By Robert B. Noland, Hannah Younes, Leigh Ann Von Hagen, and James Sinclair
During the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Spring of 2020, there were reports of a surge in bicycling activity. Sales of bicycles increased throughout the world (Luan et al., 2021; Qu et al., 2022) as well as in New Jersey (ABC7, 2020). Reports of shops with no bicycles available were common as they quickly sold existing stock and disruptions in supply chains led to delays in restocking. In some places, bicycles may have been used to avoid being crowded into public transit. The desire for a safe outdoor recreational activity may have been another driver of demand. More importantly, were there any longer lasting effects – did people bicycle more either for recreation or practical purposes?
As part of our analysis of various travel behavior changes due to the pandemic, we have acquired data to explore these issues. We conducted two representative online panel surveys in New Jersey (via Qualtrics). These were deployed in the winter of 2020-21 and again in 2021-22, receiving over 2,400 valid responses from adults in the state of New Jersey, and coinciding with the two winter peaks of the pandemic. We queried respondents on their bicycling behavior before, during and what their expectations were when the pandemic was over. We also asked about whether they were primarily working at home and various questions about whether bicycle infrastructure was added in their neighborhood. We estimated a variety of statistical models, controlling for the demographics of our sample to untangle these behavioral effects.
We found that those who reported working from home were more likely to increase their bicycle usage during the pandemic and maintain it in the future. We found that the odds that a respondent intends to bicycle more were two times higher if they worked from home, compared to working outside the home. Some 34% of our respondents reported that they increased recreational cycling; a smaller number, 11%, reported an increase in bicycling for commute trips. If people continue to work from home—and there are indications that many will, at least some of the time—we may see increases in recreational bicycling and the need for safer places to do so.
Those who reported changes in infrastructure to improve bicycling safety were associated with reported increases in bicycle usage during the pandemic and with plans to continue in the future. These infrastructure changes in general included new protected bicycle lanes and street closures to make space for outside activities. While we did not have data on actual changes, we relied on what our respondents reported. The odds that a respondent intends to cycle more in the future (compared to prior to the pandemic) are 4.5 times higher if they have noticed positive changes in their neighborhood during the pandemic. This finding shows promise that infrastructure aimed at making bicycling safer, such as protected bicycle lanes, signage, and streets closed to motor vehicles can be an effective planning strategy in New Jersey, consistent with other findings in the literature (Buehler & Pucher, 2021; Qu et al., 2022).
ABC7 (2020), Coronavirus News: Bicycle shops rolling along quite well amid COVID-19 pandemic https://abc7ny.com/bicycles-bikes-bike-bicycle/6241223/
Buehler, R., & Pucher, J. (2021). COVID-19 Impacts on Cycling, 2019–2020. Transport Reviews, 41(4), 393-400. https://doi.org/10.1080/01441647.2021.1914900
Luan, S., Yang, Q., Jiang, Z., & Wang, W. (2021). Exploring the impact of COVID-19 on individual’s travel mode choice in China. Transport Policy, 106, 271-280.
Qu, T., Gates, T. J., Xu, C., Seguin, D., & Kay, J. (2022). The Disparate Impact of COVID-19 on Walking and Biking Behaviors. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, 103494. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trd.2022.103494
Qualtrics, accessed: Feb 23, 2023: https://www.qualtrics.com/research-services/online-sample/, this site provides information on Qualtrics.