Saturday June 3rd marked the World Bicycle Day, which aims to draw attention to the benefits of using the bicycle: a simple, affordable, clean and environmentally fit sustainable means of transportation. The bicycle contributes to cleaner air and less congestion, and it makes education, health care and other social services more accessible to the most vulnerable populations. A sustainable transport system that promotes economic growth, reduces inequalities while bolstering the fight against climate change is critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Adopted through a UN General Assembly resolution spearheaded by the Government of Turkmenistan, World Bicycle Day recognizes “the uniqueness, longevity and versatility of the bicycle. A simple, affordable, reliable, clean and environmentally fit sustainable means of transport, fostering environmental stewardship and health.”
Policymakers and urban planners need to plan for a redesign of cities that make active and sustainable modes of travel.Philip Amaral, Policy Director at the European Cyclists’ Federation
Proponents encourage the use of the bicycle as a means of eradicating poverty; furthering sustainable development; strengthening education, including physical education, for children and young people; promoting health; preventing disease; and facilitating social inclusion and a culture of peace.
The World Health Organization (WHO) promotes cycling for its myriad benefits to health and the environment, including increasing physical activity, reducing noncommunicable diseases such as cancer and diabetes, and decreasing air and noise pollution. Like governments worldwide, it also recognizes cycling as a facilitator of achievement of many Sustainable Development Goals, including those on education, energy, employment, cities and inequalities.
The underlying premise is that in order to unleash the potential of cycling, roads must be safe. In line with World Bicycle Day, WHO has released a range of resources and materials to promote cycling, improve road safety and enhance the health and well-being of people and the places they live, work and play. “We have been celebrating this day every year since the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution in 2018 to annually commemorate the bicycle,” said Philip Amaral, Policy Director at the European Cyclists’ Federation.
The pandemic has changed transport needs and behavior, prompting many cities to rethink their transportation systems. As part of efforts to “build back better”, cycling is pitched as a healthy, green and economical transport alternative.
Getting more people to cycle, and swap their car journeys for bike journeys, leads to cleaner air.Philip Amaral, Policy Director at the European Cyclists’ Federation
A new UN General Assembly resolution adopted in 2022 on “Integration of mainstream bicycling into public transportation systems for sustainable development” reinforces these principles. Through this resolution, governments commit to promote the bicycle among all members of society, including people of all ages, urban and rural, and develop a culture of bicycling in society.
Why is it important to celebrate the bicycle?
According to the UN, regular physical activity of moderate intensity such as walking, cycling, or doing sports has significant benefits for health. At all ages, the benefits of being physically active outweigh potential harm, for example through accidents. Some physical activity is better than none. By becoming more active throughout the day in relatively simple ways, people can quite easily achieve the recommended activity levels.
Safe infrastructure for walking and cycling is also a pathway for achieving greater health equity. For the poorest urban sector, who often cannot afford private vehicles, walking and cycling can provide a form of transport while reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, diabetes, and even death. Improved active transport is not only healthy; it is also equitable and cost-effective.
Meeting the needs of people who walk and cycle continues to be a critical part of the mobility solution for helping cities de-couple population growth from increased emissions, and to improve air quality and road safety. The pandemic has also led many cities to rethink their transport systems.