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Cycling through the Covid-19 outbreak

Posted by on March 12th, 2020 at 9:15 am

(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

It all became very real yesterday. Actually, for those of us following this closely it’s been real for a while now. But Wednesday felt like the dam broke and we finally saw widespread acknowledgment — locally and nationally — that the Covid-19 outbreak is here and it’s time to act like it.

With mass cancellations and rising infections, it’s a scary time. I don’t know what comes next, but I know one of BikePortland’s roles will be to keep folks informed about how cycling is impacted by the outbreak and can (possibly) help mitigate its impacts. In 2012 while in New York City during Superstorm Sandy I saw first-hand how cycling is the most resilient form of transportation during a disaster.

First, some breaking news. The Oregon Bicycle Racing Association just announced that all races are cancelled for a minimum of 4 weeks. “This decision is difficult but we are confident is the correct one,” wrote OBRA Executive Director Chuck Kenlan. The news impacts several early-season mountain biking and road races like Echo Red-to-Red and University of Oregon Road Race (both slated for March 21st). It could also extend to the Mudslinger XC MTB race (4/4) and Gorge Gravel Grinder (4/5). This is a huge blow to race promoters who operate on razor-thin margins and rely on registration fees to make ends meet. It will also impact the small towns (like Echo, population 750) where the races take place. Given the complexity of the race calendar and permits required for racing bikes, it’s unlikely that all the events will be rescheduled.

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If you opt to ride instead of use transit you will open up space on buses and trains for others who don’t have that option.

While we won’t be racing for the next month, riding will actually be nicer than ever.

You probably already noticed that traffic is lighter than usual. Bicycle riders are hyper-aware of driving levels because watching traffic like a hawk is a big part of every trip. Now we have some data that proves it. According to the Portland Tribune, “Portland driving fell an average of almost 2% a day between March 4 and 7, with the biggest drop being 3.69% on Friday, March 6.”

And if you’re able to pedal a bicycle, it could be a good way to stay healthy and sane amid the outbreak. Research has shown that cycling boosts the immune system and we all know it can help reduce stress. There’s also a more pragmatic reason to bike — especially for those who usually rely on public transit. With social distancing essential, if you opt to ride instead of use transit you will open up space on buses and trains for others who don’t have that option.

In America’s most transit-dependent city, New York City, biking has already gone way up due to Covid-19. Mayor Bill DeBlasio even told New Yorkers, “Bike or walk to work if you can.”

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We’re also likely to see a bump in bike traffic because so many more people are working from home. With a change of clothes and bikes so close by, it’ll be much easier for people to take a “lunch ride” — especially if this nice sunny weather holds. Promise me though, that you won’t ride in a large groups and please refrain from blowing snot-rockets until this virus subsides.

Of course more people would bike if our streets welcomed them with safe facilities and if bike share was more accessible. With fewer people driving and the clear benefits of more people biking, the City of Portland should immediately re-allocate road space with temporary barriers to create more space for bicycle users.

Another thing to consider is to make Biketown free. The last time we made it free ridership doubled. Our electric scooters should also be expanded and subsidized to encourage ridership.

Then there are the small business impacts. As we know all too well with a rash of recent closures, these were tough times for local bike shops even before the outbreak. But how can you support them when you’re trying to stay home and limit public interactions? Former Gladys Bikes owner Leah Benson shared a fantastic idea on her Facebook page the other day: Pick up your phone or keyboard and purchase a gift certificate/gift card. “I’m going to spend money there in the future,” Benson said, “so why not offer up that money to them now. It’s like I’m creating a bunch of little mini-savings accounts all around the city.”

One last thing: If you’re hunkered down at home and want to get something delivered to you. Consider using bike-powered Cascadian Courier Collective. They offer quick food delivery from tons of the best places in town and they’re available 7 days a week. They also deliver pet supplies!

Do you have other tips and advice to share about cycling through the outbreak? Hang in there folks. Let’s all help each other get through this.

