We’re over halfway through the year – whoo! Take a moment to sit back and breathe a sigh of relief!
Regular riders and walkers past our store will have seen our bike counter out the front of our store; it’s been there awhile (check it out again next time you go by). It’s been a little longer than usual since we last shared how rider numbers compare to previous periods, what with all the changes and challenges that 2020 has unleashed. Time to delve into the figures!
Rider numbers are down this year compared to last – by an average over 8.3% for the year to date compared to last year’s rider counts. While at first this might seem a little surprising given the (well-publicised) surge in bicycle riding during lockdown periods, when we dig deeper into the data the downturn could actually be a good sign.
Here’s the breakdown of the monthly totals:
January 2020 will be remembered for a very long time due to the horrific summer bushfires. Despite being far from the flames, many of us stopped or limited our riding due to the bushfire smoke and generally poor air quality blanketing Melbourne mid-month. Add to this the tram works along Nicholson Street which re-routed the crossing outside our store for a few weeks and we’re somewhat surprised that we counted as many riders as we did for the month!
In February and early March we thought we were back on track for a good year of bicycle riding. (The year was still young and had so much potential!) But before we knew it the new Corona virus outbreak overseas was a Global Pandemic and Victoria went into our first Covid-19 lockdown on 23 March. Messaging to “Stay Home” was heeded and influenced why, where and how far people chose to ride.
We know that many riders past our counter are commuters using the Capital City Trail to get to the city. We’ve been there to fix your flats, for that extra set of lights when you forgot to take yours off charge, providing “free air” and even breakfast on #RideToWorkDay, and help keep you rolling. Even with many people working from home during both lockdowns, we still see two daily peaks in rider numbers less defined, but still there. Some of this activity will be essential workers commuting as usual, while some activity is sure to be due to habit; we’re used to being physically active at certain times of the day and a routine is good to maintain during lockdown.
Another factor influencing how many riders – particularly commuters – pass our counter has been the seemingly endless public works taking place along Park Street and Canning Street – which are still on-going! Canning Street is nearly open again. When it is open, it’s usually a bicycle highway straight from Capital City Trail (Park Street) right into the Carlton Gardens and the CBD. Since the start of the year there have been closures and diversions along this otherwise bicycle-friendly route. The extensive period of interruption will have encouraged many riders to turn towards the CBD prior to passing our counter.
Of course life on a bike isn’t just about riding to and from work. People getting out and about for their ‘essential needs’ by bicycle are the other big contributor to our rider count. As we’ve been reminded many times recently, ‘essential needs’ is anything from collecting some groceries (not just TP 😉), attending a health appointment, or checking on a relative. These activities aren’t new to regular riders; we’ve previously called it utility riding, or simply “life”. Choosing to ride a bike for transport is a great way to keep physically distanced from others, benefit from the incidental exercise, and boost your mental well-being at the same time. Utility riding is often centred closer to home compared to when people ride for exercise, and we’re not certain if an increase in these activities is likely to be picked up by our counter.
On the other hand, an increase in riding for exercise (another ‘essential need’ and the activity bikes are most commonly associated with) has definitely been noticed and commented on during the lockdown periods. It’s been great seeing people rediscover the fun and freedom of riding a bike, and for those with young families, the fun of learning new skills. The surge of new and young riders, combined with generally lower levels of vehicular traffic, has made the streets more appealing to ride. In the first lockdown, the quiet local streets were where many pedestrians felt safer as we tried to keep a safe “social distance” from each other. As bike riders, it was fantastic to have the streets (almost) to ourselves.
As at 31 July the current tally of riders past the counter is a mere 558,656. At this rate 2020 may be our worst year since we started recording in November 2013 – IF we only look at the numbers. Melburnians have adapted their riding habits to their changing environment, and for once we don’t think the pure numbers reflect the bigger picture at all.
Thus far, 2020 has been a pretty good year for bike riding. Stay safe, be kind, ride a bike!