On World Bicycle Day, Manuela Lopez Menendez explains how Argentina’s capital boosted decade-old cycling policies during the pandemic, to achieve radical results
Covid-19: a challenge and a catalyst
The year 2020 made us rethink the kind of city we wanted to have once the pandemic was over. The limitations imposed on us by the virus forced us to implement previously unthinkable mobility scenarios. Transport was only available for some workers, we closed some subway stations to encourage short trips on foot, and we encouraged the use of private vehicles for those who could use them. Like any other place in the world, the movement of people and goods became extremely difficult.
But the pandemic also allowed us to reassess our progress towards making Buenos Aires an equal-opportunity city. We ran a review of how our various transport initiatives were delivering on this goal, and concluded that we needed to go harder – and deeper – with our transformational policies.
Cyclists – the pandemic street protagonists
In Buenos Aires, during the pandemic, cyclists were the protagonists. As in other cities around the world, general traffic circulation decreased by more than 53% in 2020. Public transport was the most affected form of mobility; it went from representing 50% of total trips to just 29%. Subway use, in particular, declined to historic lows, reaching just 2% of its usual level. On the other hand, private car use grew significantly in terms of total trips, since for many people it represented the safest mode to get around. Car use jumped from 22% to 36% of total trips.
Taking all of this into consideration, we decided to focus heavily on the most accessible, safe and contagion-free means of transport: cycling. We supported the existing policy of promoting active mobility with more bike lanes and incentives to use bicycles. We set out to accelerate the strategic plan that we began more than ten years ago, using all the experience gained over the years. It was clear that without our existing policy, none of these new improvements would have happened.
The foundations were already laid. While other cities in the world focused on creating emergency bike lanes, Buenos Aires already had a 250-kilometre network by 2020. Cycling was a real and accessible mobility option, thanks to the cultural change and commitment made more than ten years beforehand.
We built two new bike paths totalling 17 kilometres in record time on two of the most iconic avenues of the city: Córdoba and Corrientes. The result was astounding: bike trips on both avenues increased by 350% as soon as we opened the new cycling lanes. And another excellent piece of news: the number of female cyclists quadrupled! The new bicycle lanes represent autonomy, empowerment, and more places where women feel they can move safely.
We also experienced the biking boom across the city; bike sales doubled, and deliveries made by bicycle grew by 50%.
Bicycles are here to stay
The city is still working to increase the number of bike paths and improve the public bicycle sharing system. This will create more integrated neighbourhoods with sustainable mobility options. Having streets with space for everyone leads to greater inclusiveness.
Buenos Aires has far exceeded its goals. In 2020, more than 10% of total trips in the city were made by bike, while in 2009 they represented just 0.4%. We are proud of this growth because it means that more people are included, are autonomous and have better access to opportunities. Cycling creates a healthier life for citizens and a greener, cleaner Buenos Aires.
Covid-19 disrupted our way of living and moving. In Argentina’s capital city, the pandemic accelerated the shift towards more sustainable mobility. This journey began more than a decade ago, but the challenge of the pandemic made us chart a new course of action. Today we have the city’s first “shared street”: Avenida Del Libertador. The century-old street – designed only for cars – now sees different forms of mobility coexist, like bikes, skateboards and buses. It is a new example of how we work: the bicycle is here to stay and is part of the city of the future that we want.
Manuela Lopez Menendez is Secretary of Transportation and Public Works in the Government of the City of Buenos Aires