UPDATE, 9:55 am: The Street Trust says the Oregon Active Transportation Summit (OATS) has been postponed. It was planned for March 17-19. They will try to reschedule.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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9watts
Subscriber

Thanks, Jonathan.
Another excellent piece.
I won’t even quibble with this “Another thing to consider is to make Biketown free….” though I was tempted.

chris
Guest
chris

My prediction is that the ebike will emerge as the urban vehicle of choice in the new pandemic age, especially as prices drop. Public transit is a petri dish, but the geometrical problems associated with cars in dense areas will always remain. Electric assist will expand the bicycles potential range, and make bicycling more practical for people with health or disability problems, who aren’t fit, who live further from their destinations, etc. Even just not having to show up sweaty is a game changer.

middle of the road guy
Guest
middle of the road guy

Just like the virus, e-bikes are much more widespread in Europe.

Having more here would be a great thing for diversifying the transport options.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

>>> Just like the virus, e-bikes are much more widespread in Europe. <<<

Are you suggesting causation, or merely correlation?

9watts
Subscriber

I highly doubt the virus is more widespread in Europe. What is more widespread in Europe is a functioning state supported health care system plus working test capability. Without testing we have no idea what the situation here is. Our mortality here is much higher even before coronavirus, and life expectancy shorter. Inequality, poverty, no health insurance all (already) take their toll.

Phil
Guest
Phil

Don’t worry, the CDC tested 77 people this week. We’ve got this under control.

9watts
Subscriber

Hahahahaha. That was goood!

ConcordiaCyclist
Guest
ConcordiaCyclist

Uh, no. I’ll echo other comments: your statement about the virus is inaccurate because of the federal government’s inability to provide testing or containment strategy until too late. We simply don’t know the infection rates here, but you will once they actually distribute and process large amounts of tests tests. Suggesting it is worse in Europe is a nothing more than a political talking point (speaking of dangerous viruses.)

BikeSlobPDX
Subscriber
BikeSlobPDX

The current rate of spreading is tenfold growth every 16 days (source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kas0tIxDvrg), so “infection is more widespread” likely means “they got exposed a few days before us.”

Rain Waters
Guest
Rain Waters

“The new pandemic age” ?

X
Guest
X

We haven’t had that many pandemics but look at some trends: more people, more cities of a million plus people, greater population density, movement of tropical insect species into formerly temperate zones, global travel…

There’s more hunting pressure on wild animals for bushmeat, distributed through markets like the one in Wuhan. In Portland we have more people living with domestic fowl. I doubt if the concentration has reached the point that diseases are crossing over but who knows?

X
Guest
X

Transformations? Anyone for a cruise ship vacation? Or a round trip flight to anyplace? I think we’re about to find out which cruise lines and airlines were over-leveraged.

X
Guest
X

Car traffic: talking to a professional driver, I got a first guess of 25% reduction on freeways, but at least 10% . In other words, no brake lights. I asked a friend who rides a lot about downtown traffic, and they said “over fifty percent reduction” which was also my first estimate.

Jason
Guest
Jason

The class 3 pedelec is perhaps the best thing that has happened to bike commuting in the last few decades. Being able to ride up Barbur Boulevard at 25mph is a game changer. Not to mention getting from Mt Tabor to downtown in 15 minutes, without breaking a sweat. Or getting to Lake Oswego in 45 minutes (90 minutes on analogue bike). Now, a lot of people ask me, “isn’t that cheating?” Cheating at what, exactly? I’m not winning a prize for commuting, after all. And there’s a growing body of evidence that E-bikes are good for you.
https://www.outsideonline.com/2404475/riding-e-bike-not-cheating

Adam
Guest
Adam

One thing I felt SURE I would see a lot more of is articles about people taking up biking to work as an alternative to riding public transport, to reduce the coronavirus infection factory that is a bus.

I know in Europe, after terrorism hits on the buses and subway systems, cities saw a large increase in people biking to work, because they perceived it yo be safer.

