LOS ANGELES – The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a drastic reduction in car traffic and with it a measurable reduction in air pollution. Bicyling advocates, who have been pushing for less car traffic in L.A. for years, say if you have to go out of the house, now might be a good time to bust out the bike and go for a ride . . . safely.
Once bustling thoroughfares are now dramatically devoid of car traffic as Angelenos comply with “safer at home” orders.
Eli Kaufman of the LA County Bicycle Coalition continues to bike for his essential trips, and says he definitely notices a change in the air quality.
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“If there is a silver lining, I do agree that the air quality has absolutely improved in the last two weeks,” said Kaufman via Skype. “Especially as a rider, you feel less congested, you feel less clogged up on these days. That's a large part because we have such a reduction in car traffic.”
Not only have traffic jams all but vanished, but satellite imaging also reveals that nitrogen dioxide levels are significantly down from the same time last year and scientists are recording some of the cleanest air days on recent record.
“Of all cities, Los Angeles should be a commuter city by active transportation—bicycling, as a walker, and using transit,” added Kaufman. “For most of us catching balance on a bike means that we're at a safe social distance from our neighbors and it's a great way of getting your errands done, getting around, especially when you don't have to do the long commutes that we're used to in Southern California.”
CicLAvia’s Romel Pascual says the organization has canceled its April event (they plan six years per year). He agrees that bikers may find the streets easier to ride now and reminds us that biking may be a good means of commuting and exercise.
“Now that we're all practicing physical distancing, you don't have to dodge as many challenges as you normally would. And it almost feels CicLAvia-esque, but on a very individual basis," said Pascual.
CicLAvia organizers say they are still planning for future events, although no one knows how long the pandemic could last.
“If there's anything that's going to get our community back to being reconnected on so many levels, there's nothing like a CicLAvia that can bring folks together,” added Pascual.
And if you are going to ride, Eli Kaufman stresses safety at a time when healthcare workers have their hands full.
“Take a little bit more of a measured approach,” he recommends. “It's the most user-friendly, sustainable, community-building, oh, and social-distance-appropriate mode of transportation, but this is not really the time to put yourself in harm's way.”
Experts do warn of an overly enthusiastic “silver lining mentality” at this point. More pollution studies are needed to get a full picture, and of course, the social/economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are devastating and will have long-lasting effects.