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June 3rd is World Bicycle Day which was established by the General Assembly of the United Nations in acknowledgment of the uniqueness, longevity and versatility of the bicycle, which has been in use for two centuries.  An affordable, reliable and sustainable means of transportation, the bicycle fosters environmental stewardship and good health, providing a cost-effective form of transport while reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, diabetes, and even death, according to the World Health Organization.

To spread awareness about its many benefits, the United Nations encourages countries around the world to develop a culture of cycling and organize initiatives like national and local bike rides, while promoting pedestrian safety and cycling mobility.

UN eyes bicycles as driver of post-COVID-19 ‘green recovery’

Can bicycles be a solution to the challenges of the post-COVID-19 recovery? European member countries of the United Nations recently created a taskforce to take this question further and discuss ways to make ‎post-COVID-19 mobility more environmentally sound, healthy ‎and sustainable.

As many countries in Europe and elsewhere are starting to lift lockdowns, the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) sees an opportunity and obligation for the transport sector to restart in a manner that is conducive to a more efficient, greener system.  Many feel that a ‘new normal’ needs to be developed to replace ‘business as usual’.

‎During the lockdown, city dwellers around the world have enjoyed clear blue skies thanks to cleaner air and began to hear birds sing as noise decreased.  Public transport usage has fallen significantly as an increasing number of people choose to walk or ride bicycles to avoid crowded mass transits and follow health authorities’ advice for physical distancing.  To respond to these trends, Milan, Geneva, Brussels and London have decided to invest in flexible bike lanes.

The new taskforce, launched under the Transport, Health and Environment Pan-European Programme (THE PEP) jointly led by UNECE and the World Health Organization (WHO) Europe, aims to resolve these concerns and develop a set of principles for green and healthy sustainable mobility.

In his message on International Mother Earth Day, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has proposed six climate-related actions to shape the post-pandemic green recovery, which include a call to end fossil fuel subsidies.

Investing in Pedestrians and Cyclists

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), investing in pedestrians and cyclists – who often make up the majority of citizens in a city – can save lives, help protect the environment and support poverty reduction.

The agency’s Emission Gap Report (2017) states the world must urgently and dramatically scale up action in order to cut roughly another 25% off predicted 2030 global greenhouse emissions and have any chance of minimizing dangerous climate change.

Meeting the needs of people who walk and cycle continues to be a critical, yet overlooked part of the mobility solution for helping cities separate population growth from increased emissions, and improve air quality and road safety.

To address this, the Share the Road Programme, a joint initiative of UNEP and the Fia Foundation for the Automobile and Society, highlights best practices and works with governments around the world to prioritize the needs of pedestrians and cyclists.

 

Why celebrate the bicycle?

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.

The mobility needs of people who walk and cycle – often the majority of citizens in a city – continue to be overlooked, even though the benefits of investing in pedestrians and cyclists can save lives, help protect the environment and support poverty reduction. 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.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 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.

Accordingly, improved active transport is not only healthy; it is also equitable and cost-effective.

  • The bicycle is a simple, affordable, reliable, clean and environmentally fit sustainable means of transportation;
  • The bicycle can serve as a tool for development and as a means not just of transportation but also of access to education, health care and sport;
  • The synergy between the bicycle and the user fosters creativity and social engagement and gives the user an immediate awareness of the local environment;
  • The bicycle is a symbol of sustainable transportation and conveys a positive message to foster sustainable consumption and production, and has a positive impact on climate.

World Bicycle Day:

  • Encourages Member States to devote particular attention to the bicycle in cross-cutting development strategies and to include the bicycle in international, regional, national and subnational development policies and programmes;
  • Encourages Member States to improve road safety and integrate it into sustainable mobility and transport infrastructure planning and design, in particular through policies and measures to actively protect and promote pedestrian safety and cycling mobility, with a view to broader health outcomes, particularly the prevention of injuries and non-communicable diseases;
  • Encourages stakeholders to emphasize and advance the use of the bicycle as a means of fostering sustainable development, strengthening education, including physical education, for children and young people, promoting health, preventing disease, promoting tolerance, mutual understanding and respect and facilitating social inclusion and a culture of peace;
  • Encourages Member States to adopt best practices and means to promote the bicycle among all members of society, and in this regard welcomes initiatives to organize bicycle rides at the national and local levels as a means of strengthening physical and mental health and well-being and developing a culture of cycling in society.
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