Bikeninja
Guest
Bikeninja

Modes of transportation will be one of the first things affected by the Outbreak, but there will be many secondary effects to follow. If history is any indication this will come in 3 waves (unless an effective vaccine is developed quickly). We are in the first wave which will peak and decline about June, the second wave will hit next fall, with a third wave the following year. The society and economy that will emerge will be fundamentally different. No one knows exactly what those changes will be, but they will be significant. For sure, the higher education, travel and health care business will be transformed. The reduction in demand may drive oil prices very low for a period. But this will permanently crush the marginal producers such as shale, or tar sands and leave the world that emerges with a much smaller economically feasible oil output. This new energy reality plus upcoming carnage in the auto industry will put happy motoring in the ICU. But many changes will be unexpected, so stay safe, stay flexible and keep riding.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

3 waves sounds plausible, but societal transformation does not. Is there a precedent you’d like to cite? While it feels pretty freaky now, at some point, covid-19 will become part of the background noise of annual disease cycles, which may be a little more vicious than they were in the past, at least for a while, depending on how rapidly the virus mutates and how long immunity lasts.

As for the price of oil, it fell a little due to reduced demand, and then a lot due to increased production, with the Saudis taking advantage of the situation to crush their higher priced competitors (which is most of them). Ultimately, there may be shifts in who produces our oil (hopefully less tar sands), but if anything, cheaper prices will delay transition to alternatives. What won’t change is that if we burn it all, we’re toast.

Bikeninja
Guest
Bikeninja

Many historians believe the plague during the middle ages was the catalyst for great change. It reduced the population enough that it gave the peasants much greater leverage over the landed class, kicking off changes that lead to the renaissance.
A good example of a big change that could come with Covid-19 is the breakdown and radical change of our healthcare system. Our for-profit healthcare system is the most expensive in the world on a %of GDP basis yet leaves a large part of the population without coverage. Such a system is ill-equipped to deal with a pandemic where everyone must have access to testing and care to limit the destruction. One only has to look at the Lombardy region of Italy to see what is heading here in short order. Their excellent public healthcare system ( one of the best in the World) has been overwhelmed by Covid-19 . The same thing happening to our for-profit system will leave many people untreated to infect others, and will effectively shut down much of regular health care operations that the system has come to rely on for revenue. Will anyone be going in for a knee replacement when the hospitals and clinics are swamped with contagious patients? Though they will try to there will be no way for these HMO’s and provider networks to collect enough in billing to cover the exploding costs they will face. As peoples loved ones are triaged for coverage or capacity reasons, anger will sweep the land and and send our expensive and inefficient health care system to the dustbin of history. Our current system is very brittle and ripe for change, and Covid-19 is just the spark to kick things off.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

>>> Covid-19 is just the spark to kick things off. <<<

We'll see. Covid-19 is hardly a plague level event, or even a SARS level event. Those most at risk are the over 80 (and even then with a mortality rate no higher than 20%), so while I expect many of us with aging parents (or who are aging parents) will experience a personal tragedy, I think that the idea that Covid-19 will do what Bernie, Hillary, Obama, and Romney couldn't is just wishful thinking.

Bikeninja
Guest
Bikeninja

As tragic as it is, the real issue is not the death rate, it is the rate of those requiring serious hospitalization. This is many times the death rate, and by nearly any calculation will overwhelm our healthcare system.

mh
Subscriber

Sad that I think you’re right. With any luck, there will be an intelligent response to the collapse of the existing health care edifice. A pandemic might be the only thing that pushes us to health care as a human right, but I still fear that when we patch the system back together, the model will be the one we are currently suffering.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

It’s probably worth noting that the healthcare system has not collapsed, and there’s no indication it will. On the other hand, if the Democrats win big in November, perhaps there will be energy for more sweeping reform.

David Hampsten
Guest

Or maybe POTUS will adopt some of Bernieman’s policies and expand medicare for poor people even to the 12 states without such programs?

