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Pandemic creates bicycling boom in Utah

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People ride bikes on the streets of Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. COVID-19 has created a cycling boom of global proportions.

The pandemic has transformed Utah transportation in an unexpected way: It’s propelled a bicycling boom.

The Utah Department of Transportation released data Wednesday that shows bicycling has doubled, and in some cases quadrupled, on several popular bike trails.

For example, UDOT reported that bicycling on the Mapleton Lateral Canal Trail is up by 314%; on the Jordan River Trail, ridership has jumped 171%; it shot up by 151% on the Murdock Canal Trail; and it is up by 133% on the Provo Trail.

Also, UDOT said that Utahns who use the Strava internet service for tracking exercise report their bicycling increased by 52% this year.

“This rise in active transportation … is not only having a positive effect on traffic congestion, but on the physical well-being of community members,” UDOT said in a news release.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) People ride bikes on the streets of Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. COVID-19 has created a cycling boom of global proportions.

“People have traded long morning commutes for home offices and dispersed their errand-running throughout the day,” it said. “Not only does this mean there are fewer cars on the road, but new modes of transportation are being discovered and utilized.”

Mike and Tristin West of South Jordan appeared at a UDOT news event as examples of people who became avid cyclists during the pandemic, and now use a family cargo bike to run most errands. When COVID-19 hit, a friend agreed to let the family borrow his tricycle cargo bike to see how the family would like it.

“Our son is nonverbal, but it is easy for us as his parents to know when he loves something,” Mike West wrote in a statement. “After loading up the kids for the first time, he was all smiles and shrieking for joy as he could feel the wind in his hair. At this instance, my wife was absolutely convinced that we were to become a cargo bike family.”

West said that as many forms of entertainment were prevented by the pandemic, his family turned to cycling as a way to make the summer special for the children.

“Our rides were not only just for recreation, but we started picking up dinner curbside, going to the grocery store … and running other errands around the community,” West wrote.

“We love cycling and use it as a means for exercise, recreation, and to run errands — many times doing all three at once,” he wrote. “It is also our way to do our part to reduce air pollution, reduce traffic congestion, and strive for a safer and healthier system of transportation.”

He added that his family rode the cargo bike more than 300 miles in four months, and he rode his personal bike another 1,200 miles so far this year.

UDOT said it hopes some of these changes in attitudes take hold permanently.

“By driving less, individuals, businesses and communities can ultimately help optimize mobility, improve health and conserve energy in Utah," it said in a statement. "As people return to their regular routines, Utahns can still rethink their trip and promote active and alternate modes of transportation.”

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