How to: Commute safely, healthy and environmentally-friendly in times of COVID-19 and climate change

After months of working in the home office, many of us are slowly going back to the workplace. But with the Corona virus still out there and no vaccination in reach, using crowded buses in public transport seems like an unnecessary risk. Isn’t there an alternative with a low infection risk that is also good for the environment?

Why I am a bike commuter: A love story

About 6 years ago, I was working on my PhD in a city with an excellent public transport system. Every day I would take a train and bus to get up the hill on which my lab was situated, about 9 kilometers and several hundred meters of height. Eventually, my colleagues started a challenge for all of us to get to work by bike every day for a full month. I already owned a bicycle, but used it only for short distances because the hills scared me off. But I accepted the challenge and suffered for a few weeks, before I started to enjoy the ride. After that first month, I never went back to public transport – I have been a bike commuter ever since.

Biker looking down on a city. Bike commuting is not only a good way to lower the infection risk in times of the corona virus, it is the most environmentally friendly commute and has significant health benefits!
Photo by Rachel Martin on Unsplash

The advantages of bike commuting

Especially nowadays, the bicycle is a fantastic mean of transport with no infection risk. Furthermore, it is incredibly cheap: My first commuter bike was a second hand, ancient one that I continued to use for several years. Apart from a few spare parts every once in a while, there are no running costs. For repairs, you can ask experienced friends for help instead of expensive bike shops. Biking is the most environmentally-friendly commute possible as it causes zero emissions. Even better, you as a biker will get some additional movement into your daily life, which has fantastic health benefits. And for me personally, the best benefit of the morning and home time routine of biking to and from work is the psychological one: The active commute gives you time to prepare yourself mentally for a new day at work. Especially in the evening, it allows you to cool down from a stressful day and leave all work-related troubles and worries on the road.

Backsides of a bike commute

With all those benefits, bike commuting is not entirely without drawbacks: Many commuters consider it contradictory to a clean and neat work outfit. Naturally, the more active your commute is, there more you will sweat on the way. So in this case, you will need some additional preparation time before walking into the office: For me, in the situation of my hilltop workplace, I had the perfect setting of a changing room with shower. But even without a shower, a bathroom and some preparations will allow you to change your clothing and freshen up for the office.

Also, you are more sensitive to weather on your bike. This can be addressed with good durable weather clothing. And even if this is not for everyone, taking the bike only on sunny days is still an improvement – for you and the environment! For all those who consider their commute to long or challenging, e-bikes could be a good alternative. Also, using the bike only for part of the commute is an option.

The biggest problem of bike commuting is the risk: While in the last couple of years the total number of people killed in traffic has constantly been declining in Germany, that for bikers killed in traffic has been constant or even increased [1,2]. Bikers are at constant risk due in parts to low visibility especially in winter and their little protection. In many areas like most of our cities, there are not enough bike lanes or they keep being misused by cars, causing unnecessary thread to bikers. On my typical commute, I experience risky situations almost daily, but so far never had a serious accident. I might have been lucky more than once.

For me, the best way to address this issue is by protecting myself as good as I can: I wear a helmet and reflecting bright colors especially in winter. My bike is equipped not only with normal lights on front and back, but with additional (and maybe not even legal) bright blinking LEDs for very dark drives. And most importantly, I am always on guard: Even if I know I have priority in traffic, I am always looking and double-checking in all directions. This has saved me a lot more than once.

Cities need to change for our future: Be part of this change!

Looking at our cities these days, it is obvious that it can’t go on like this: Cars use way too much space in our overcrowded city centers and are not efficient enough in the number of people they transport, their use of energy and caused emissions. Providing more space for bikes will not only help to clean the air and slow climate change, it can decrease travel times significantly as studies show [3]. But for this change to happen, we need to put pressure on politics and show them that we need it. So today might be the best day to start your active commute: With every biker on the streets we not only instantly lower emissions, we raise awareness for the need for a modern traffic concept!

Stop the Climate Crisis: Biking is one step to achieve this!
Stop the Climate Crisis: Biking is an important step to achieve this!

How do you commute? Or are you still working from home? What are your thoughts on biking?


This article has been nominated for the seventeen goals blog award in July 2020!

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