9watts
Subscriber

“… healthcare system has not collapsed and there’s no indication it will”

Really?
What would have to happen for you to concede that it was coming apart at the seams, collapsing?

You exhibit a to me astonishing faith in our system, a belief that it can stay afloat, keep on keeping on.

Have you read this – ?

https://www.fast.ai/2020/03/09/coronavirus/?fbclid=IwAR18T0oyJuS1anS-SK4aLezXBZTAkVBCFH-CG8w_WWZtuqvxm-1o8Y_mrwg#this-is-not-like-the-flu

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

>>> What would have to happen for you to concede that it was coming apart at the seams, collapsing? <<<

Some evidence it was collapsing would be a good first step. If such evidence materializes, I'll review it an reassess my opinion, just as I always do.

Remember how Y2K destroyed the world? Me neither.

9watts
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

When I have a decision to make, I’ll look at the situation and make it. Evidence and facts, not speculation, will be my reference.

pruss2ny
Guest
pruss2ny

Italian (and Chinese) medical systems were capable of testing for the bug but incapable of ICU (partly) due to fact that their medical system was never built to handle critical care. Italy has 12.5 Critical Care beds per 100,000, China only 3.6. The US? 34.7

For the vast majority it appears this bug will hit like a sore throat, and a cough. Sick? Stay home, treat symptoms, don’t spread. If we can get that initial response right, and not flood the medical system b/c we DEMAND TO KNOW if we have Covid19 or just allergies, then there is a really great chance our system will do fine.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

With this particular virus, it seems that ventilators are the critical life-saving item. The US has roughly 160,000 which is about 49 per 100,000 residents.

The biggest concern I have, is that people are not taking it seriously enough here. The American “rugged individualist” ideals will lead people to ignore safety guidelines. Our outbreak will be worse, so we will have a higher percentage getting sick, and it will still overwhelm our large system.

We’re about to put “the greatest healthcare system in the world” to test here. I’m not optimistic.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

>>> The American “rugged individualist” ideals will lead people to ignore safety guidelines. <<<

I've seen no evidence that this is true in any meaningful way. With the possible exception of very stable geniuses and NBA asshats, most people seem to be taking this seriously, and, at least around here, authorities are making the right but difficult decisions to help slow the spread.

9watts
Subscriber

Hello Kitty,

It has only been two days since you reassured us that our system could handle this:

“There is going to be a fairly tremendous strain on our health system,” warned Dr. William Jaquis, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Is there some new evidence I should consider that the system is on the edge of collapse? That said, it would hardly surprise me if the health care system becomes “strained”, which is a very different thing than collapsing.

9watts
Subscriber

I agree with bikeninja. The possibilities are vast.

pruss2ny
Guest
pruss2ny

1) if pandemic concerns are the future, “my” car is almost a perfect protected bubble for me to transport myself from clean environ (home) to clean environ (office)…no concerns over whether my mode share will spread germs, because there is no mode share…cheap oil? awesome.
2) cities are praised being most efficient/responsible means of living…but there is thot that modern cities dangerously disconnect people from food/energy sources that power them, and are naturally breeding grounds for disease.

agree that volatility presages change, and not saying my above examples are right, but i don’t think the path forward has been decided yet.

D'Andre Muhammed
Guest
D'Andre Muhammed

I’m biking to and supporting my local Asian stores and restaurants. The virus scare has only amplified Portland’s rampant racism.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

Do you find it ironic to fight racism by making decisions based on race?

Aaron
Guest
Aaron

Asian American here. Reacting to racism by expressing solidarity to the victims of racism is not racism. Just like saying “black lives matter” is not racist. Acknowledging the reality that one’s race affects their standing in society is not the same as actively engaging in racism.

9watts
Subscriber

Thank you, Aaron.

TOM MARTIN
Guest

While spring has come early, this global pandemic has made the streets quiet and my shop quieter.

