At the time of writing, the new coronavirus (COVID-19) is interfering in the routines of people in different ways, including restricting not only day trips taken for leisure, but also those made from home to work. While most recommendations limit travel, the possibility of opting for reliable and accessible modes of getting around matters more than ever.
The city of New York, for example, is opening more spaces for cyclists and users of micromobility on the streets with the objective of supporting the sudden increase in the use of individual modes of transport for short distance travel. In Bogotá, Colombia, 76 kilometers of cycle paths were added practically overnight in order to accommodate more cyclists and to maintain the social distancing recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Mexico City and London are realizing the benefits of years of investment in the expansion of the cycle path network and are working to make the temporary measures dedicated to cyclists permanent. Interestingly, there are stories everywhere of people who have rethought about how they get around and are opting to use bicycles and scooters when these are available.
This is an important issue not only for the situation caused by the spread of COVID-19, but also for the general resilience of a city. Whether during a global pandemic, or on account of severe storms, or because of poor air quality or due to the other effects of climate change, cities will continue to be confronted with and will have to face the challenges with measures that promote adaptation. In order to keep cities moving, it is necessary to offer all available options: buses, subways, shared taxis, walking and, of course, micromobility, which should be part of the resilience plan of all the cities.
This pandemic helps to realize that light vehicles, such as the bicycle, are important and allow us to get around the city safely and resiliently.
What is micromobility?
Micromobility is a term that recently came to be used by urban planners and also in the world of technology. However, there is no consensus about what micromobility really means. ITDP, in consultation with the sustainable transport community, has developed a definition of micromobility that describes the growing family of small and light vehicles that operate at speeds of below 25 km/h and that are ideal for travel up to 10 km in distance. Micromobility can be individual or shared; electric or manual. However, vehicles with maximum speeds of above 45 km/h or those powered by internal combustion engines are not classified as micromobility. Motorcycles and mopeds, for example, are not included in this definition. In view of the popularization of these vehicles, this definition should include the current modes and those that may arise in the future.
In China, as in many other countries, bicycle mobility has become the preferred option for getting around since the beginning of the pandemic. However, the infrastructure does not meet the needs of the users and many are cycling in mixed traffic.
Without a consensual definition of micromobility, cities have strived to standardize regulations for different vehicles. Organizations such as the Society for Automotive Engineers (SAE) and the International Transport Forum (ITF) have developed approaches to categorize micromobility vehicles, based on weight, speed and power. The ITDP concept is based on these efforts, but provides a clear and direct definition of micromobility that can be used and understood by people from different areas, such as regulatory bodies, journalists and the general public. Adopting a definition allows cities to create guidelines for using the infrastructure dedicated to bicycles, which should be adapted and expanded to accommodate micromobility vehicles. The cycling path infrastructure should only accommodate micromobility vehicles, with a maximum speed of 25 km/h, excluding vehicles with higher speeds, such as mopeds and motorcycles.
The idea of segregated pathways for micromobility has gained popularity and seeks to accommodate other light vehicles, in addition to bicycles. Consistent with the definition of a bicycle path, the segregated lanes for micromobility physically separate the users of bicycles, scooters and other light vehicles from car traffic on the streets and from pedestrians on the sidewalks. American cities, such as Atlanta and Portland, have adopted this term, and organizations such as the International Transport Forum (ITF) have insisted on clearer definitions for these pathways.
This text was originally published on the website of ITDP Brasil on April 1, 2020. ITDP is a grantee organization of iCS in the Transport portfolio.