What the World Bank can do for cycling
Climate change, obesity, air pollution, extreme poverty - these are global problems which organisations like the World Bank are aiming to reduce.
If only there was something that could help solve all of these pressing problems simultaneously. Well there is: the bicycle.
We know cycling best as a sport enjoyed by hundreds of millions, but it’s also a vital form of transport for many across the world. Each trip shifted from a car to a bike means a more active, healthier, and richer person - as well as fewer emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. 7 million people die each year across the world because of poor air quality - much of it caused by a surfeit of motor vehicles.
Someone choosing to cycle half an hour to work each day, could lower carbon dioxide emissions by half a tonne a year, as well as reduce their risk of death from heart disease and stroke disease by 40%. Scale that up to a global level, and we are talking billions of tonnes of CO2 and millions of lives saved.
The World Bank’s objective is to eradicate global poverty, and one of the biggest threats to this programme is that climate change will destabilise environmentally fragile regions, displace populations and undermine decades of economic development. That’s why the Bank, together with the Italian Ministry of Environment, launched a project, Connect4Climate aimed at raising awareness of climate change. They have enrolled athletes from across the sporting world to assist.
Cities in Europe have steadily been shifting their efforts from car to bike for decades; those in North America and other developed countries are showing increasing interest in the bike as a sport, but also as a means of transport. But in middle income countries the story is very different. Here the bicycle is losing ground to the car, and fast. Cities are expanding rapidly, and huge new communities are springing up. Roads are being built everywhere, but currently very few are made fit for cycling, with good crossings and facilities built in.
In 2000 there were 16 million private cars in China. Now, there are 154 million, and that figure is rising by 12% a year. But at the same time, China remains the world’s biggest market for bicycles, especially those with electrical assistance, of which there are already 200 million in use. There is still a huge appetite for mobility by bike, but the risk is that growing car use will make cycling seem more dangerous and socially undesirable - a process which Europe and other developed countries encountered in the 1950s and 1960s.
In less developed countries, the bike remains a tool for alleviating poverty
This is the case, whether for children needing to access education, or small operators of freight or cycle-based taxi services, such as rickshaws in India or Bangladesh, or boda-boda bike taxis in East Africa.
Qhubeka, a South African charity and sponsor of the UCI Pro Continental team MTN Qhubeka p/b Samsung, is helping to make up for the shortfall of bicycles. It has already distributed over 50,000 bikes in South Africa, reducing the time kids take to get to school, thereby freeing up time for school work and enabling them to attend school for longer.
By some estimates, according to a paper NCE Cities, produced by the London School of Economics and Political Science, 75% of the infrastructure that will be in use in India in the year 2050 hasn’t yet been constructed. That means tens of thousands of kilometres of roads that could be built with proper cycling infrastructure to start with, and communities planned to ensure that people live within cycling and walking distance of the places they need to visit.
The World Bank plays a crucial role: not only does it provide loans to countries to build the infrastructure, it also advises countries on how to plan new settlements and how to connect them. It’s perfectly placed to ensure that cycling can be a part of the future of these countries’ mobility patterns, bypassing the decades of mistakes that many developed countries made by planning mainly for the car.
African and Asian cities of the future could become the models for sustainable transport.
As well as looking to Copenhagen, we should be looking at new cities in Nigeria, Indonesia, or China to become references, with cycling the standard way for their residents to travel and take part in recreational activities. If we want to develop cycling as a sport and as a form of transport, we need to make sure that the countries which will soon make up most of the world’s population and economy are as passionate about it as those in Europe.
Where the World Bank comes in
The World Bank already provides support for cycling through some of its programmes such as in Wuhan, in China. But many of the projects it funds are still focused on facilitating heavy transport by road and rail.
Big roads - such as here in Beijing - make it much harder for people trying to cross them on foot or by bike, severing communities and contributing to the spiraling death toll on the roads: currently over 1.3 million people per year, mostly in developing countries.
One solution would be to grant bank loans only on certain conditions: that new roads are not dangerous barriers to local trips by bike or on foot, that public transport schemes are designed to enhance local cycling connectivity, with bikes permitted on trains and bike parking at stations, and that bike paths are provided alongside new rail or bus routes.
The World Bank could also favour smaller-scale interventions that aim to overcome problems of access and mobility caused by previous major schemes, or an absence of forward planning township layouts.
Simple measures pay huge dividends
For instance, ensuring that there are adequate and safe places to cross major roads or railway lines, or that new schools or other facilities are within cycling distance of communities.
Access to bikes is crucial, and the World Bank could be supporting initiatives similar to that of Qhubeka, using micro-finance capital to equip more people with bikes that in turn will help them generate wealth - such as rickshaw operators, or operators of small freight enterprises.
UCI would be delighted to see the World Bank, and other international institutions, put cycling centre stage in the fight to solve climate change, reduce poverty and improve mobility in the developing world. If we want to see the sport of cycling flourish around the world, we need to make sure that cycling is still valued as a form of transport in all countries.