David Hampsten
Guest

Lucky you. In my car-centric community, car traffic has actually risen by quite a lot, as we have a lot of out-of-town visitors for a college basketball tournament that just got cancelled. The tourists booked their hotels well in advance and now they have nothing to do. Our local ebike shop is making a killing in renting out bikes.

esprirevidelli
Guest
esprirevidelli

until they declare martial law, and will not let me leave my house, i am gonna keep riding. that is what i know, for real.

best of luck to all y’all, and your loved ones!

Rain Waters
Guest
Rain Waters

How do you propose “they” keep millions of people in those houses. How many of us are “they” ?

David Hampsten
Guest

Through enforcement of course, like they enforce traffic laws currently.

Blaine
Guest
Blaine

As a bicycle mechanic I am concerned about my ability to work from home, pay rent if my hours are reduced, and get medical services if I become sick. Let’s wake up and smell the coffee. Local bike shop staff could be at high risk of sliding into homelessness and poor health.

But I cant take my own worries too seriously when I see people who have so much less than me every single day, dying in the street. How far down is rock bottom in today’s America? How do we pick ourselves up?

If you have a job that can pay you to work on a computer at home then you may be spared some of the destructive potential of this disease. If you have that ability then please take some time to think about those who do not.

* Please do not interpret this post as a plea for sympathy or a condemnation of those who made different life decisions and find themselves more economically comfortable. People are going to lose loved ones and I will not compare financial woes to that level of tragedy.

On a brighter note, Start a conversation about a livable minimum wage. Talk about universal health care, and for gods sake, tell your friends and family to stop shopping on f$%#$ng amazon!!!!!!!!!!

9watts
Subscriber

“… for gods sake, tell your friends and family to stop shopping on f$%#$ng amazon!!!!!!!!!!”

I know right? How hard can it be? Jus t say no to AMAZON and NIKE and the rest. Buy local.

FDUP
Guest
FDUP

Actually, guaranteed minimum income of ‘living wage’ + health care and some extra to help keep the economy afloat would be really nice for times like these…
🙂

FDUP
Guest
FDUP

Not that I disagree with the sentiment, but FWIW, Nike and probably Amazon too are both sort of ‘local’.

9watts
Subscriber

I know what you are thinking. Forty-five years ago maybe Nike was, and twenty-five years ago maybe Amazon could have been considered that. Precision Castparts is super local (Johnson Creek), but they cause I think some of the worst air air quality in the nation.
Everything can be taken too far, too literally.

David Hampsten
Guest

Precision Castparts isn’t as local as it once was – it’s now owned by Berkshire Hathaway (Warren Buffet), same as BNSF, Duracell, Geico, Brooks Shoes, Dairy Queen, and dozens of other companies.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

PCC’s “worst in the nation” status results not from emissions at Johnson Creek, but from the aggregate of all their facilities nationwide. I’m not at all dismissing their local impact, but it’s also important to understand the situation.

Jack
Guest
Jack

“stop shopping on f$%#$ng amazon!!!!!!!!!!”

Amen.
Not just “on” amazon but *at* amazon aka Whole Foods.

Michael Ruth
Guest
Michael Ruth

I don’t think it prudent to expand bikeshare services at this time. Sharing handlebars and, at least, sweat with potentially 100’s of other bikeshare users will increase risk of transmission, even if the bikes were cleaned between uses.

This is, however, an excellent opportunity for folks to appreciate cycling more. Hopefully the increase in ridership will stick around for awhile, much like the reduction in miles driven continued for some time after the Great Recession. It would be great to expand bikeshare services after COVID-19 recedes

.

Jack
Guest
Jack

the number of surfaces and amount of bodily fluids one may come in contact with from a bikeshare bike is minuscule when compared to a crowded bus, train, or even an un-crowded taxi/uber.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

The best reason NOT TO SHOP @ AMZ is that JB is cross-eyed and drives a Lamborghini.

X
Guest
X

I love this whether it is true or, you know, alternate.

