Cycling our way to a better future

Bicycle production is soaring throughout the world and the bicycle is emerging as the transport vehicle of the future, more popular than the car. Not only are the number of bicycles increasing but the bicycle’s role in the world transport system is also expanding.

The Earth Policy Institute reports that bicycle sales are rising rapidly because they provide affordable mobility, increased physical effort, alleviate traffic congestion and do not pollute the air.

Fifty years ago, it was widely expected that automobile production would quickly exceed that of bicycles. In 2000, however, the world bicycle production climbed to 101 million, more than double the 41 million cars produced. According to the report, mounting environmental concerns slowed the growth in car output and accelerated that of bikes.

The bicycle’s principal attraction is that it is cheap – costing 100 times less than cars – and thus offers mobility to billions of people who cannot afford cars. Bicycles are also increasingly being used to carry goods and to transport messages in large cities.

In recent decades, the densely populated countries of northern Europe have turned to the bicycle to alleviate traffic congestion and reduce air pollution. In Stockholm, car use has declined in recent years and in Copenhagen, one third of the population commutes to work by bicycle.

According to this report, traffic problems are particularly severe in cities and this will only get worse as urbanisation increases in the future. In London today, the average speed of a car is roughly the same as that of a horse-driven carriage a century ago. Each year, the average motorist in Bangkok wastes the equivalent of 44 working days stuck in traffic jams. Clearly, after a point, more cars means less mobility.

The mobility advantage that bicycles have over cars is put to use by US police forces. More than 80% of all urban police departments now have some of their forces on bicycle and officers on bikes usually reach the crime scene before those in cars, typically making 50% more arrests per day.

A less obvious benefit of using bicycles is that it uses land more efficiently and reduces the amount of land that needs to be paved, which is particularly important in densely populated countries. Six bicycles typically fit into the road space used by one car and 20 bicycles can be fitted in the space required for a car to park.

Bicycles are also gaining popularity in industrial countries because they provide exercise. With half or more adults overweight in countries like the United States, Germany and the UK, obesity is one of the world’s leading public health problems.

Story by Amelie Knapp

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