It’s impossible to overstate how much the world has changed in the last 18 months. As we all adjust to the new normal, urban planners are faced with a range of challenges. Citizens want to gradually return to work, see friends and have fun while staying safe, but that means restricted capacity on public transport, and gridlock if those journeys are made by car instead. One great answer to these questions has been around for centuries: the bicycle.
To get an idea of the scale of this phenomenon, Scottish bicycle company Shand Cycles commissioned an ICM poll which showed that more than one in six commuters in the UK are considering switching from cars, trains or buses to cycling as lockdown eases. The poll found that 17% of commuters are more likely to cycle to work following the pandemic. If they all do, that would be 5.5 million people taking to their bikes in the UK alone.
Cycling has been one of the few outdoor activities permitted during lockdown and that’s led to a lot of people rediscovering the pleasure of getting on two wheels. As the nation goes back to work, social distancing is going to be a huge challenge for those who previously used rush-hour public transport.
This is a global phenomenon. In Australia, Bicycle Network, the country’s largest cycling organisation, has noted a 270% increase in bike path use in some cities since the pandemic began. As commuters switch to two wheels, cities need to ensure they feel safe, secure and supported - and lighting can play a vital role in this.
In a Lane of One’s Own
Even before the pandemic, cities were encouraging modal shift to cycling. It’s a daily workout, saves money and makes city air more pleasant to breathe.
When motorists are given the option to cycle they are more than happy to do so, but they need the correct incentives. That means secure bicycle parking, segregated bicycle lanes and adequate infrastructure to make crossing junctions safe.
When it comes to shifting to cycling, feeling safe is just as important as being safe. Lighting plays a huge role in this, and it’s something that we’ve quietly become experts in over the years at Schréder, helping cities from Rio to Budapest to not just accommodate, but actively encourage, cycling.
As Armstrong points out, junctions are a big deal for those getting used to road cycling. We recommend lighting them in a different colour temperature to guide cyclists through, which can reduce the risk of accidents. For example, a cool white light can draw attention to the potential possible dangers ahead, making sure people have time to prepare before stopping and/or turning. This is what we did in Tilburg.
Meanwhile, clear lighting all along the route can enable road users to recognise the faces of other people around them. On the darkest of nights, this gives a heightened feeling of security, so that they feel completely at ease - as well as meaning they can follow their route safely, spot road markings and see obstacles clearly, all year round.
Pedalling Towards a New World
As cities worldwide open up again for business after lockdown, planners are implementing pop-up segregated cycle lanes, shared spaces and new traffic systems. Paris is setting out 50km of new cycle paths to help modal shift, and some roads such as the emblematic Rue de Rivoli (which we converted to energy-saving LED lighting a few years ago) will be reserved for pedestrians and bikes, with only authorised vehicles allowed to drive there.
And the Brussels Transport Minister Elke Van den Brandt announced that the city would set out 40km of cycle paths: Lanes normally reserved for cars and trucks on some major avenues will only be open to cyclists. Key routes such as Rue de la Loi, Boulevard Géneral Jacques, Avenue de Tervuren and Avenue Louise will link up with each other and form a safe passage for cyclists heading into the capital from Flanders and Wallonia.
Many cities are making these changes on a temporary basis, but as city-dwellers get used to cleaner air, the sound of birdsong and the absence of gridlock, a lot of them might become permanent - which is where the need for investment in infrastructure comes in. And although global cities are expanding cycling provision quickly, they should still invest in quality.
Global Shifts, Local Responses
Segregation from motor traffic mitigates the fear of being hit and injured by a car: city authorities in Copenhagen believe 15-20% more people are encouraged to cycle each time they open a dedicated cycleway. Lighting can build on that effect.
Our work with local authorities all over Europe means that Schréder is uniquely positioned to come up with lighting that will actually get people out of their cars and onto their bikes. And local authorities can take advantage of intelligent lighting schemes with sensors so lights can be dimmed, or even turned off when nobody is using the facilities.
In Belgium, the RAVeL (Réseau Autonome des Voies Lentes) is a cycle path network that consists of more than 1,440km of converted former railway lines and canal towpaths. The town of Thy-le-Château was keen to get commuters, as well as tourists, using the paths, so we worked with them to develop a light-on-demand solution.
When the sensor located at the start of the RAVeL path detects people, the control system increases the lighting level of the first 4 luminaires to 100%. Sensors along the route means a “bubble” of light accompanies users along the path, providing the right level of lighting. When no movement is detected for 4 minutes, the luminaires are dimmed by 70%. This has got people using the bike path all year round, early and late - and also enabled the local authorities to reduce light pollution and save energy.
Investment in bespoke cycling infrastructure may not seem like an obvious choice, with council budgets under huge pressure as economies worldwide falter in the wake of the pandemic. But all the above shows that it could make a huge difference in getting people back to work - and keeping them socially distanced, healthy and engaged on their way there. From supporting local businesses, to cleaner air and streets, the cost-benefit ratio of cycling investment is enormous. We’d love to help light your journey.
About the writer
Since he joined the company as a mechanical engineer in 1988, Jean-Luc has developed a wide range of urban lighting luminaires, always striving to improve design and efficiency.
He has travelled the world, bringing a hands-on mentality to deliver the perfect solution for customers worldwide. There’s not a lot he doesn’t know about lighting!
Connect with Jean-Luc on LinkedIn