9watts
Subscriber

Hello, Kitty
It’s probably worth noting that the healthcare system has not collapsed, and there’s no indication it will. On the other hand, if the Democrats win big in November, perhaps there will be energy for more sweeping reform.Recommended 2

It has been two weeks since you so glibly dismisses the possibility… still so sanguine?

rick
Guest
rick

Is this virus comparable to the 1918 Spanish Flu? Is closing businesses worth it? More poverty brings higher death rates.

dwk
Guest
dwk

Sorry, should not have said “crap”, I mean that Trumpian lies and propaganda need to stop getting printed. A bit of responsible journalism.

Alan 1.0
Subscriber
Alan 1.0
Subscriber

Or, for a more serious consideration, try https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/26/us/politics/fact-check-trump-coronavirus-recession.html (including the studies it cites):

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that deaths from the coronavirus in the United States could range from 200,000 to 1.7 million.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I never dismissed the possibility; I said the healthcare system was not collapsing, and I say now it is still not collapsing. It is starting to show strain in some places, which may well get worse, but we are not on the precipice of widespread collapse.

I made a commitment to reassess the situation based on new evidence/developments, so please check in next week and we can see how things look.

9watts
Subscriber

“we are not on the precipice of widespread collapse”

M-hm. Right.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

On March 12th, I said “It’s probably worth noting that the healthcare system has not collapsed”; then on March 26th, “I say now it is still not collapsing. It is starting to show strain in some places, which may well get worse, but we are not on the precipice of widespread collapse.”

Here we are on April 8th, a lifetime later, but with hospitalizations down in NYC, and Oregon donating some of our ventilators, those comments still seem to describe our situation. No signs of a collapsing healthcare system. Under great strain in some places (hardly a surprise), but managing.

I wouldn’t describe my attitude as sanguine, exactly, but I’m still optimistic that the system as a whole will continue working, despite a demonstrated lack of adequate preparation.

I’ll continue to evaluate the evidence as it arrives. Feel free to check in when there’s new data to consider. Until then, stay well!

9watts
Subscriber

This is just New York:

NEW YORK (from New York Governor Cuomo daily briefing):

Apex of hospital need could be in 21 days from now in New York
All hospitals need to increase capacity by 50%, some by 100%
Need a total of 140,000 hospital beds. Currently have 53,000 (an additional 87,000 hospital beds are needed)
Need a total of 40,000 ICU beds. Currently have 3,000, with 3,000 ventilators. An additional 37,000 ICU beds are needed
Will use college dormitories, hotels, nursing homes, and all possible space by converting it to hospitals if needed in April
138,376 people have been tested
Schools will stay closed for an additional 2 weeks after April 1, to then reassess the situation and extend again if needed. 180 days requirement has been waived
“This is not going to be a short deployment […] This is going to be weeks, and weeks, and weeks […] This is a rescue mission you are on, to save lives. […] You are living a moment in history that will change and forge character”

9watts
Subscriber

pruss2ny
Italian (and Chinese) medical systems were capable of testing for the bug but incapable of ICU (partly) due to fact that their medical system was never built to handle critical care. Italy has 12.5 Critical Care beds per 100,000, China only 3.6. The US? 34.7Recommended 2

https://mailtribune.com/news/coronavirus/oregon-has-fewest-hospital-beds-per-capita-in-us

9watts
Subscriber

Looks like Oregon has 663 critical care beds.
Divided by 4.236million residents that = 15.6 beds/100,000 people.
Less than half of the US average.

dwk
Guest
dwk

***Hi dwk. I regret to inform you that I’ve put you on our auto-moderation list. That means you’ve been put on a list so none of your comments go through until I have a chance to read them. I did this because you have repeatedly posted mean and unproductive comments that add nothing to the conversation. Please consider changing your style if you’d like to ever see your comments posted again. Thanks – Jonathan. mausjonathan@gmail.com ***

9watts
Subscriber
Alan 1.0
Subscriber

UW Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. Looks like Oregon hospital resources are predicted to hold up, peak on May 6; Washington predicted to have ICU bed shortage, peak on April 19. I wonder whether they include humans staffing those beds, as opposed to just the hardware?