QUITO – Like other capital cities around the world, Quito has opted for bicycle transport as a means to prevent the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus at a time when it is beginning to reactivate its economy after a 77-day lockdown.
The Ecuadorian city, which on Wednesday entered a new phase of de-escalation within the state of emergency declared in the country on March 16 as it went from being coded red to yellow in the country’s epidemiological traffic-light system, plans to expand its cycling routes from the pre-epidemic 64 kilometers to 120 kilometers.
“We did a count in sixteen points of the city and determined a 600-percent increase in bike travel, that is six times more than before,” Fernando de la Torre, metropolitan director of sustainable modes of transport at Quito’s Secretariat of Mobility, told EFE.
This growth has emerged from the restrictions on car travel during the epidemic – it was only allowed once a week according to the license plate – which left the normally packed roads of the Ecuadorian capital empty.
However, it seems that citizens have become accustomed to bicycles to avoid getting infected with the coronavirus.
The Mayor’s Office estimates that before the epidemic, almost 70% of Quito’s population traveled in public transport but the suspension of this service at the start of the lockdown encouraged many people to turn to bicycles.
Faced with this new situation and also in order to avoid crowds, the capital’s municipality plans to increase cycle routes between the transverse and longitudinal axes of the city by 62.7km for a total of more than 120km.
The cycle route will start from Carapungo and Calderon in the north to Quitumbe in the south, and parking facilities will be built with the help of the private sector at several points in the city.
De la Torre said that 138 parking lots will be built at first and will be increased depending on the demand.
The city council is also planning to extend the area of operation of the “BiciQuito” shared bicycle system to about 70 stations and the number of bicycles available to 800 from the existing 200.
It is also looking to automate the process without the need for operators to hand over the bicycles.
However, the city, which stretches 50km from north to south and is located at 2,800 meters (9,186 feet) above the Andean corridor, also poses some challenges for bike lovers, especially on account of its steep slopes and lack of oxygen.
A notorious lack of civic culture in the behavior of private and public transport drivers is another challenge.
As a result, cyclist groups have appealed to the municipality to provide safety measures and training to drivers on how to respect cyclists and even promote a reduction in prices of bicycles as an alternative means of transport.
Diego Puente, a representative of Ciclopolis, an organization that promotes cycling in Quito, believes it is necessary to redistribute the streets’ space to accommodate vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians.
“The streets are wide enough for everyone to enter, the phase of physical distancing requires that public space be expanded in favor of pedestrians and bikes,” he said.