COVID cycling surge could reshape cities, but new urban bike networks need to be safe and connected to meet present and future challenges

WASHINGTON, DC (November 10, 2021)—World Resources Institute (WRI) has published a new guidebook for city leaders that lays out clear bike lane design principles based on decades of cycling and road safety experience.

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the way people move in cities — between March and July 2020, 394 cities worldwide added new bike lanes as part of pandemic response to help facilitate new ways to get around safely and stay active. However, as is known from decades of experience, not all bike lanes are created equal. New urban bike networks need to be designed with safety in mind to not only protect lives but enable use by all residents and to realize the full benefits of urban bike networks. By addressing these issues and outlining a vision for safe urban mobility for all, the new guidebook will help city officials and policymakers.

“Although it is affordable, people-friendly and offers immense social, economic and environmental benefits, cycling and the infrastructure to support it has always taken a back seat,” said Claudia Adriazola-Steil, Acting Director, Urban Mobility, and Director of Health and Road Safety, WRI Ross Center. “The increase in cycling during COVID-19 comes when cities have been making more efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We hope this guide will help policymakers and city planners who are looking to achieve safer, more equitable, more sustainable mobility for everyone.”

Well-designed cycling networks can help cities obviate the need for so many private cars and the issues related to health, pollution, space and equity that arise with them. For example, in Ljubljana, Slovenia — which has been redesigning its city center to accommodate car-free zones to encourage pedestrians and cyclists — carbon emissions have dropped by 70% and noise has dropped by an average 6 decibels.

“We need even more active mobility to help ensure our cities can become climate neutral in the coming years,” said Matthew Baldwin, Deputy Director-General, European Coordinator for Road Safety and Sustainable Mobility, Manager of EU 100 Climate Neutral Cities. “But this change won’t be maintained if we don’t make active mobility safer, which is why this excellent practical guide to putting together safe bike lanes is so welcome and timely. It’s so important that we see permanent, safe infrastructure put in place. There’s no sustainability without safety.”

Now is an excellent time to put more thought and resources into better cycling infrastructure in cities. Research shows that in most cities, many more people would like to bike than are currently comfortable doing so. One survey in the United States found that up to 56% of adults were interested in biking but concerned about safety or other infrastructure issues. Perceptions about cycling safety vary across demographics, but success can be judged based on how many women and children – often among the most reticent groups – use a bike network overall.

“People will continue cycling only if they see it — and experience it — as a convenient, comfortable and safe option,” said Rogier van den Berg, Acting Global Director, WRI Ross Center. “City agencies and leaders must collectively work to create cycle-friendly cities in which anyone would consider biking as a way to get to work or school, run errands and meet friends. This requires detailed and strategic planning, designs and solutions — but we know how to do it. This guide covers everything cities need to implement safe bike infrastructure for everyone.”

The guide recommends five key principles of safe bike lane design:

  1. Establish safe operational vehicle speeds for all urban streets, according to the infrastructure and types of road users present.
  2. Maintain a coherent network approach by integrating new bike lanes with any existing bicycle network or infrastructure as well as significant origins and destinations, both during and after the public health crisis.
  3. Design bike lanes to prioritize safety for cyclists and pedestrians, considering lane setup and protection, managing common conflict zones, and selecting appropriate materials.
  4. Provide ongoing communication and engagement at all stages of the design and implementation of safe bike lanes.
  5. Manage and enforce regulations to protect bike lanes from common types of infringement such as parking, delivery and freight loading.

Safety should be prioritized in every aspect of cycling infrastructure design, both during the immediate pandemic response and as a foundation for any future transition to permanent cycling infrastructure. Road traffic deaths are a rising global health scourge, in both developing and developed countries, and temporary bike lanes can sometimes offer less protection to users.

“Every year over 41,000 bicyclists die in road traffic-related crashes worldwide,” said Kelly Larson, who leads Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Initiative for Global Road Safety. “This guide sets out effective design guidelines to help cities implement safer infrastructure. We hope cities use it to make quick and safe decisions to support cycling as a sustainable mobility option during, and beyond, the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Experience from cities around the world also shows that community engagement should not be sacrificed for speed. The short- and long-term success of bike networks depends greatly on communities’ involvement, understanding and sense of ownership of their infrastructure. Cycling should be treated as an integral part of a city’s transportation system.

Acting on these principles, the guidebook aims to take advantage of the explosion of bike lanes seen during COVID-19 and its immense potential to transform cities – and further, give thousands of people a new vision of what their cities could be, with streets designed around the needs of people rather than cars. Learn more about the guidebook on


About World Resources Institute
World Resources Institute (WRI) is a global research organization that spans more than 60 countries, with international offices in Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico and the United States, regional offices in Ethiopia (for Africa) and the Netherlands (for Europe), and program offices in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Our more than 1,400 experts and staff turn big ideas into action at the nexus of environment, economic opportunity and human well-being. More information at and on Twitter @WorldResources.

About WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities
WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities is World Resources Institute’s program dedicated to shaping a future where cities work better for everyone. It enables more connected, compact and coordinated cities. The Center expands the transport and urban development expertise of the EMBARQ network to catalyze innovative solutions in other sectors, including air quality, water, buildings, land use and energy. It combines the research excellence of WRI with two decades of on-the-ground impact through a network of more than 370 experts working from Brazil, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, India, Mexico, Turkey and the United States to make cities around the world better places to live. More information at and on Twitter @WRIRossCities.