Urban population in developing nations is projected to continue to grow, adding 2.5 billion people to the world’s cities by 2050, with nearly 90 per cent of the increase concentrated in Asia and Africa. By then, more than half of the world’s population will live in cities.
A key step to managing rapid urbanization, reducing poverty and addressing equity and environmental issues amongst urban residents is to meet their needs for access to services and opportunities. Walking and cycling are more than low-carbon modes of transport that enhance urban quality and facilitate social cohesion. They are cheap, flexible, personal modes without which most people in low- and middle-income countries would be unable to participate in the economy and community, or access education, healthcare and other urban services.
According to UN Environment’s Global Report on walking and cycling published in 2016, up to 60 per cent of city trips are made by bike in Chinese cities while in African cities the share is closer to 5 per cent. Furthermore, in Malawi, a developing country in Eastern Africa, 80 to 90 per cent of people moving on rural roads are cyclists. Netherlands Travel Survey reported that 2016 saw a total of 4.5 billion bicycle trips, spanning a distance of 15.5 billion kilometres.
The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy’s bikeshare planning guide reports that today, more than 600 cities worldwide have their own bike-share systems, and more programmes are starting every year. The largest systems are in China, in cities such as Hangzhou and Shanghai. In Paris, London and Washington, D.C., highly successful systems have helped to promote cycling as a viable and valued transport option.
Cycling leads to a longer and healthier life
Cycling has become popular for a variety of reasons. It helps to reduce the risk of diabetes, some forms of cancer, cardiovascular diseases and depression. Research from the United Kingdom found that cycling to work is linked with a 45 per cent lower risk of developing cancer, and a 46 per cent lower risk of cardiovascular disease, compared to commuting by car or public transport.
The health benefits of cycling daily rather than taking a car for short trips outweigh the risks of inhalation of air pollutants. Daily exercise prolongs life expectancy by approximately 3.4 years whereas inhalation of polluted air reduces life expectancy by 1 to 40 days. Regular cycling boosts physical fitness and is an efficient way to prevent obesity.
Cycling evokes positive feelings and is an easy exercise
In Washington, D.C., the Transport Research Board’s 92nd Annual Meeting reported that people who walk or cycle to work tend to be more satisfied, less stressed, more relaxed and experience greater freedom compared to people who drive their car to work.
Bicycle use therefore not only improves physical health, but also has a positive impact on mental health and subjective well-being. Academics have calculated that cycling prevents about 6,500 deaths each year and adds half a year to life expectancy in the Netherlands. These health benefits correspond to more than 3 per cent of the Dutch gross domestic product.
Increased bicycle use means lower greenhouse gas emissions
Switching from a car to a bicycle saves 150 g of CO2 per kilometre. Each 7 km by bicycle will save an emission of 1 kilogram of CO2 as compared to the same distance covered by car. In a five-year period, Dutch people avoided 1.41 million tonnes of CO2 each year through cycling. This saving is equivalent to 54.4 million trees being planted each year. The climate value of cycling in the wards of Stone Town, Zanzibar was estimated to be 1,062.4 tonnes of CO2 per year, which corresponds to US$20,994, if it were traded on the carbon markets. An amount approximately equivalent to 10 times the average income in the country.
Cycling saves money
In 2010, 7.4 per cent of European citizens used the bicycle as their preferred mode of transportation, which translates into 94 billion kilometres. The cumulative associated economic benefits of cycling in the European Union have been estimated to be at least US$232 billion.
Cycling is a cheap mode of transport. The annual costs of cycling range from US$200 to US$340. By comparison, the costs involved in driving a car range from US$2,800 to US$9,600 euros a year, based on an average annual mileage.
Cycling also scores well in terms of the social impact of a kilometre of urban travel by bicycle compared to such costs involved in a kilometre of travel by car or by bus: each kilometre of bicycle use yields a social benefit of US$0.77, whereas cars and buses cost society US$0.42 and US$0.33 per kilometre, respectively.
The 2018 Dutch Ministry of infrastructure and water management report indicates that the annual infrastructure costs per traveler, per kilometre are US$0.03 for bicycles, US$0.11 for cars, US$0.16 for buses, and US$0.20 for trains.