that governments at every level support the expansion and improvement in cycling infrastructure, programmes, and policies necessary to ensure that cycling thrives just as it does in Europe.
This includes retaining and building on the successful measures implemented in 2020 to deal with COVID, especially bicycle lanes, car-free streets, shared streets, and reduced speed limits. In Bhubaneswar, there is also a pressing need for investment in vastly expanded off-road greenways that have become overcrowded on weekends.
There are many good reasons for the state government to promote cycling, as it is socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable. Indeed, cycling is perhaps the most sustainable of all urban travel modes, as it is feasible not only for short trips but also for medium-distance trips too long to cover by walking.
Finally, how can cities like Bhubaneswar navigate the complexities of the current environment and prepare for the future? To address new ways of working and technology, widespread social anxiety, and geopolitical uncertainty, Bhubaneswar should focus on three critical areas: Climate & Sustainability, Digital Transformation and Resilience along with developing a competitive advantage that will allow Bhubaneswar to thrive now and in the future.