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The thought of packing herself onto a crowded bus or train makes Magali Olson cringe.

"I'm afraid to really take the train," Olson says. "I mean, I don't know if people are being clean or not, you know?"

She is able to work from home some days, but she's had to ride Chicago's Blue Line trains two days a week to her job at an insurance company downtown.

"Although I had Clorox wipes to clean everything, before I sat or touch anything, I was still a little scared," she says. "Some people weren't wearing masks, so it's a little scary."

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Over at Kozy's Cyclery, the phones are almost constantly ringing, but anyone looking to buy a bike is probably out of luck. This huge shop, with three levels of retail space, is almost empty.

"Everything in a 2020 model in a bike has basically left the building," says Sherdon Weir, a manager at one of the three family-owned Kozy's Cyclery shops in Chicago. "We're left with high-end road bikes and high-end electric bikes ... and we're down to the smallest kids' bikes."

"2021 models are trickling in," Weir says, with just one or two sometimes arriving in a shipment. He says they're put together the night they arrive and go out the next day to customers who have been waiting for them. "We have a box filled with customers' [orders] that have had bikes on hold since March."

Weir says electric bikes, which give a person's pedaling a power boost, are especially popular among commuters.

"Because most people don't want to be sweaty when they get into work," he says. "It is a game-changer. Sales have basically tripled for electric bikes."

But while the sales side of the shop is empty of bikes, the service side is overflowing with them. Weir says at times, 15 to 20 people will be lined up out in front of the shop (social distancing limits the number of customers allowed inside at a time) to get their older bikes fixed up and repaired.

"Since they can't get a bike, they've dug up bikes from their basement that need either tires and tubes, that need tuneups."

It's the same story at bicycle shops all across the country, and while some of the demand is coming from those who want bikes to commute, much of it is from recreational users who see it as way to enjoy the outdoors with their families, or spend time with friends in a safe and socially distant way.

"Biking is really on fire right now," says Audrey Wennink, director of transportation for the Metropolitan Planning Council in Chicago, a regional nonprofit focused on urban planning.

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"This is a real turning point," says Wennink, "and we can go one of two ways."

"One, where we see a huge uptick in car usage and car ownership and congestion," Wennink says. Alternatively, cities can support more active and sustainable transportation options, like walking and biking.

"Because the long term problems that we have of climate change, of congestion, of constrained spaces in urban areas, those are still conditions that will continue to exist."

She and other transportation and urban planning experts say there's an opportunity in the COVID-19 crisis: to rethink how people get will around and use urban spaces differently in a post-pandemic world.


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