People ride and run in Madrid during some hours allowed by the government
People ride and run in Madrid during some hours allowed by the government
PIC: AFP

Halfway through his 30-minute bike ride to work, police ordered Juan Pasamar to dismount, accusing him of breaking Spain's coronavirus lockdown rules by exercising in public. The officers were not buying his explanation he was commuting to his job outside of Zaragoza, the northern city where he lives.

"You have a car, don't you? Why don't you use that?" he said he was asked.

Pasamar eventually had to hire a lawyer to convince police that the government had not banned cycling during the lockdown.

As countries seek to get their economies back on track after the devastation wrought by the coronavirus pandemic, bicycle use is being encouraged as a way to avoid unsafe crowding on trains and buses.

Cycling activists from Germany to Peru are trying to use the moment to get more bike lanes, or widen existing ones, even if it's just a temporary measure to make space for commuters on two wheels.

The transition to more bike-friendly urban environments "is necessary if we want our cities to work," said Morton Kabell, who co-chairs the European Cyclists' Federation.

"A lot of people will be afraid of going on public transportation, but we have to get back to work someday. Very few of our cities can handle more car traffic," he said.

In addition to bike lanes separated by curbs, Kabell backs subsidising electric bicycles, which could encourage commuters who have longer or hilly journeys.

The benchmarks are Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, where half of the daily commuters are cyclists, and the Netherlands, with its vast network of bike lanes.

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