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Bicycle Boom: Will Cities Keep Some Pandemic Changes?

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AP Photo / Steven Senne
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The pandemic has rearranged many parts of modern life. And a researcher at Virginia Tech says it also may end up reimagining roads.

The pandemic created a bicycle boom. Bike sales went through the roof, and local governments across Virginia installed pop-up bike lanes.

Now Ralph Buehler at Virginia Tech says all those experiments might end up making a permanent change to how people think about what a road is and how people should be using it.

"I think restaurants and cities will recognize that maybe moving cars or storing cars by parking them is not the best use of certain downtown areas," says Buehler. "In other places, I think people now saw what a safe street to ride a bike could look like with little car traffic and a special new bike lane, and people may demand having these spaces."

But Sonya Breehey at the Coalition for Smarter Growth says reallocating roads will require a more long-term transformation.

"There needs to be a shift from prioritizing cars moving quickly through our communities to making it safe and accessible for everybody, vulnerable road users, right? So, people walking, biking or accessing transit," Breehey says.

As people emerge from the pandemic, it's not just the future of roads that might change. Ridership on public transportation bottomed out, and Buehler says researchers will be following those numbers to see if riders come back or that's another permanent shift coming out of the pandemic.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.